I was surprised when recently a few people asked me they had received a mail from me to join the Wine Club. I was concerned when some members of the Delhi Wine Club asked me about the mail they had received from some wine society, wondering if it had to do anything with the DWC. I told them I had been receiving such ‘invitations’ too but it had nothing to do with us. Things came to head when I read a smartly positioned advertorial in the Delhi Times last Saturday in their Lifestyle section.
Slipped in as a Lifestyle news item on p.11, it urges you to join a wine club, if you want to learn about which wine to buy and which one to serve at a party. It goes on to say that ‘India now has its very own wine club-The Wine Society of India. It gives the detailed URL, email address and the contact address. Knowing about the media-net policy of the paper, I presumed it was a paid article, as it did not mention any other wine clubs-there are about 10 of them.
I suppose the base for this confusion was created by perhaps the first wine club formed in Delhi in the late nineties, with Mr.Ghulam Naqshband as the President. Christened as the Wine Society, it was founded with the blessings of the French Embassy who were keen to promote French wines and is still active.
The Delhi Wine Club was founded by Subhash Arora in early 2002, a few months after Bangalore Wine Club by Alok Chandra, primarily on the strength of Grover Vineyards being in the vicinity. In fact, a few years later, Abhay Kewadkar, the then Chief Wine Maker of Grover, took over as their next President.
The objective of the Delhi Wine Club was very clear-to promote the wine culture in , in any ol’ way possible. The club is a non profit organisation working directly with the friendly importers and hotels and publishing educational information on its website, the first and only of its kind in India.. It is the only club in India and perhaps the world, which has all its events numbered and published on its website which was up before the first wine dinner took place in July 2002. It aims at organizing a minimum of 12 events a year and has organised 142 so far, the details for the last several years on its website. A survey conducted by the Wine Business International, Germany as the Best Wine Club in India in 2006.
Apart from its own activities, the club encourages formation of other wine clubs and has helped many in Chandigarh, Hyderabad, Chennai, Lucknow, Jalandhar and advises anyone willing to form a club on non-profit basis. Clubs in Pune, Nashik and perhaps in Mumbai (there are a couple of them, but with sales and business models in place) have also come up recently.
Globally, commercial wine clubs or societies are not a new concept, though recent in India. They have been in existence in every wine drinking country for years. California Wine Club is one of the most popular commercial wine clubs-very aggressive in marketing wines to its members. The oldest continuing such venture is perhaps The Wine Society, London which was formed in 1874 ‘to introduce members to the best of the world’s vineyards at a fair price.’ Today it is a very respectable and powerful institution which has over 800 labels for sale and can even store wines or sell En Primeur to its members. Its objectives are however, evident when you know that it was chosen as the ‘Wine Merchant of the Year 2008 by Decanter magazine.’
Wine Society of India is apparently built on the above two successful models. In fact, Mr. David Banford, the man behind the show had formed a similar wine society in the US, ran it successfully and sold it as business before coming to India. The ‘Society’ was in a bit of a financial constraints at one stage when it was fortunate to form an alliance with UB group which invested Rs.10 million in the venture-as sleeping partners but ensuring that every quarterly shipment has one or more of their wines in its portfolio.
The retail margins come from the suppliers and the ‘butter’ is provided by inclusion of one Indian wine in the portfolio, usually. Costing less than Rs.450, one bottle can help lowering the cost of each lot substantially. They do provide some educational tools online as well as give-away literature to the members.
Last, but not the least, according to reliable sources, they have tied up for marketing wines with Times of India through their shopping portal and are apparently checking out the legality of the issue. (Perhaps this joint venture prompted the above article. A very good retail business model, but it may not be the club or society you might be thinking of- certainly not the Delhi Wine Club which has over 20 such clubs in its dream list in Delhi alone, based on Rotary Club model but not The Wine Society, London or anywhere else.
So go ahead and join whichever club or society you want to, knowing the difference and the objectives… or better still, why not make a group of 20 or more wine lovers in a locality, company, housing complex, hotel management institute, and form one. DWC could possibly share its experience and extend some help.
Cavaliere Subhash Arora