As France revels in Fete de la Gastronomie over this weekend, Sofitel a luxury brand of the French hospitality major Accor hotels will be celebrating the grape harvest season in France with a month-long wine fest ‘ Sofitel Wine Days’ till 31st October in 120 properties across the globe. Sofitel, Mumbai the only property in India located in the corporate hub of BKC is all geared up for the same and we had a preview over some chic French wines and food done up by Chef Indrajit Saha.
Champagne the word synonymous to any sparkling wine in the world, it may not be taken as a compliment by the Champagne makers though, set the evening in motion, it was a Drappier. A perfumed Loire valley Sauvignon from Touraine, a forthcoming Ventoux blend from Rhone, an animal and cherry like Burgundy Pinot and a vegetal and robust Bordeaux blend were poured that evening. The cheeses and the hors d’oeuvres passed around were paired with each wine meticulously by the wine man Sanjay Menon and he educated the audience with tips on wine and food. The hotel will showcase wines from seven wineries namely – Hugel & Fils, Bouchard Pere Fils, William Fevre, Paul Jaboulet, Perrin, Miraval, Gerard Bertrand and Dourthe, during the fest.
It truly was an Art de Vivre evening and the guests jubilated at the soiree with an international touch, Indian more so. You have a month to go and to soak in the fervor.
Some events lined up for the month:
Jyran Wine Dinner – 30th September, 2014
Price: – INR 3500 + Taxes
Guests can opt for an unusual and innovative wine pairing with North- Frontier Cuisine at the hotel’s Signature outlet Jyran – Tandoor Dining & Lounge and select from a four course menu.
Wine Expo at Pondichéry Café – 12th October, 2014
Price: – INR 2900 + taxes
The Sunday Brunch at the Pondichéry Café is any gourmand’s delight, however when coupled with a Wine Expo, guests will sample nothing short of the best. Guests will not only have an opportunity to choose their preferred wine but can also purchase their favorites from the stalls at the outlet.
Sausage & Grills at Kitchen Garden – 30th October 2014
Price: – INR 2500 + Taxes
If an outdoor Al fresco setting is what you prefer to sip a glass of wine, then schedule a date with the ‘Sofitel Wine Days’ to relish the live barbeque along with hors d’œuvres at the Kitchen Garden.
‘Game, set and match’ were the words of Agent Vijay; James Bond’s ally; played by Indian tennis legend Vijay Amritraj, in the 1983 Bond film Octopussy. These were the words he could easily relate to; more in his real world than otherwise. Best Asian tennis player for 14 years and having achieved a personal best world ranking of 16, Vijay Amritraj had arrived and accepted very well in Hollywood too. A man who had beaten the likes of Jimmy Connors (5 times) and McEnroe, kept the Indian flag flying high in the tennis arena. California-based now, he was in India for a different cause, it being the endeavor to take Indian wines to the world.
n a soiree on the 18th September at the uber- luxurious, The Leela, Mumbai, Vijay announced the launch of the ‘ Vijay Amritraj ( VA) reserve collection’ wines in collaboration with Grover Zampa Vineyards, one of India’s leading wine producers. This collection includes the red reserve; a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Viognier and the white reserve; a barrel Fermented and barrique aged Viognier both priced at Rs 1200. The fruity mouthful red with very structured tannins and a great finish and the white; a round and light wine with peach and floral notes toned down by aging in new oak were impressive, would have loved a little more acidity in the latter. Sumedh Singh Mandla, CEO Grover Zampa Vineyards expressed’ “Our brand is dedicated to express passion, elegance and success associated with the legend of Mr. Vijay Amritraj. We are very excited to launch these premium wines in India and in international markets. This brand will provide Indian wines an enviable international platform that can only lift its reputation across the world.”
It will be a proud day for the Indian wine scene if the wines were to follow the legend’s footsteps, Asia’s best wine, beat the ‘McEnroes’ or first growths of the wine world in the wine grand slams and lastly how about Agent 007 ordering a ‘VA wine’ in the 2015 Bond flick. Only time will tell… I am Gung-Ho for Indian wines!
The ‘October heat’ is giving Mumbaikars a simmering preview of what is in store, with humidity levels hovering between 75-94% on a hot sunny day; the scene was perfectly set for me to go out and try some cocktails. The destination for my cocktail fix was the 022 restaurant at Hotel Trident in Bandra Kurla complex and ‘presse’cocktails were on my mind.
Cobbler, Collins, High-Ball, Flip, Nogs, Sours etc are styles of cocktails and so is Presse, ‘a drink made from freshly squeezed fruit juice, sugar and ice’ says the dictionary, in fact there are some RTD (Ready to drink) sparkling presses available in the Indian market, virgin though. The special menu was instantly presented to me as I made myself comfortable on a high chair at the island bar. Abundant daylight coming in through the glass façade made the ambience even more cheerful and apt for a cocktail afternoon. L’Original Presse , made with Grey Goose vodka , cucumber, and lime was a perfect aperitif to precede a liquid main. The best part about this was the intensity of flavour and the bracing acidity. A premium product like this one at Rs 850 ++, commands an experience apart from the quality of ingredients used and the bartenders had taken the coffee-route for this one and presented the drink in a French Press. The press helped in to soak in the flavors for those few extra minutes while allowing the server to elegantly strain the cocktail in front of me, in fact I strained one myself; it could perhaps give some people the feeling of having made the drink all by themselves…….this is the enhanced experience.
Paradise Presse; a basil, rosemary and berry mix seemed diluted ( Crushed ice the cause) and lacked balance in the first version, the bartender happily spruced it up and it was a perfectly sweetened fruit bomb( this time with ice cubes) bursting with raspberry flavour with subtle hints of the fresh herbs. The last one, Korean Presse in a hurricane glass was a splendid mix of green tea and Bombay Sapphire with minimal sweetening; I would call it a food-cocktail, one which could be sipped throughout the meal. There were more with other flavours like Chamomile, Pear, lemon grass etc, but sadly it was a working afternoon rather responsible drinking is the call of the day.
Quality ingredients play the most important role in how the end product is, however it takes two to tango; ingredients which cooperate with one another to make a great product and these cocktails with less than 3 or 4 ingredients show the way ahead. Surely go try them if you are that side… they are concocting till the 10th of October…
Many foreign wineries now want to rise with the Indian wine tide; a market which is growing by close to 20% y-o-y has caught global attention over the last few years. France and Italy were go to nations a decade back and now Spain,Australia, Chile, New Zealand , South Africa , Argentina, California have also made their presence felt. Even Georgian wines have carved their way out on to the shelves of the Indian modern retail and are seeking audience. The discerning Indian consumer; a fractional percentage of the population is making an effort to wake up to the wine phenomenon by knowing his Cabs from the Pinots. The picture looks rosy and I am Gung-ho about it too in the long run. I would however play a devil’s advocate when it comes to the imported wine scene in the country. India imports around 500k cases of wine per year however those many cases comprise, conservatively speaking at least 1000 labels. If you do the math, it is 500 cases a label. If you are still optimistic, great! I am too. Let us look at a few points to consider before you enter India:
Taxes and regulations: By the time your wines reach India, they go to 8-10 times of your ex-cellar price in retail and sold at almost 3 times the retail price in institutions. Also every state in the country operates with its own set of taxes and regulations making it a hurdle in interstate supply chain both financially and in terms of logistics. Do you have a portfolio across price ranges!! Lastly with FSSAI (Food safety and standards authority of India) being active, lot of customization with respect to labeling etc may be required, ingredients, additives etc on the label could become a mandate. The regulations here are still ambiguous; time will make things more clear.
Importer: Interstate regulations can be a roadblock for distribution impacting successful reach. A well entrenched importer with a good distribution network is essential. With around 10-15 major distributors in the country, it becomes essential to go through their portfolio to confirm your interests do not clash with the brands they hold. Lastly Mumbai, Delhi, Goa and Bengaluru account for 80% of wine sales in the country; you know where to look now.
Storage: With hot and humid conditions in most parts of India it is essential to have air-conditioned wine warehouses. Ensure this part is covered or be happy to see your young whites being served deep gold and oxidized. Also most of wine retail is not air-conditioned, a major concern in my opinion.
Marketing: If your aim is to dump your first order, make money and get out then this goes not apply to you. For the rest, the importers have limited resources and a big portfolio of brands. Human tendency of getting the maximum out of least effort applies and the importers focus on brands which support them with marketing to push their brands in the trade. It may be in the form of winemaker dinners, communication materials and memorabilia, stocks for sampling in private tastings and shows, sponsorships for winery tours for trade and media etc. It is completely your call albeit in alliance with your importer, but do ensure you budget for it. Remember alcohol advertisements are not allowed in the country so experiential marketing works best and your presence once in a while is solicited.
Credit: In typical transactions, the time taken for the wine consignment to be shipped, received and released from the bond houses is around 40 days. Then the distribution in trade and their credit period especially with a product like wine is many a time 2 months and this leads to working capital lock-in period of at least 4 months for the importers. Are you willing to extend credit!!!
Lastly India habits are certainly evolving in terms of wine; knowledge and pricing are the crux to expand the wine market in the country (read more about it here). And for the seasoned wine drinkers; importers like Wine Park, Aspri, Brindco, Ixora, Fine Wines and more , Wine society of India etc are keeping the audience engaged with some quality imports.
People including me are optimistic about the wine market in India; the growth figures say so too. A two million case (9 litre) market with around 25 % of it being for imported wines, it is growing at almost 19% CAGR year on year. However when we look at the Indian beer scene standing at 275 million cases and the spirits at well over 300 million cases we know that wines have a long way to go. India by the turn of this decade will turn into the youngest nation of the world with an average age of 29; this demographic dividend gives India the opportunity to let its market grow not by one or two but three digits. In my opinion two factors can lead to exponential growth; pricing and knowledge.
I strongly feel the day we can buy a good bottle of table wine for less than 250 Rs, a price equaling two 650 ml bottles of beer, wine trade can flourish and capitalize on the growing middle class and urbanization in the country. Currently most recognized or rather acceptable quality of Indian wines start at Rs 500; even higher in Maharashtra because of the taxes and go up to Rs 1700. Grover Zampa which sells its Chene at Rs 1700 also sell Sante a sub-brand at around Rs 400 and many other prominent wineries like Sula and Charosa have sub-brands at a lower price. What distinguishes Santé from many other sub-brands is that it comes in single varietals like Chenin and Shiraz than ambiguous blends and secondly it has a story to tell on its label and also otherwise. A good part about these sub-brands is that it helps narrow the gap between a 330ml pint of beer and a 150 ml glass of wine in a restaurant but at most restaurants the latter if twice the former. Lastly the SKUs are mostly 750ml, we need more of 375ml and also 175ml bottles in retail firstly to get consumers to try wines and secondly to cater to a large population who do not drink at home and like to buy drinks for the evening. Indian wines are selling in the UK at 7 pounds including costs of export and margins; I do not see a reason why a winery can’t reach the said disruptive price point back home.
The price without knowledge would be a half hearted effort. ATL marketing of any kind is banned for liquor in India and what works best is experiential marketing to get to know the product better. Sula wines pioneered the wine trail in Nasik, people got acquainted to wines through experiencing the vineyards, wine festivals and events across metros have got people the first hand experience to taste wines in the guise of a fun weekend afternoon or an employee engagement session at work. For a serious wine drinker lot of structured courses from WSET-London and the like are being offered in the country. But what will make sell wine more in a nascent wine market like ours is when the custodians, people at the consumer point of contact are trained well to share their opinions on wine. Restaurant servers, floor staff in retail and the wine buying authority need to be well versed with what they sell,sadly most of them especially in wine retail are lagging significantly. In a recent wine buying episode of mine, I was being upsold a rose wine at around Rs 3000 from the year 2004, this wine perhaps would have shown at its acceptable best in 2007 and I was being sold one in 2014. The retail employee from that very popular retail brand wasn’t trying to fleece but he was completely ignorant and went by the adage “Older the wine the better it is”. Knowledge is the crux to people coming back to drink more wine after the first trial, I perhaps would never had gone to buy wine after drinking that 2004 rose.
Assuming quality and proper storage of wines is in order; the above two factors should be the calling for wine business’ in the country.