You make millions in the wine industry by investing in billions, goes the cliché. While it may not hold true in the case of Ranjit Dhuru who invested only in millions, it is certainly a testimony to the passion of a man who heads a public limited company where the Rs.2 Face Value share crossed Rs.90 at one point before the recession hit and it came tumbling down to around Rs.12
The roller-coaster ride in the stock market notwithstanding, Dhuru has been a passionate wine lover who has been travelling overseas for years and not only drinking excellent Bordeaux wines but accumulating En Primeur for a decade. The passion for having his own winery always egged him on as he started wine business by importing and distributing private labels from Bordeaux. He imported wines for a couple of years before getting into the production of wine in Dindori- about 40 kms from Nashik, where he also started constructing the state-of-the-art winery. Details are available at www.indianwineacademy.com, especially an interview with him.
The recession of 2008-10 hit d’Ori from many sides- the share of Aftek tumbled as the demand for wines came crashing down making all the plans go awry, howsoever temporary.
Bitten by distribution problems in Delhi and unhappy with the business style of North Indians, Ranjit claims he lost a lot of money in the process, no doubt including the investment he made in getting the annual excise license at Rs.500,000 and registration charge of about Rs.250,000 for a couple of years. The distribution arrangement with Fine Wines N More did not work-the switch-over to Amfora was no help either, according to him.
‘We have decided to sell only in Mumbai, Pune and Goa for the moment, with Nashik being also a small market for us,’ he told me when I finally made contact with him after visiting the winery a few weeks ago. Unfortunately he had been hospitalized for a month and no one seemed to know his whereabouts. The winery was in shambles-at least it was incomplete and already undergoing more than the usual wear and tear. There was no one present in the winery-I could have walked away with the grape crushing machine installed outside, which incidentally didn’t seem to be ready for collecting grapes though the harvest time was hovering.
It would be anyone’s guess what he has been doing with the grapes for the last couple of years, with the production in the tanks not yet been completely emptied out. The first vintage had a lot of excitement and vibrancy that shook the industry with a future potential quality producer in the making, most critics agreed. The import business was folded up-partly as it was not remunerative and partly because the emphasis was on marketing high quality domestic wines which had been priced at up to Rs. 100 a bottle higher than the prevailing market price- difficult but not impossible with an astute marketing plan.
But the financial stringency-which caused the winery completion to be postponed, choked the marketing plans as well with sales stagnating at merely a few thousand cases a year when a winery of the caliber that he created, should have been flirting with the number of 20,000 by now.
To Ranjit’s credit, he has remained upbeat through the stringency. He was one of the first producers to line up for the Hong Kong Wine Show a couple of years ago by the Indian Grape Processing Board and one sees his people pouring enthusiastically at various wine fests. A few of foreign journalists who visited the winery a couple of years ago on the recommendations of Indian Wine Academy swore by the winery and loved the wines and their quality.
Despite the pessimist trade unwilling to speculate and give a thumbs up to a big jump in the sales of wines needed for the sustenance of Chateau d’Ori, it is likely to hit the sustainable levels soon. Sales have been quite encouraging, according to Ranjit who was nice enough to call back as he had just returned from the hospital.
Production, marketing, finances, the usual constraints will play the spoil sport in his quest for growth. But his commitment to quality will also play a positive role besides his passion and undying determination to make it happen in the Indian industry. He is one of the few Indian producers who openly favour the government reducing import custom duties so that the Indian producers are obliged to improve their quality and compete with the cheap foreign imports.
Hardware is no good without software, as they said in the IT industry and almost in every industry now. Ranjit is surely aware of that. But a winery of the style and standard he constructed is not being utilized completely yet. Perhaps a strategic alignment with some existing producer, marketer or even a foreign producer with enough ‘software’ could be an answer to jump start Ch d’Ori from where it fell off track in its plans and targets.
It appears the d’Ori story is still interesting and exciting. It needs the click of Ctrl-Alt-Del by Ranjit Dhuru now that he is up and around and he must get ready to write further chapters of a story which has not gone awry so far.
Tomorrow may be another story.