Cool nights, misty morning and hot afternoons are what give the grapes on the US west coast the prolonged ripening season that not only increase sugar levels while retaining the acidity but also packs the fruit with flavors. In an exclusive soiree at the ITC Grand Central, the US department of Agriculture (USDA) along with Sonal Holland the beverage honcho for the ITC hotels hosted a west American wine knowledge session, of course complete with tasting some very good wines.
Sonal took the audience through the evolution of American wines and certainly in the entire scheme of things one couldn’t rule out the role of American root stocks in the wine world. For those who are still wondering, the American rootstocks are resistant to a dreaded vine disease called Phylloxera which wiped out the whole of Europe in the late eighteenth century, the louse is still a threat if not for the American rootstocks. Speaking of America crossing the chasm, my knowledge goes back to the historical 1976 Judgment of Paris, where the American Meritage blend Stag’s Leap wine cellars trounced the Bordeaux first growths.
Sonal then spoke about the robust wines from the more inland Napa valley to the distinctive Sonoma ones and not to forget the bouncy Pinot Noirs from Carneros. She also discussed some gems from Oregon and Washington state up North and some elegant and some strong pours coming from as south as Santa Barbara. Remember the movie Sideways, anyone!! The 1100 km of Californian coast practically grows every prominent grape variety. They have a classification called the AVA (American Viticultural area) equivalent of the European PDO however their regulations are more liberal encouraging winemakers to express their creativity given their understanding of the terroir and winemaking techniques. The first wine we tasted was a 2012 Sauvignon Blanc from Honig (RS 4200) a produce of Rutherford, Napa Valley, which showed lot of chalky minerality with generous but restrained underlying fruit and crisp acidity, frankly wouldn’t have guessed it as old world if I were to taste it blind. The 2011 Patz & Hall Chardonnay from Sonoma was typical American with powerful oak and tropical fruits; it was very well balanced with good acidity and a super long finish. Probably that explained the price tag of Rs 9200
Zinfandel an indigenous grape variety from the USA which Italy claimed to be theirs, they call it the Primitivo and some time ago Croatia asserted it originated there. It did not matter much to us as we sipped on the spicy medium bodied 2011 Zinfandel from the house of Kendall Jackson ( Rs 3600) a known producer; I loved the wine but thought it had a short finish. The 2011 Pinot Noir again from Kendall Jackson (RS 3600) a produce from the Mendoncino, was extremely fruity with some wet leaf aromas to begin, it was light with minimal tannins and the palate confirmed the nose. Nowadays at many international tastings the order of whites before the reds Is withering and we had a superb Oregon Pinot Gris by Erath poured just after the Zin, pronounced aromas reminiscent of flowers and honey, this wine was terrific and almost off-dry and was easy on acidity. We ended with a Washington State, Columbia Crest Merlot (Rs 2000) the cheapest wine for the day, now on reading cheapest some of us may have already passed a judgement but I strongly believe that quality is not the only factor that affects price. This wine may have seemed lackluster after the wines that preceded it, but it had good fruit and structured tannins albeit with a short finish and to be honest the 2008 wine put up a very brave face.
Last words, Indians have had their share of French and Italian and still continue to, Chilean and Australian wines are making their presence felt, Can America take a share of a the pie? Only time will tell but they surely have the potential to woo the Indian palate!!
‘Brand Ambassador’ as a title catches one’s fancy instantly and glamour, page 3, bling, posh, celebrity etc are some of the descriptors that are perceived to go with the title. When it comes to liquor, we may have been acquainted with a lot of designated brand ambassadors; celebs in their own right, for various brands in India, however all of them most likely have been known to come from the west, they surely brought a lot of skill set in. Speaking of today a liquor major in the country has 4 ambassadors across the country all being foreigners, sadly even an Indian wine co has an ambassador coming from outside the country to explain to the world what Indian wine is like!! And amidst all this a year ago Moet Hennessy, the French liquor major, the ‘M’ and the ‘H’ of the LVMH group decided to bring in the wind of change and appointed an Indian; to be its Brand Ambassador not only in India but also Srilanka, ‘Hava Badlegi’ we thought! Meet Rohan Jelkie the Brand Ambassador for Moet-Hennessy India and Srilanka, a home grown talent in the beverage industry who has been evangelizing and training people on beverages for the past 8 years. We quickly caught up with Rohan when he was on his way to enlighten a parched group with a lot of Champagne and of course knowledge. Here is what the thirsty tippler had to say:
What does the job of a brand ambassador entail?
As a brand ambassador my foremost priority is to demystify the brands I represent and reiterate what they stand for whilst simultaneously creating excitement and encouraging loyalty through choice and awareness within members of the hospitality trade as well and consumers. A brand ambassador fully embodies the brand he represents and endorses it from the bottom of his heart. Frankly I would not have taken up the job if I did not believe in the brands I speak about today.
What does it take to be a ‘Brand Ambassador’?
Being a Brand Ambassador extends beyond being a mere face of the brands for the trade and consumers. One needs to have utmost conviction towards the categories and brands he/she endorses. Add to this an in depth knowledge of the brands that an ambassador represents. One must also be up-to-date with competition news and information. Willingness to work flexible hours, over holidays, travel at a moment’s notice and a genuine liking to interact with people (and with patience!) is a must. You may or may not have a hospitality background but I feel it is an advantage to have worked on the other aspects of the business.
What is your typical day like?
I would love to say that I have a 9 -6 job! In reality however, many a times the ‘nine’ starts in the evening. I start my day meeting clients , could be hospitality or private consumers and the agenda here is usually discussing concepts and exploring ideas to showcase our brands which ends up in helping clients enhance guest experience and businesses to better their revenues. For E.g. at the Lodhi in Delhi we have created a special menu with tweaked Belvedere Bloody Mary to match different cuisines on a Sunday Brunch like a Japanese Bloody Mary with Wasabi and Nori, a Texan Bloody Mary with BBQ sauce, apple cider and more. The Idea is to give customers something innovative each time and push the boundaries of tastes. The second half is usually trainings with the hospitality trade staff that play an important role in selling our brands. At Moët Hennessy India we strongly feel that an associate empowered with knowledge can only enhance the brand image of our liquids. If a hotel associate can explain the difference between Dom Pérignon to a Moët et Chandon to a Krug, all three being Champagnes, and sell the brands as an experience, my job is done!!! If I am working in the latter part of the day then I am mostly likely to be with consumers conducting tastings with a select group of consumers whilst taking them through the journey of the Moët-Hennessy group. Last Sunday I was behind the bar churning out cocktails for the Belvedere Red evening we hosted for a charitable cause.
Upside of your job?
Goes without saying, good food and drink and a lot of travel and I love it!! However the best part of the job is to meet people and different people each day and the wow moment when you get recognized from that one spirited talk someday!! The relationship from a Brand Ambassador transcends into friendship many a times, and bonding over a drink and chat is the best luxury one can have!!
Downside of your job?
One really can’t complain when you represent some of the most admired and luxurious brands in the world. Getting a schedule in place is hard at times. Another thing that irritates me the most is when people ask me if I would have any bottles to spare or if I could get them a free entry to a posh gig!! I wish if I could ask my friend who works for the RBI if he had any excess currency to spare!! People even call me up to ask for a bootlegger’s contact to buy my own brands from them. Also I often crave for a quite day away from the crowd and just have a drink by myself, but I seldom get a chance. Setting a routine is what I am challenged with these days.
What is your favourite drink outside of work??
A classic Belvedere Martini and an old fashioned are drinks I can never refuse. Equally good is a refreshing long drink with Hennessy and gingerale. And when in doubt, there is always a glass of terrific Chandon!
Last question, Can a consumer becomes a brand ambassador??
Well frankly our consumers are our biggest brand ambassadors, they have conviction in our brands and hence they are happy to endorse it whole heartedly when they are entertaining at home or otherwise. In fact at a greater scale there are so many celebrities who patronise our brands without any official association. It is a great moment for us, every time this happens. If you were to technically speak of being in a formal role like the one I am in, its calls for a learnt skill set.
P.S: Below are the beauties we tasted that evening!!!