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Posted: Saturday, 03 July 2010 11:25

Serve Indian Wines at State Banquets

Government of India does not allow serving alcohol at the State Banquets but Indian Wine Academy has made a strong plea to the President of India, Madam Pratibha Patil through a letter to start serving Indian and alcohol-free wines at the State banquets, citing various positive reasons to do so. Subhash Arora reports.

It may take 80 years to get a favourable executive action but there is an 80% chance that it might happen in 8 years if the readers send in their affirmation to Madam President or send their comments which would be published at the end of this article.. The Academy has also requested the Indian Grape Processing Board to get a helping hand from the Ministry of Food Processing Industries and push for the change to help the Indian wine industry. Any negative comments or reasons are also welcome.

The letter was written after her visit in May to China where they served domestic wine officially at the State Banquet. Serving Indian wine would be a step in the right direction in a country full of hypocrisy and paradox.-where the government officials may openly drink scotch whisky in the privacy of their house or parties but may not hold the glass in public, a country where the liquor production and consumption is on the rise along with the hooch that causes frequent deaths in regular intervals-even where there is prohibition,  a country where smoking is still on the increase (although the government is taking some positive steps), a country where the consumption of the cancerous pan masala is increasing unabated, in a  country which is being looked upon by the rest of the world as a big market for production and consumption of wine during the next 50 years.

The letter to the President of India follows:

June 14, 2010

H.E. Shmt. Pratibha Patil,
Honourable President of India
Rashtrapati Bhavan,
New Delhi

Respected Madam President,

Sub: Plea to consider serving of Indian Wines at State banquets

As a passionate promoter of wine as a food product and a healthy beverage when taken in moderation, and a well-wisher of the Indian wine industry, with no commercial interest directly or indirectly, I write to you with a plea to consider starting serving Indian wines at the State banquets held at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Serving of Indian wines at the State banquets will go a long way in boosting the international image of India as a progressive country which makes good quality of wine. Being an agricultural produce it will create more jobs for the farmers and help in the positive development of the industry.

China does it-so do others

You may be aware that the banquet that President Hu Jintao hosted in your honour during your visit to China last month had Chinese wines served at the State Banquet on 27 May 2010- the Great Wall 2002  red and white wine made by the well known local winery. It would be a fine reciprocal gesture to serve a variety of Indian wines when the Chinese or any other President visits India.

The world is looking at China and India as the growing wine Industries. Study-2058 conducted two years ago by a respected English merchandising company BBR predicted that in the next 50 years China and India would be in the forefront in the world of wines. Regrettably, China has already overtaken India since then in many respects and the international focus is shifting to China gradually. I believe my request merits attention on this point alone.

It is relevant to point out that the Queen of England has an excellent Royal cellar of international wines that is opened for State banquets. The White House has a well stocked collection of American wines. Other wine producing countries like Chile, France and Italy etc. serve wine at such events as a matter of routine, at dinners.

Wine not Whisky

Perhaps due to the legacy left by the British, Indians drink more and more whisky and other hard liquor- the official figures of around 150 million cases (12 bottles) of hard liquor and a similar amount of beer are consumed. Additionally, about 200 million cases of country liquor are drunk, making a consumption of 500 million cases. In comparison, only 1.5 million cases of wine were consumed last year, because most drinkers find it too ‘weak’ to give them intoxication.

Mahatma Gandhi’s Dictum and Constitution

Article 47 of Indian Constitution states that the State shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health.

I believe that one of the reasons of not serving wine at the State banquets is also Gandhiji’s aversion to alcohol as brought out in the above Article. I agree and respect his views on alcohol and the potential ill-effects. But wine is not really an alcoholic product. Wine and beer were not even common alcoholic drinks during Gandhiji’s time. Therefore, I doubt if the Constitution had the two as ‘intoxicating drinks’ at the time.

European history is full of physicians acknowledging the medicinal benefits of wine in moderation and actually using it as medicine even for surgeries. There are several studies on the health effects of wine. But extensive scientific research has been conducted during the last 30 years. It confirms the benefits and most cardiologists believe a glass of wine a day is good for heart, besides numerous other benefits with no significant negative effect at that level of intake.

Wine is a medicinal product and as such is not directly covered under Article 47. A lot of ayurvedic medicines in India already sell compositions using resins in part fermented form; several chemists and a well known pharma company have acknowledged as such. 

Prohibition has been a failure in Haryana, Andhra Pradesh. Occasional deaths from hooch in Gujarat and the easy availability in Gujarat suggest it has not really worked there. What we need is a concurrent campaign and conducting research to study the negative effects of excessive drinking of alcohol on health- we are well aware of the social problems.

Encouraging Production by States

In contrast to the controlled licensing of alcohol production in the earlier era after independence, there has been a marked change in the government stand, at least in the area of wine. Maharashtra and Karnataka have encouraging State wine policies. Uttaranchal Pradesh has also started giving wine making licenses. The fact that States encourage production but the State Banquets do not serve wine is a symbol of hypocrisy and indicates double standards.

Indian Grape Processing Board

Your government took the progressive step of founding the Indian Grape Processing Board the main objective of which is to improve the quality of Indian wines and see that the farmer benefits from this progress. It is also hoped that some of the liquor drinkers may be converted to wine which has much less alcohol, enough for the positive benefits and has anti-oxidant properties as well due to resveratrol.

You would make their job easier as the concept of serving wine at the State Banquets will help the Indian industry directly and indirectly and boost the image of Indian wine.

Toast with Zero Percent Alcohol Wine

Appreciating the sentiments of teetotalers, I would recommend that the Indian teetotal dignitaries at such banquets could drink or toast with a sparkling wine with practically no alcohol. There are companies in the world who already produce alcohol free wine. Spain has at least two wineries that make wine with less than 0.5% alcohol.

It would be a matter of short time if my recommendation is accepted that sparkling wine producers like Indage Vintners, Sula and Zampa will come out with a zero percent alcohol wine. This wine is different than the fizzy grape juice in that the alcohol is removed from the wine before bottling and most of the texture and flavours are retained.

Imagine the contribution your office could make by encouraging Indian producers to start thinking in terms of a ‘non-alcoholic’ wine! And what a positive step to try to wean away at least some of the millions of people away from alcohol! 

Differentiation between Liquor and Wine

Finally, your government still does not differentiate between wine (general alcohol level 11-14%) and hard liquor (alcohol above 40%) resulting in increasing consumption of liquor. By introducing Indian wine only, at the State banquets, the right message would go to the people that wine is a food product, different than liquor and healthy and should be taken in moderation and that we are proud of our wine.

I would like to conclude by saying that I am an independent wine journalist of international repute with no link to any media. It may not be relevant but I am an engineering graduate from IIT Delhi and have earned two post graduate degrees in a prestigious university in the USA. I was knighted by the President of Italy last year and also nominated by a well-respected Italian body of wine producers in the Best Foreign Journalist category earlier this year.

I am frequently invited to judge at various international wine competitions. I do not represent any lobby of producers or importers. My plea is in the capacity of an anti-alcohol, proud Indian who is committed to decreasing alcohol consumption and promoting wine as a healthy food drink and a low alcohol alternative. I believe there is bright future for this industry, provided it gets the government blessings.

Serving of Indian wine at the State Banquets will be symbolic and a step in the right direction. I realize it would be a long and tedious process as your government has to take the decisions. But for Banquets hosted by you, at the Rashtrapati Bhavan you should be able to take the decision or strongly recommend..

Thank you for the consideration. I will appreciate an acknowledgement

Yours Truly

Comments:

 

Chris Pohl Says:

Subhash needs to be complemented in sending this letter to the President for and on behalf of the Indian Wine Industry. We should not concern us with which country does or does not serve Wine at their State Dinners, but use the merit of serving Wine and the positive message it would send out. When leaders show acceptance and lead by example of moderate consumption - thus a glass of wine with a meal or per course would go a long way. It will definitely not make us a nation of alcoholics! It would be great to see Indian Wine at State functions! Wine as a generic will benefit hugely.

Posted @ July 12, 2010 13:57

 

Ranjan Pal Says:

Completely agree with your views. It's high time that wine was given its true place and importance in India and we are missing an opportunity if we don't act on this right away. One suggestion would be to identify key wine-loving bureaucrats in the relevant ministries and invite them to select tastings so as to build support generally for this cause.

Posted @ July 06, 2010 17:40

 

R R Says:

It is wrong o say that "others do it , so should we' Btw, the Govt of Canada does not allow alcohol to be served on any official event either.

Posted @ July 06, 2010 17:35

       

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