Champagne Indage which was later forced to change the name to Indage Vintners due to the legal pressure by Champagne region, is credited with pioneering the modern day winemaking with Marquis de Pompadour in the mid eighties. Around the same time, a company by the name of Vinícola was started in Goa by Dr. Costa with a Portuguese connection in more ways than one. He started making Goan Port; a fortified wine which has over the years become a symbol of inexpensive Goan wine. Made from indigenous grapes and fortified with neutral alcohol and unspecified additives, the Goan Port sells for Rs. 65-150 (€1-2.30). Over the years, this market has grown to over 400,000 cases (9-liters) and services the low ended price sensitive segment. Interestingly, many young drinkers take to it as it is wine and it is cheap but there is a hard-core segment that mixes it with liquor to spice up the combined effect!
Increasing popularity of these low-ended wines has caught the fancy of the ‘mainline’ producers like Indage, Big Banyan, Nirvana, Vinsura, Fratelli (recently) and even Sula that brought out similar wines without the ‘Goan’ pedigree. An estimated 500,000 cases of these ‘Port’ wines form a part of the total wine market now. The improper nomenclature notwithstanding, this price-sensitive low-end segment of over a million cases is growing at the fastest rate, indicative of the potential of wine consumption in India and the price sensitivity.
Sula came out with the Port three years ago and is already a leader in this category from the mainline producers too. It started the Port Wine 1000 from eating grapes fermented in stainless steel tanks. Extremely popular in the South and West, it sells for Rs.137 ( source: Bangalore based Madhuloka website). It’s available at Rs. 126 in Mumbai (source: winegate.in). Of course, the pioneer for making Port was Indage which had more than one variant and no one really knew the ingredients. Vinsura is also now producing natural fermented wine from the indigenous eating grapes.
Fratelli is perhaps the latest entrant in this segment selling its Sidus Premium Port for Rs. 175-185. It is intriguing that the bottle shows that no alcohol has been added but the company officials at the stand of Mumbai Wine Tasting Festival conceded that the wine was in fact fortified. Also seen at the same Fest was, not one, but two variants of Port wine made by Pause Winery. Both the red and white version in a plastic bottle sell for Rs.145-150. Unlike the Sidus, they were both quite undrinkable, bringing to the fore a perennial anxiety that the new wine drinkers when drinking wines like that would may never be enamoured by wine and may be put off for ever.
Nirvana Bio-Sys, the Haryana-based maker of Luca wines came out in 2011 with Mitra 2000 Port Wine, to compete with the Sula Port 1000. The higher number perhaps signifies higher quality for the wines in the mind of the consumers or the producer as it sells for Rs.220 in Delhi.
There are still cheaper ‘Ports’- in fact the key word is not what is inside, but the lower price and higher amount of alcohol. ‘Goana’ by Big Banyan sells over 10,000 cases a month for an average of Rs.100 in Karnataka and Goa. Although it says ‘Natural’ (which generally means no fortifications with neutral alcohol has been made) a senior company official of John Distilleries in Bangalore manufacturing the Port admitted to me during my recent visit to Bangalore that the wine made from the local eating grapes is in fact fortified and promised me that from next year they will remove the ‘Natural’ tag from the bottle.
Interestingly, Goana does not mention Port on the bottle and their website does not even list it like some other wineries; the indiamart website’s John Distillery page lists it as Goana’s Port Wine, ‘A Port wine crafted to perfection in the traditional Goan way. It is presented in an exquisite designer bottle with a bold 'WINE RED' color. It blends a perfect chemistry of taste and love made from selected Indian grape varietals.’ This indicates that the word ‘Port’ is used synonymously for fortified wine, wine made from indigenous grapes and the wines sweetened with sugar and other additives.
Mario Sequeira, the leading producer of ‘Goan Port’ with the sales registers clocking over 120,000 cases of Port alone, is aiming to sell 150,000 cases this year. In a neck-to neck race with Vinícola, the pioneer of the ‘Goan Port’ in recent times, Sequeira makes fortified wine with both red and wine grapes. There are several cottage and small industries producing and wholesaling ‘Goan Port’ at around Rs.70 which in turn retail them for Rs.90-120. It helps that the tourists are attracted to the sweet and sugary concoction made with addition of neutral alcohol, taking the alcohol level to as high as 20% and making the consumers get more kick in shorter time and at lower prices- the Brand ‘Goan Port’ helps the cause of the local producers.
There are similar wines in the low-ended section that do not use the crutch of Port. Golconda, the leader of the low-ended wines, sell over 180,000 cases of what they call ‘Ruby’. Similarly the Heritage Grape Winery in Karnataka reportedly sells 145,000 cases a year of sweet dessert wine, according to its owner. They also don’t call the wine as Port, indicating that one does not necessarily need to call the wine a Port to market it.
The ‘Port’ market is estimated by the Indian Wine Academy at 1.1 million cases. With a production of between 600,000- 700,00 cases of mid section and premium wines and about 300,000 cases of imported wines, this ‘Port’ segment thus forms around 55% of the 2 million – case current market.
Whereas in India most novices presume the ‘Goan Port’ to be the genuine Port, the Real McCoy is made in Porto Portugal under very strict rules and has been legally registered in India in November 2011. With a total consumption of Port being perhaps under 1000 cases, the Port producers have nothing much to gain by pursuing the Indian styled Port except the devaluation of the image but according to the Embassy of Portugal, the matter has been taken up with the Indian government. It is expected to take the necessary legal action soon failing which the matter may be taken to the international court of justice according to international law and the agreement with the European Union.
While the Indian ‘port’ producers are treading on thin ice, they are at liberty to continue to make this wine-at least till the wine laws are able to address the issue. They may be legally obliged to discontinue the use of the word Port. Perhaps a more amenable name like ‘Ruby’ may be adopted voluntarily. In the meantime, ‘Port’ continues to corner a major share of the Indian wine market.
Here is a list of estimated consumption based on a cross-survey carried out by the Indian Wine Academy:
For a related earlier article, click
Days of Indian Port Wines may be Numbered
Tags: Champagne Indage, Indage Vintners, Marquis de Pompadour, Vinícola, Dr. Costa, fortified wine, Goan wine, Big Banyan, Nirvana, Vinsura, Fratelli, Sula, winegate.in, Sidus Premium Port, Mumbai Wine Tasting Festival, Nirvana Bio-Sys, Luca wines, Mitra 2000 Port Wine, Sula Port 1000, Goana, Mario Sequeira, Vinícola, Goan Port, Golconda, Ruby, Heritage Grape Winery, Porto Portugal, Indian wine market