What is common between organic textile certification and wine? Nothing if you ask a common man- a wine drinker or a textile specialist. But ask the 250-300 people present at the event on Monday, July 31 at the Pragati Maidan and they would tell you in unison- APEDA.
APEDA- the Agricultural & Processed Food Products Export Development Authority had invited officials, diplomats, media, exporters and members of the expat community to showcase 40 wines from 10 different wineries. This event was also hosting a fashion show to celebrate the launch of the certification standards for the organic textile in India.
The evening started with a 3-minute film dedicated to the challenging Indian wine production, redrawing its 30 years of modern history. The tone was a given- India is aiming at positioning itself as an international quality wine producer, Indian wines are not imitating style but have their own individuality. To support the communication campaign, Steven Spurrier, the famous wine expert, journalist and critic, shortly appeared in the film to promote the diversity of Indian wines.
Officials were successively invited on stage with the Star Wars music to present their interest about the potential growth of the Indian wine market. ‘India’s wine exports are expected to quadruple to Rs. 100 crore by 2015, spurred by increasing production,' commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma declared, adding “The wine industry in India has a bright future. Within a decade, it will grow tenfold.”
Commerce secretary SR Rao reiterated his minister’s ambitious prediction, saying that the Indian wine industry was presently in a nascent stage but was expected to grow multi-fold.
APEDA's Chairman, Asit Tripathy declared that within the agricultural export, the wine is currently too small. He was confident that thanks to the quality and credibility it will become very big and India will be sooner than later considered part of the New World producers like Chile and Australia. Indian wines are already becoming popular in overseas markets and are also beginning to make an appearance at global food shows. Presently, Indian wines are largely being imported by Malaysia, Japan, UAE, Bhutan, Germany, USA, UK, Sri Lanka, Maldives and New Zealand, he said.
Then, the foreign secretary, Ranjan Mathai who has travelled around the world as Indian Ambassador (his previous posting was in Paris), and who has exposed his palate to a western conception of wine, quoted Ben Franklin : "In water there is bacteria, in beer there is freedom, in wine there is wisdom".
Changes are in fact occurring in India. It is the first time that I saw 250 people holding a glass of wine at the same time in India. They had a guided tasting of 5 wines: Sauvignon Blanc Vallonne, Chenin Blanc Aryaa, Viognier Grover, Renaissance Rosé Renaissance and Cabernet Sauvignon Ritu (Four Seasons is branded as Ritu for export markets).
Then followed the certification launch and the fashion show. Unfortunately, the majority of the guests did not realize that they had an opportunity to taste 30 other wines at the counters set up by different wineries, as most of them left shortly after the presentation. Only a few expat, diplomats and wine buffs took the opportunity to discover wines from Aryaa, Renaissance, Chateau D'Ori, Grover Vineyards, Vallonne, Luca, Four Seasons (Ritu) , and Aryaa (Mercury Wines)Reveilo (Vintage Wines).
An expat friend asked me about the possible price in Europe of one of the wines that we tasted. My answer was around Rs. 800/850. He was surprised by the small difference with the local prices. Then he got curious on what would be the price if we apply India taxes format on the same wine. Well, it would go up to Rs. 1500 to 1800, depending upon the excise duties and sales tax in each state.
That led to discussion on different topics: Could a wine enriched with other ingredients in it be still considered wine? Is Mango wine really a wine? Can a wine made in India out of foreign frozen must but fermented in India be technically an Indian Wine? What would be the volume of Indian wine sold if each Indian restaurant across the world sold 12 bottles a week? Answers to these questions might not be found today, but the Indian market will have to address these questions and many others to tailor its identity.
I was surprised to know that the producers already having an excise license in Delhi were not allowed to showcase their wines. When I left, I received a bottle of wine as a gift. I discovered later that it was a bottle of red wine enriched in Aloe Vera and called ‘Bio Wine’. For the majority of consuming countries wine is a fermented beverage made from fresh grapes-"Bio" is a certification for organic, at least for the French-speaking countries. This wine branded as such would not have access to any major market. I was perplexed why they would present such bottles to Diplomats and expats.
The event and the evening was very encouraging however and as the Secretary of food processing Industry, Rakesh Kaicker summed up in his opening speech, the wine industry in India is "growing fast but still has a long way to go". The Indian wine industry will slowly but surely structure itself and create a strong and specific identity so essential to build a promising future. APEDA did a great job to invite a few hundred people to be introduced to this new diversity.
Joachim Lefaure is a French wine consultant and educator with a wanderlust for wine that has taken him to many continents and countries including India. He has worked in several prestigious wineries in several countries in order to learn, teach and talk about wines. He is currently based in Gurgaon.