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Selling Wines with Indian Soul in UK

Posted: Thursday, 16 August 2012 10:53

Selling Wines with Indian Soul in UK

August 16 : While agencies like APEDA are crowing about their efforts to increase export of Indian wines, a small company started in 2009 in UK by two Oxford MBAs from India has been importing and selling to over 300 Indian restaurants under their own brand Soul Tree. It has now found its way to the Finals of the prestigious UK National Business Awards in the Start-up Business of the Year category.

While it would be unfair to disparage the export efforts of agencies like the Export Promotion Agency APEDA or IGPB participating in the London International Wine Shows, it’s the young UK-based MBA entrepreneurs like Melvin D'Souza (originally from Nashik) and Alok Mathur who put their money where their passion was and founded a company in 2009 near Birmingham to import Indian wine under their own brand and have been selling it successfully to Indian restaurants all across the UK.

Coventry-based wine distribution company Soul Tree, set up just outside Birmingham by the duo is getting wines produced in their brand from what appears to be the Niphad-based Vinsura winery. On their website, the company describes its modern winery and talks about the late winemaker of Vinsura, M. P. Sharma who started his career with Sula when he met Rajeev Samant in 1999 in order to buy some grapes to make his own home-made wine and landed up with the job as the winemaker. (Mr. Sharma had once narrated the story to me on the way from Nashik to Niphad-editor). His protégé, Sharad Nagare is now looking after the winemaking, according to the website.

Nagare confirms to delWine that he left Vinsura in March 2011 but the website still shows him ‘working with Soul Tree.’ Interestingly, a senior person in the winery informs delWine that though the initial purchase was in fact wholly from Vinsura, wines are now also being procured, at supposedly even cheaper than the already very low bottom rates, from wineries like India Foods and York (though Ravi Gurnani, Director of York denies sending any shipment so far).

The company procures 5 mainstay wines of Nashik under the Soul Tree labels - the ubiquitous Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and surprisingly a Rosé with Cabernet Sauvignon-Chenin Blanc blend. One does not need an MBA to figure out the company strategy as a shrewd business decision to promote and establish their own brand for Indian wines firmly in the UK market.

So what makes Soul Tree different? According to their website, ‘Grapes that come from farmers who use centuries-long expertise and tradition with a minimalist approach to breed character into the grapes. The heritage of a true blue Indian winemaker with a fiercely independent style. And a tropical climate that gives the wine an undefinable edge.’ To an expert, this would appear to be the usual marketing hype and jargon; the obvious success of the wine in the glass from a land of myths and mysteries is working its magic.

The duo met in Oxford while doing their MBA. They are truly passionate about Indian wines and spent several months scouting the wine belt before choosing the winery when they could have found a cushy job with some corporations. Bigger Indian wineries like Sula, Four Seasons, Grover and Nine Hills and earlier Indage, do not produce third party labels. Several other small wineries like York, Vintage Wines, are known to be amenable as a matter of survival during the recent tough industry conditions.

The duo founded Soul Tree in 2009 and launched the wines in January 2011. They have already made over 300 customers in Restaurants across the UK. According to media reports, they claim to be adding over 20 restaurants every month to their list of customers. With 10,000 Indian restaurants in the UK, their work is cut-out and the market potential is huge. In addition, Soul Tree is now being distributed in France and Ireland too. Reportedly, talks are on with potential distributors in Spain as well.

The motto that Indian food goes well with Indian wine is similar to the marketing strategy adopted by Karan Billimoria, who successfully created a market in UK for Indian ‘Cobra’ beer to be consumed with Indian food. Soul Tree Wine says: "Complementing Indian cuisine with a genuinely Indian wine completes the Indian dining experience in a subtle, but very powerful way. Soul Tree wines have been primarily designed to be consumed in India - and of course to be consumed with Indian cuisine."

The company adds: "We have gone one step further and indulged in simple fine-tuning of these wines to the European palate, but without removing any of the characteristics of the wine that make them Indian". However, there does not seem to be any evidence of the wines being different than those being produced for the local market.

Earlier this month Indian wines were quite popular at the 'Flavours of India' event organised by the Indian Tea Board to showcase Indian specialties such as spices, tea and coffee, besides wine to visitors during the Olympic Games at London. Reports talked very highly of the success and the interest shown by the visitors to the wine section.

According to an announcement made on Tuesday, Soul Tree Wine has been nominated as one of the 10 finalists in the ‘Start-up Business of the Year’ category of the National Business Awards being organised for the past 10 years in partnership with the mobile solutions company Orange, to honour excellence in UK business. For a complete list of 150 companies shortlisted in 15 cross-industry categories, click

The Awards are considered to be ‘UK's premier, cross-industry Awards programme’. Winners will be announced on November 13.  DelWine sends best wishes to the company and the young Indian duo of Mel and Alok. Although they may not leave much scope for profit margins to the hapless Indian wineries in the middle of a logjam, but they will surely help liquidate some of their stocks and add to the numbers of exported bottles. The highly ambitious targets announced recently by the government - 4-fold increase in wine exports in the next 3-4 years- need several such initiatives in many countries to help achieve the goal.

Subhash Arora


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