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Blog: Future of Wine Drinking is Bright in India

Posted: Tuesday, 24 September 2013 16:15

Blog: Future of Wine Drinking is Bright in India

Sep 24: If the recent trends in the US and Australia are any indication, India will see an avalanche of wine drinkers, taking wine to its zenith, perhaps in the next two generations - 30 to 50 years, provided the government does not play spoil sport, as both the whisky and fortified wine guzzling nations’ gradual shift first to beer and now to wine would indicate.

I was amused and impressed when the prominent hotelier Dilip Puri, the Managing Director of the India Operations and Vice President of the Asia Pacific region of Starwood Hotels and Resorts, shared his ‘conversion’ from whisky to wine when he went to Australia, a couple of days ago at Hotel Westin Pune.

While welcoming the media, sommeliers and other guests invited to taste Indian wines blind in an effort to promote Indian wines at the Westin Hotel under a programme called ‘Wines of India’, he candidly admitted that he was an avid whisky drinker (which drinker is not from his generation!) when he went to Australia on an assignment. He would ask for a glass of his favourite whisky but soon it became embarrassing since he would get strange looks from the hosts. He took a crash course on wine appreciation, took to wines and today wine is a part of his culinary routine. In fact, he is so enthused about wines that he initiated this program to encourage Indian wines to be in the Hotel’s List first in Pune and later in all the properties across India based on ‘blind tastings.’

Thus, when I analyse the latest statistics reported in Australian media earlier last week, it strengthens my belief that wine has a huge long term potential in India. The latest statistics reported in The Herald Sun says, ‘Australian Bureau of Statistics data show beer levels per person falling to a 66-year low of 4.14 litres, in 2011-12, as wine consumption rises to near record high of 3.8 litres. CommSec chief economist Craig James says wine was poised to overtake beer one day.

Statistician Louise Gates said falling beer drinking levels, per person, continued a trend that started in the 1970s. "There's been an increase in wine consumption," she reportedly said in a statement. Beer availability levels fell 2.3 per cent in 2011-12, compared with the preceding financial year, as wine rose 1.9 per cent. Pre-mixed drinks (RTD) also dropped 2.5 per cent as spirit levels fell 4 per cent.
The trends are similar to the US A where spirits have been a poor third in consumption with beer and wine fighting a see-saw battle for supremacy with wine occasionally uncorking past beer but running a neck to neck race, as already reported earlier in delWine on more than one occasion.

It would be naïve to assume that we will totally or necessarily follow the Australian or the US model of drinking pattern. For instance ABS statistics shows white wine constituted 48.6 per cent of all pure alcohol in wine in 2011-12 while red wine made up 36.6 per cent; other wines like sparkling, rose and fortified made up the balance 14.8 per cent. This, despite the fact that people there drink red wine in winter like it's going out of fashion, according to a hotelier.

Also the consumption of cider is on the rise in Australia with ABS numbers showing it has increased from 1.1 million liters in 2007 to 3.1 million liters in 2011-2012. No such trend is visible in India so far with the production of cider limited to Himachal Pradesh and currently under 10,000 cases only.

But it would make more sense that we would follow similar trends, if one were to realize that America and Australia were both liquor drinking nations and the US has even had prohibition for a long period from 1919 to 1933 and their laws are still so restrictive that one feels the Indian State governments are following their laws. Both countries were strong in drinking whisky and other hard liquor till World War 2, though Australia was perhaps more attuned to the fortified wines (the closest example would be the currently increasing population of ‘Port’, ‘Goan Port’, Nashik ‘Port’ and similar fortified wine drinkers in India).

First, there was a shift from hard liquor to beer drinking; this was followed by increase in wine drinking culture with strong educational programmes and the ostensible health benefits ascribed to wine helping the increase in wine culture. In fact, several Australian winemakers who have met me in the course of the last dozen years believe that India is 30 years behind Australia in terms of wine drinking education and culture.

Considering the huge population of 1.29 billion and increasing number of alcohol imbibers with the young sophisticated types already experimenting with wine, it is not outrageous to assume that the younger generation would shift to wine as a lifestyle product, the shift being complete in a generation after the next. Therefore, if we take a horizon of 30-50 years, we should be able to see a marked shift towards drinking of wine in India, provided of course, the government does not remain spoil sport and continues to treat wine and spirits with the same ink.

Meanwhile, I continue to recommend a daily consumption of 1-2 glasses of good quality wine for women and 2-3 glasses for men, preferably red and preferably with food.

Subhash Arora

Voluntary Disclosure: I do not drink liquor or beer but only wine so I may be slightly skewed towards wine.

Tags: Dilip Puri, Hotel Westin Pune, Wines of India, ABS


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