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Cultural Shift in Indian Wine Drinking

Posted: Thursday, 07 May 2015 11:15

Cultural Shift in Indian Wine Drinking

May 07: A growing and more affluent middle class is driving India’s fascination with wine which has been improving in quality and recently has been winning several international awards and recognitions, writes our guest writer Dan Traucki who suggests it would be very interesting to see how some of the Iberian, Greek or southern Italian native varieties would thrive and perform there, especially the whites

AUSTRALIA and India have a lot in common starting with a British colonial history, the English language, love of cricket, through to sharing January 26 as their national day – Australia Day and India’s Republic Day. The one massive variance in the respective cultures is their drinking habits. Australia has a proud history of wine drinking, whereas India is a whiskey drinking nation, in fact India drinks more whiskey each year than Scotland produces.

India, the second most populous nation on earth consumes a mere 0.012 litres of wine per person – roughly six tablespoonfuls – per annum. Even the new comer to wine drinking, China, is nudging the 1 litre per person mark, while Australians consume around about 30 litres per person, according to the ABS.

India’s a very challenging country for wine to thrive in. Starting with its   import duty of 148 per cent – one if not the highest import duty rates in the world. Each individual state then adds its own tax to the already very expensive wine. Some states ban the sale of alcohol and most of those which do allow it place a hefty “registration” fee on it, whereby the producer has to register each individual label for a fee of around $130 per annum and if there are any changes on the such as vintage, it must be re-registered. So by the time that a bottle of commercial quality wine has reached a retail store, it costs more than a bottle of premium wine would in most other countries.

The next challenge for wine is the logistics. In a country where it is always hot, there is very little temperature controlled transport or storage available. While it is increasing in availability, it is still substantially lacking.

A further complication is a loophole to the import duty law. For more than a decade the five-star hotels in India have been able to import duty free alcohol directly from overseas to a value equivalent to the foreign exchange earned from their guests. So when you go to check out of an Indian five-star hotel you’ll be asked if you will be paying in Aussie dollars, US dollars or just about any other currency other than Indian rupee.

One would think that these five-star hotels would have become an oasis for wine drinking, with affordably priced imported wines being offered. But alas, in my experience most of these establishments charge prices almost as high as in retail, with the hotel pocketing the “super profit” generated by this bizarre piece of legislation.

So in this surreal landscape how does imported wine perform? Exact figures are a bit hard to come by due to the five-star hotels being able to ship their own wine in. However, a good indicator of the market is that in 2013-2014 the top 10 wine importers shipped in just under 280,000 cases of wine, with Pernod Ricard (mainly Jacobs Creek) being second with 50,000 cases. This drive by Pernod Ricard has recently seen Australia leapfrog past France into the leading imported wine country position.

However, over the last decade, despite the country’s draconian liquor tax regime and regulation, wine has been growing steadily in popularity. This is in part due to the growth of middle-class incomes and the aspirational lifestyle of many younger Indians, especially in the major cities. In a country where many people have traditionally frowned on alcohol consumption, thousands of people a year are acquiring a taste for wine. This trend is being particularly pushed by young women, who prefer to see their men drinking wine (or beer) rather than the traditional whiskey, which is so much higher in alcohol. In this way their partners are less likely to get intoxicated than they are on whiskey.

In this millennium young women have been entering the workforce in India like never before and their independent income and increased status has slowly been lifting the taboo on women buying a drink in public – at least in the major cities. It is estimated that less than 5 per cent of women in India currently consume more than one drink a year.

Subhash Aurora, founder of the very successful Delhi Wine Club and the Indian Wine Academy (some 14 years ago), said that around 40 per cent of the club’s members are women. Aurora said: “It is basically a lifestyle drink anyway. So when ladies go out to outings and parties, before they would not imbibe, now they say ‘OK, a glass of wine is fine’.”

India has its own viable wine industry, which isn’t helped much by the various levels of its own government. By far the largest wine company in India is Sula, which sells around 600,000 cases of wine a year and have over 200,000 visitors to its cellar door each year. Launched in 2000, Sula has risen from first-year sales of 500 cases to surpass its longer established rivals. To complement its own wines, Sula also imports around 15,000 cases of wine. In second place is Grover Zampa, which produces around 110,000 cases a year. There are about 90 smaller wineries, mainly in the states of Maharashtra which contributes around 75 per cent of wine production and in Karnataka (25 per cent), which produce the balance of the estimated 1.4 million cases of Indian wine made each year.

Along the way Chateau Indage, which was probably best known outside India for its sparkling Champagne Indage and was the largest wine producer in India, went into receivership in 2010 and out of business.

The tropical climate in most of India is not conducive to growing grapes, however, in the higher altitudes up to 1,000m when planted with the right aspect so as to avoid the hotter winds, vines do thrive and produce quality grapes.

The main varieties grown, like so many other countries, are the classical European varieties such as sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc, viognier, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and shiraz. In addition there are some lesser-known varieties such as Isabella (called Bangalore blue) and black muscat, both of which can be table grapes as well as wine grapes. There are also a few native Indian varieties which I haven’t tried such as arkavati, arkashyam and anabeshahi.

Given the warm to very hot growing conditions in India, I think it would be very interesting to see how some of the Iberian, Greek or southern Italian native varieties would thrive and perform there, especially the whites. I could imagine one day drinking a very enjoyable Indian assyrtiko, athiri, pecorino, verdejo, or Verdelho and in the reds lagrein, montepulciano, granacha or monastrell. Let’s hope that somebody in India has the courage and foresight to plant some of these varieties that thrive in warmer climates.

A sure sign of improving quality is the fact that last year, for the first time, Indian wines won medals at an international wine show when the Grover Zampa Art Collection Sauvignon Blanc 2014 won the Sauvignon Blanc International Trophy at the Decanter Asia Wine Awards, while other Indian wines from Grover Zampa, Myra, Krsma and Four Season’s collected four silver medals and five bronze medals between them in the competition.

While the Indian wine industry wrestles with cultural and government issues, it does export some wine, mainly to the UK. In 2013 this amounted to around 150,000 cases, or roughly 10 per cent of the country’s production. In 2011 Waitrose became the first British supermarket to stock Indian wine when it listed Zampa Syrah and Ritu Viognier.

I can remember the days when Australia only exported 5-10 per cent of its wine production, whereas today the figure is around 65-70 per cent. So who knows, one day we should be able to enjoy a quality Indian wine with our curry in an Indian restaurant nearby.

Dan Traucki

The article was published by Dan Traucki in Winestate Magazine in Australia, May-June 2015 Edition and has been reproduced with writer’s permission-editor

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Subhash Arora Says:

That is a good news and bodes well for Indian Wines Harshal Shah. I don't know about Dan but I would be really thrilled for Indian brands making an inroad and steady progress. Cheers. Subhash Arora

Posted @ May 20, 2015 14:50


Harshal Shah Says:

Mr. Traucki will be pleased to learn that Antica wines out of Melbourne are importing the wines of GroverZampa and soon Sula into Australia. Theyt are already receiving listings at Indian restaurants in Sydney and Melbourne.

Posted @ May 20, 2015 12:04


Subhash Arora Says:

I think the author means 12 mL which as you suggest is a little over 1 tea-spoonful. He mentioned six which you have taken as 12. Thanks for the comment. Subhash Arora

Posted @ May 13, 2015 11:00


Roger Young Says:

I think you will find that 0.012 litres is more like one tablespoon, not twelve!

Posted @ May 13, 2015 10:00


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