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Posted: Monday, 25 November 2019 22:54

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Blog: Is Wine Culture growing in India?

Nov 25: Wine culture is relatively new with the availability being only for 2 decades and it has been growing steadily but there are so many impediments that the initial excitement has not been converted to a flourishing wine culture, writes Subhash Arora who takes you through the journey thus far and suggests ways to make it grow faster

When I joined a prominent Rotary Club in Delhi sometime in early 1990’s I was shocked to find no wine being served at the first fellowship dinner I attended. There was whisky, gin and beer for alcohol drinkers but no wine. When I asked the club President, he said wine was a drink for the ladies! There was only one such lady for whom they procured a bottle of gin. After the event, they would take the bottle home and bring it back the next time till it finished and was replaced.

I protested and was allowed to arrange at the next event a couple of bottles through a bootlegger, the only source for wine those days. I was very happy to see them being polished off. I made it a point that some wine was available at every party after that day. Members started drinking wine with my prodding and tips and started procuring for their private parties hosted for members. In the meanwhile, the availability started getting better with changed laws in 2001 and we were well on our way to drinking more wine. When I left the club a few years ago, there used to be a couple of cases consumed at each big party.

In the meantime, I had given a Talk to the club members about wine and its benefits and also started the Delhi Wine Club in 2002 through which I gave several talks and tastings. It became almost a ritual  with people crowding around me and discussing about wine and its health benefits and their experiences during their foreign travels. There were more and more women drinking wine, I noticed. Men were at least talking about it and how they liked it. But when I saw their glasses, they generally contained liquor. This also saw a gradual change and more and more men started drinking wine.

Thanks to the Delhi Wine Club, my prolific writing in the newspapers and our website, I could see banquets and weddings starting to pour wine-no doubt of the lowest possible quality but it did compete often with the much superior champagne served alongside. A feature on the Club on a national TV Hindi channel was also helpful in spreading the message across India.

Slowly but surely, the wine culture has arrived. Restaurants like Diva, Olive and a few others started promoting wine with their cuisine-Mediterranean food cries for wine and its healthy. Though still not very popular with Indian food at home, many people started drinking red wine more for the health reasons that I could be accused of promoting. Like in China, more people are taking to red wine without really enjoying the taste-it’s more a matter of fashion and health.

The culture has spread to India including the smaller towns, thanks to TV. Goan Port has become even more popular because of lower prices. Wine is still very expensive for masses, especially since the whole bottle needs to be finished, once opened There is also increasing demand in smaller cities for wine they can afford. According to a very rough estimate, about 3-4 million people drink wine at least once in a month, up from about 50,000 a couple of decades ago.

So how has the journey of wine culture been?  Imagine hoping to catch a bullet train and getting a Janata train. With such a low consumption base of hardly any drinkers amongst the whiskey gulping nation, but with millions of women and youth being the potential propagators as anywhere else in the world of wine, the growth has been very slow. Where I expected an annual increase in consumption of over 40% during the first two decades from 2000 onwards, market has been growing on average only 10-12% annually. The reasons are lack of availability, poor quality and high prices of Indian wines till recently and high taxes on imported wines. Storage and the weak links in the cold supply chain is a major problem affecting the flavours in s negative way. Absence of a sensible structured policy of the government which still clubs wine with liquor and its negative connotations, are a deterrent. Wine education is the core requirement for promoting wine culture and mass promotion still lacks immensely.

During those early days I used to propagate formation of hundreds of small wine clubs where like- minded people could taste wine together (a pre-requisite for the culture to grow) in a group, and wine writers and journalists sharing their experiences; and restaurants selling wine by the glass and even offering flights of different wines for tasting. Some of these things are happening but at slower speed and they are moving generally in the right direction.

To say that we have a flourishing wine culture would also be erroneous, though many of our club members make foreign trips just to attend expensive wine dinners and drink choicest of wine. Wine education needs to be stepped up for masses. Storage and service temperatures must be stressed. Government policies must remove wine from spirits as a category. It must be propagated as an aspirational lifestyle and food product with stipulation of moderate drinking.

The wine culture is already here though in bigger cities. The experimental millenials with an international look continue to embrace it and by the time their generation takes over the spending, there will be an exponential rise in the number of wine drinkers. Though it will never replace tea as a refreshing drink, a glass of wine offered in the early evening will be seen more as a sign of hospitality and relaxation. That’s when I would say the wine culture has truly arrived in a big way.

But drink in moderation. Drink any wine you like. Preferably with food. Not more than 2 glasses a day with a break of a day or two a week, for good health.

Subhash Arora

The Article was written originally for BW Hotelier Magazine for their Sept-Oct Edition. Several interesting Articles relating to F & B industry have been penned-this was one of them relating to wine-editor

Article in BW Hotelier


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