Ten wineries-Fratelli, Reveilo, Grover Zampa, Kiara, Turning Point, Vallonne, York, Nine Hills, Four Seasons and Sula participated in the unprecedented event with about 60 wine labels presented to a select group of around 200 invitees from the media, sommeliers, winemakers, consultants, wine aficionados, bloggers, food and wine critics, and wine enthusiasts who first tasted the wines blind and later with the winery representatives. The event was followed by entertainment and a beautiful spread for dinner under the watchful eyes of the Exec Chef Anurudh Khanna and his team.
Dilip Puri (Managing Director-India and Regional Vice-President-South Asia for Starwood), himself a wine connoisseur after his career stint in Australia, travelled personally from the headquarters in Gurgaon with his senior marketing team to welcome the invitees and show his solidarity to the program. While welcoming the audience, he said that after Starwood’s successful Wines of the World program, he believed the Starwood group could roll out a similar programme in India. The proximity of Pune to most vineyards in Maharashtra made Westin Pune the logical and ideal venue to conduct the event. After he planted the seed, Sujeet Kumar (General Manager-Westin Pune) worked relentlessly for two months in preparation for the grand event on 22 September 2013.
The result was prominent Indian wineries showcasing their best wines through blind tastings. On entering the venue specially created and approachable through a ‘Wines of India’ tunnel, one was presented with a list of three wine categories:
1. Dessert Wine, Rose, Chenin Blanc
2. Sparkling wines, Chardonnay and Reserves, Sauvignon Blanc
3. Merlot & Blends, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Blend, Shiraz
In every category, the guest had to choose two of each after which he/she was handed scorecards for each wine equal to the number of wines being served for blind tasting.
Separate counters for each wine in the categories adorned one side of the huge lawn. The bottles were labeled by number only, as is the norm for blind tastings. After each tasting, the guest had to rate the wine on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being the lowest) based on the three criteria-– Bouquet, Taste and After Taste.
The counters were professional manned by wine servers who were effectively multi-tasking, pulling out the requested wine by number without delay. A snack platter and bottled water was available on each counter, to help cleanse the palate between tastings. After tasting a particular wine, the guest simply dropped the scorecard into one the cardboard boxes placed on the counter.
The main objective was seemingly to decide which wines make it to Westin’s wine list. But Sujeet Kumar was quick to point out that this was only one of the objectives. He said, “We are trying this format for the first time. The plan is to try and do this in different cities and maybe once we have it in different cities we will work out a consensus as to which are the most popular wines that have a common element. And those wines will probably feature in our lists.”
This process seemed a little confusing as tastes vary across the country and a wine liked in one city may not find favour in another. To this, Kumar said, “In terms of tasting of wine there would be a common denominator – these are the ones that everyone likes. Up North, people may like more tangy wines because it’s colder, down south people prefer white wines more because it’s more tropical. So we may have some regional variances. But in terms of taste, we will have a pretty good idea of what everyone likes.” He added, ‘The Pune Market is a very mature market. People know their wines. While the youngsters are taking to wines more recently here, the gentry, corporate, and the business people are well-traveled and they generally know their wines.’
Another objective of this event was to highlight Indian wines. Starwood MD Dilip Puri strongly feels that as a hotel, Wines of India provides an amazing platform for wine to be appreciated and drunk. And he feels that it’s kind of a responsibility for them to encourage wine drinking in India. But apart from that, Puri has a different business strategy to approaching wines. He says, “At our hotels, we don’t look at wine pricing to make any spectacular profits out of it. You would finally make money on wine by more people drinking. We don’t look at wine selling the way other hotels do. For us, it’s a business and we’re not going to get people drinking wine if we price them at really high prices.”
After the wine tasting, guests were enthralled by a wonderful live band that lifted up people’s spirits even further. In addition, the wineries had separate stalls where they showcased their best wines which guests enjoyed with snacks of their choosing, from separate live counters providing Asian, Indian, and seafood cuisines.
The event was reasonably well attended, but didn’t manage to draw in its expected crowd of 150 people. However, for a first-time event, Wines of India did catch media attention for its first-of-a-kind and unique approach to promoting Indian Wines.
It was interesting to find Reveilo being the only winery that won both the honours in Chardonnay category adn getting four awards in total. For Results click here
We at delWine sincerely hope that other hotels roll out similar programs and give the Indian Wine Industry the boost that it well deserves!
Rishi Vohra CSW
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 email@example.com.
Tags: Westin Pune, Rishi Vohra CSW, Wines of India, Fratelli, Reveilo, Grover Zampa, Kiara, Turning Point, Vallonne, York, Nine Hills, Four Seasons, Sula, Dilip Puri, Starwood, Sujeet Kumar, Indian Wines