The brainchild of Dilip Puri ((Regional Vice-President - South Asia & Managing Director – India), Wines of India was created on the lines of Starwood’s Wines of the World program. The attempt of the Indian counterpart to Starwood’s successful global program was to select wines suitable for Starwood’s Indian hotels based on feedback from both wine enthusiasts and the general public.
According to Starwood Management, the idea of this programme was to promote and engage more people to understand wine and drink responsibly, and remove the myths that only imported wine is good to drink. They strongly believe that India makes excellent wines on par with its foreign counterparts. After all, some Indian wineries have hired foreign world-class winemakers and are using imported technology to craft their wines. In doing so, they have spared no effort in bringing Indian wines to world-class quality.
Wines of India attempts to highlight these Indian Wines amongst Indian consumers and so leaves the final decision to them. The wines that make it to the hotels’ wine list, based on consumer feedback, would remain there for a good three months after which they might be replaced by another lot or repeated for an extended period if the sales figures are encouraging enough.
But is such a format actually an effective tool for a hotel to choose Indian wines that would appeal to wine drinkers dining at their restaurants? We spoke to some of the wineries' representatives along with other wine enthusiasts present at the event.
Sumedh Singh Mandla (COO of Grover Zampa) feels that this format works well for Indian wineries as it not only provides them with a great learning experience but also helps them to understand how their wines stand against other players. He says, “The idea is to see what consumers think about wine and what they like. I guess these three criteria – aroma, taste, after taste - are what they usually look at when they go to a shop or restaurant to purchase a wine. I think that Starwood has done a good job with the format and also I’m quite excited with the way they’ve done the setup and the way they have organized the tastings. They have thought over it to make it simple and easy.”
But when asked as to how such a tasting would compare with a professional tasting, he is quick to point out, “Let’s not complicate wine out here. It’s not a professional taster tasting. It’s about the general public or wine enthusiasts who would come in and give their feedback. It’s all about which is the most liked wine rather than which is the best wine.”
Shailendra Pai (Founder & CEO, Vallone Vineyards) has a different take on the event. Even though he found the format effective, he feels that it does come with its share of cons. He says, “It seems to be transparent. But apart from the feedback on the blind tastings, there probably would be other considerations by the hotel. It is the consumers who are going to decide in the wine tasting. But yet, ultimately the wines would need to be paired with food on the menu only after which can the hotels make the final decision.”
On being asked as to why Indian wine drinkers can’t be the right judge of that if allowed to try these wines with food, he points out, “That would be the right way to do it. But I don’t think that people in India have that refinement to pair food with wines. So ultimately the hotel will have to decide.” Overall, he believes that the event did serve its purpose in getting basic feedback from the guests in attendance.
A guest present at the event agreed that a food-wine pairing would be more effective. She said, “I am not a wine drinker per se. But I do drink wine with food when I dine out. That works better for me and helps me decide which wine I like and would like to drink again. Tasting wine on its own doesn’t really help me figure out which wines I prefer.”
Cavaliere Subhash Arora, President of Indian Wine Academy who is an international wine judge with over 30 competitions under his palate had also come for the event though he had just returned to Delhi from Hong Kong only a day earlier. He seemed very enthused about the event and said that 'it was truly a historical moment and could even be a defining moment for the Indian wines getting a fair On-Trade share.'
He was evasive and diplomatic in his answer about the efficacy of the results. On being cajoled, he did open up a bit and said, ‘the idea behind choosing the tasters might be good as they were all presumably wine drinkers representing the consumer class, but the design for tasting the wines and marking could be better, more professional and meaningful. The marking of 5 points for each attribute was totally out of line. Each person should have been asked to write his or her name for any cross-reference and also to make sure no biases cropped up. The group should have been explained the tasting procedure. It would have been better to conduct the tasting in a room with more seriousness and not with people talking, discussing and pushing their opinion on other tasters. The wine service was not perfect. There was a Shiraz bottle that was corked. I asked him for the second bottle. The waiter had no clue what I was talking about. That poor wine must have got a zero from many scorers and perhaps lost out for no fault-best of wines can be corked.’ But he was very emphatic in congratulating the Westin Pune for an excellent initiative and declaring that the Indian industry should be thankful to the Starwood group.
Wines of India is an initiative by the Starwood Group in India, and according to management, will probably see its presence in other cities as well. We hope that consumer feedback on not only the wines but also the event is taken into consideration when this event is rolled out in other cities. As Mr Sujeet Kumar, the General Manager of Westin Pune candidly admitted, ‘we knew there would be shortcomings the first time but we were keen to make a start. I am sure we want to continue with this programme in the future when we shall fine-tune the tastings.'
The hospitality sector in India is rapidly expanding, and wine is an essential part of the complete dining experience a hotel provides to its patrons. Keeping this in mind, we hope that other big hotel brands follow Starwood’s example and take an initiative to promote Indian wines. After all, Indian Wines are making it to world-class quality and we at delWine commend the Starwood Group for going all out to make wine consumers in India aware of that!
For the First Part of the article click here
Rishi Vohra, CSW (Certified Specialist of Wine), USA
Rishi Vohra is the Mumbai Correspondent of delWine and is a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) from the Society of Wine Educators - USA. He has done an MBA in Sustainable Business from San Francisco State University and a Masters Diploma in Environmental Law from WWF-India. His debut fiction novel, ‘Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai,’ is a bestseller and was recently awarded an honorable mention in the General Fiction category at the Hollywood Book Festival, and was the only book from India to be awarded at the festival. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tags: Westin Pune, Rishi Vohra, Wines of India, Dilip Puri, Wines of the World, Sumedh Singh Mandla, Shailendra Pai, Indian Wines