July 15: Nine months after the death of Kapil Sekhri, the co-founder director and face of Fratelli wines, the family helped steady the rocking ship with his elder brother and Director Gaurav Sekhri and nephew Aditya Sekhri joining full-time, and his wife Pooja Sekhri, who had started learning the ropes working part- time and now heading marketing department, writes Subhash Arora who met them recently but missed meeting the Italian Director Alessio Secci who has also been a rock support and was in Delhi for a couple of days on his way to the winery in Akluj for his routine visit
October 10 was a sad day for the Sekhri family. Their bright spark, 46- year old Kapil Sekhri, partner and the force behind Fratelli vineyards was snatched away by the cruel hands of fate, leaving behind his wife Pooja and two 18 and 13 years old sons. After spending a joyous day with his family at Lunch, followed by the second thing he loved- working out, the family man Kapil had a massive cardiac arrest and there was darkness around within a few moments.
With sheer hard work and vision, the man- in- a- hurry Kapil had taken the company to second spot in the premium wine sector in a very short time while infusing family culture within Fratelli. In his condolence message through delWine, Late Steven Spurrier who was a collaborator in the M/S wines, had said, ‘Dear Subhash, my dear friend Kapil Sekhri’s death represents the greatest possible loss to the Indian Wine Industry. One recognises pioneers like the Grover Family, Rajeev Samant of Sula and others, but Kapil was the brightest star in the firmament of what should be a major source of pride for the subcontinent. He combined the highest intelligence with a personal, driving ambition for Fratelli that embraced every member of the company.’
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Another partner in the top-ended J’Noon project, Jean Charles Boisset had said (excerpted), ‘His was the pure extension of our family and closest & intimate circle ... our true friend. As Gandhi said "where there is love, there is life!"....as Kapil had it with his family, wife Puja & children, and of course closest friends! his soul was on fire for his family, his closest circle of friends and of course his wine vision....’
Kapil left a vacuum in his family and Fratelli Vineyards even though his elder brother, partner and Director Gaurav Sekhri has taken over his role. Says Gaurav, ‘our instant thoughts were to get into the heart and soul of the business and steady the ship, with the three of us now working full-time. Heart-rendering though the tragedy was, a decision was taken by the family to have Gaurav take charge along with his son, Aditya Sekhri looking after Business Development and Kapil’s wife Puja working full-time as the Marketing head. Gaurav insists they are not stuck on Designations in the company.
Managed to survive
It was also the Covid time and the market was shaky and stressful. But their hard work and support from the staff and partners- the Secci brothers, the Mohite-Patils and Piero Masi, have made the company survive the shock. In fact, according to Gaurav, they were able to sell a record 300,000 cases of wine, including about 50,000 cases of TILT cans, thanks to the substantial pent-up demand during the lockdown though the on-trade business did suffer a lot. Opening a couple of new markets was also a big help to achieve these results.
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For the current fiscal year 2021-22, Fratelli has very ambitious target of 450,000-500,000 cases (9 liter) of wine including 100,000 cases (24 cans) of TILT, which was a pet project of Kapil that made Fratelli a clear leader of the Wine-in-Cans in the Indian market. These numbers include 30% premium wines which are produced in the winery whereas the rest are produced in 3 leased wineries, says Gaurav.
‘All the markets gave us good responses last year but some performed much better than expected. West Bengal has done very well for cans as has North-East. We introduced them recently in Karnataka and are awaiting the market response,’ he says. The company opened up new markets last year to increase sales. He says they don’t intend to add new labels or markets this year but Aditya says ‘we have a few surprises which we shall announce as we go along.’ The company has already launched the 2018 vintage of SETTE at the old price of Rs. 1800-2000. The 9 varietals have seen the launch of a brand new Chic, Bold and Beautiful label with no price increase. The impressive label will certainly find wider acceptance in the market, especially since the prices have not been raised.
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Sparkling wines and Rose are following the international trends of growth with an expected increase of around 30% in this segment as well as Noi bubbly, according to Gaurav who feels that the retail bottle price of Rs. 1,000-1,200 is a sweet spot for their premier wines.
The recent death of Steven Spurrier who used to visit India for the final blending for M/S, was a setback but the range will continue to be produced with the Italian winemaker Piero Masi (the M of M/S) doing the blending and tweaking.
The close-knit Sekhri family has a strong bonding and with Gaurav’s 2 sons and Kapil’s 2 sons, there are enough human resources in the family for future. Aditya who did his BBA from George Washington University left his 14 –month old job with KPMG soon after the tragedy, but others are free to make their choice, says Gaurav who hopes that the constant talk about the wine business around the dining table will motivate them to join when they are ready. He also disclosed that though he was not active in the wine business and looked after the other business interests, Kapil was always updating him and discussed all the challenges and policies with him.
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Gaurav admitted that they had been laggards in promoting wine tourism mainly because of the winery situated in a corner with none others around unlike Nashik where there is a cluster of wineries. ‘We have been looking at the concept seriously now. But one thing is sure-Kapil made a very strong foundation for the company and we will not take any steps to dilute that quality in this or any other venture in future. Everyone expects the same or better quality from us and we will ensure that.’
There are no major changes in the corporate hierarchy though Siddharth Mehra has been made a Senior Manager Marketing for Cans and Jayanth Bharathi for bottles to keep the focus-both reporting to Puja. Gaurav also confirmed that there were no lay-offs during the pandemic. Fratelli seems to be moving out of the imported wine business ‘as we don’t want to lose our focus on the local brands,’ asserts Gaurav.
Interestingly, Fratelli is not excited about promoting Magnums for its super-premium wines like Sette and J’Noon. ‘We do make very small quantities but against specific orders’, says Gaurav. If global trends are any indication, the company will do well to promote them actively and capture a new market of collectors and young millennials. Sette has already proved to age for 8-10 years and Magnums are known as better bottles for ageing. It may also bode well in the export markets in which the company is planning to focus seriously.
The vacuum left by late Kapil Sekhri may never be filled up, but the Show must go on. Fratelli Wines seems to have absorbed the shock fairly well and should continue to shine and fulfil his dream of making some of the best wines in India. We wish them well! Besides, tough competition is important for the growth of our wine industry.
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