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Delhi Wine Club

Posted: Monday, 29 March 2010 11:45

Blog: Red Red Wine

The recent IWSR Report on Indian wine market has made those on the east of Suez spring up in surprise with figures indicating much higher consumption of Indian and important wines as also suggesting an improbably higher proportion of red wine consumed, ostensibly to clean the arteries clogged because of butter chicken et al.

Red, red wine you make me feel so fine/
You keep me rocking all of the time/
Red, red wine you make me feel so grand/
I feel a million dollars when your just in my hand/

Looks like Indian wine drinkers are singing the song by Bob Marley. The younger connoisseurs are perhaps belting out the UB40 version, hopefully with a glass of red wine in hand. According to the IWSR Report released recently by the Vinexpo organisers in Delhi, 72% of the still wine being consumed in India is red! 

‘Give me little time, help me clear up me mind/
Give me little time, help me clear up me mind/
Give me red wine because it make me feel fine/
Make me feel fine, all of the time/

I just had a couple of glasses of a Verdicchio from Enzo Mecella in Marché region in Italy.

Even the white helped me clear my head and it made me feel fine, thank you. It is pretty hot already in Delhi with mercury trying to flirt with 40 C. Indians drinking 72% of still red wine! I find it difficult to come to terms with the figure. I know, we propagate red wine for heart health-majority of the Indian cardiologists also recommends it. Perhaps ‘Give me Red’ from the old Eveready battery ad by Amitabh Bacchan still resounds in the ears when ordering a glass of wine.

But with people not informed enough to drink the reds at the right cool temperature (for instance light red wines like Beaujolais should be drink at 10-12° C and not 18°C, the warmest any red wine can be enjoyed at.) a majority of red wine lovers also shift to white or Rose during hot months- and big consuming centers like Mumbai have only warm and not-so-warm months, barring a few cool days here and there.

When the similar study was released last time; a magazine had proclaimed it to be the closest thing to Bible, the only scientific study perhaps to have been made on the Indian wine industry. After all, it was done in England, was the implicit reasoning. Our colonial hangover notwithstanding, the study was very professional, barring a few errors which were acknowledged. IWSR has been predicting the future of the industry fair accurately and Vinexpo has been engaging them for the last 7-8 editions to conduct the global market study.

Input is the Key

But it’s the inputs that are circumspect. When we take our first course in computers, the first lesson we learnt is ‘Garbage in, Garbage out.’ The data input in any study is as important, if not more, than the methodology or the interpretation of data. Here lies the predicament. How do the researchers sitting in UK, lay hands on the correct information when it hardly exists in India? One day, when our central government and the states, and the ministry of commerce, agriculture, or food processing, are able to get the information centralized on computers, the accurate data would be available.

I presume the researchers have taken the info from the producers/importers. I would be amazed if they claimed the source was government records and was authentic. We would be already living in the future! They might have collected the data from the producers who at times equate the consumption with the wine still lying in the tanks or the importers who might sell off the wine on high seas and claim it to be Indian consumption-or declare the import as consumption- even if they might dump some dead wine in the following year.

Generally, I find the Indian producers Sula and Grover giving fairly accurate figures (UB should soon be joining them), others are evasive, optimists, or insignificant players. Indage has always been an enigma and could be the single major factor in distorting the data. Even the state governmental sources in Maharashtra tend to be optimistic with the ‘All-eezz well’ syndrome.

Colour painted too red

Not only does the percentage of red wine look rather high, the projection of there consumption increasing further to 78% in 2013 could be possible only if the Ministry of Health finally declared that wine is a food product after all, good for health and that the resveratrol, the anti-oxidant in red wine is beneficial, when wine is taken in moderation.

Of course, in such scenario the overall consumption will also increase faster and will perhaps reach the optimistic figure of 3.184 million cases by 2013 as projected by the report. Naturally, the taxes would have also become more palatable; states like Delhi would have allowed wines to be sold in the supermarkets and thus made them more respectable too. Interestingly, the projected growth of 86% or more is quite achievable in 4 years as 20-30% annual growth would be a par for the course.

Case of over optimism

This brings me to the current consumption estimated by the report. 1.709 million cases? No way, Charlie Brown! The figures reportedly do not include wines with 15% or more alcohol. This precludes over 200,000 cases of Goan Port which is included in our estimates of total consumption!!

The imported wine shown at 239,000 cases is also too high. If I were to guess after some red wine that Bob Marley says would make me feel fine and grand, I would say it would have been between 190,000-200,000 cases, even though importers would challenge me and say the estimates are too optimistic.

My optimism stems because I believe the import of duty free carry-on wine has increased in the last couple of years. During my dozen plus foreign trips last year I checked in a total of 4 cases. I know many people who now bring in 3-12 bottles from each of their foreign trips. These figures would not be included in any estimates. Also excluded would be the significant amount of ‘smuggled’ wine sold in cities like Mumbai, Pondicherry and a few other southern cities where it is reportedly available as freely as Chinese mobile phones. In all fairness, IWSR could use the same reasoning for their figures- we shall need to look at the study.

My methodology in guesstimating the numbers, in the absence of authentic figures released by the government, is to take the estimates from an importer or a producer and then cross check it with the competitors. In wine competitions, usually 10/100 points are reserved for how the wine appeals to the taster. I use this variable for my personal knowledge and on a priori basis to adjust the data thus collected, which is generally on the button with scope for an acceptable error (5-10%)

Until I see the full IWSR report and analyse reasons for their optimism and seeing red, I would surmise- based on the figures collected from producers that the reds are consumed between 60-62%, Rose at 3-5% and the balance 33-37 % are white wines.

I do not see reds increasing their share much in 4 years, as the newer drinkers prefer whites and with the global warming, (Nashik is already hotter than last year) more vegetarians eating spicy Indian food; the shift to reds would be unlikely. If the global trends finally catch up with India, the shift would be more towards Rose.

With practically every producer now adding a Rose to their portfolio and with its propensity to handle hot Indian food better, with the added benefit of a pinch of the healthy resveratrol from the red grapes and with the advantage of drinking wine cold (Rose should be drunk between 10-13°C depending upon the body), will give this hitherto neglected wine an opportunity to flourish.

The current consumption of wine including the imported and the cheaper and fortified Goan Port wines could not be more than 1.2-1.3 million cases, though most people will marvel at my optimism. This means the current consumption seems to overstate (1.7- 1.25) at least 450,000 cases- and my figures include the Goan fortifieds whereas the IWSR report says they are excluded. The doubling of consumption in 4 years is unstoppable, unless the stagnating US collapses and making the world go in yet another spin!

Even the total consumption of 3.184 million cases, estimated by the IWSR study, is achievable if the government turns realistic and understands the implications of netting higher tax revenues with lower rates and the state governments see beyond their myopic and selfish motive and encourage the open and transparent distribution system for wine as already seen  in states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Haryana and Chandigarh.

Till we can lay hands on the complete IWSR report, let us raise a toast with a glass of Shiraz, Cab, Merlot or even red Zinfandel to the researchers! And hope the government comes to their rescue by giving better information and easier availability at lower taxes, so that they are on the button for 2013 estimates. Cheers!

Subhash Arora


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