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From Archives: Ten Years of delWine and Sula Vineyards

Posted: Friday, 25 November 2016 11:00

 

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From Archives: Ten Years of delWine and Sula Vineyards

Nov 25: As delWine is about to end the 10th year of its existence, we reminisce a little and also take a look at the wine industry in 2009 when the leading producer Sula Vineyards, celebrated its 10th anniversary in Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi where I met Rajeev Samant. Founder CEO and reported the proceedings on the progress in my inimitable style, writes Subhash Arora

The journey charted by delWine from 2006-2016 has been interesting with the accent on bold, neutral and objective reporting, strictly addressing the issues and avoiding personalities as a policy. Perhaps, that is the reason why so many potential legal cases against me and the eNewsletter that now goes to 33,000 subscribers in 79 countries, has completed 720 editions including the current one-but none materialised. To our knowledge there are no such wine and food eNewsletter in the country numbering their issues-but that is only incidental. This practice has kept us on our toes to ensure it is sent out every week with few exceptions. This could be one reason why our mother website was declared the Best Wine Website in the world in 2011 by Grandi Cru d’Italia. 

The essence of my role as a foreign wine journalist was perhaps captured by the Comitato (Board) Grandi Cru d’Italia, which nominated me as the Best Foreign Wine Journalist- four times! This is the highest recognition possible from Italy-there are several fine journalist-Italian and non Italian, who live in Italy and drink and write about Italian wine as a profession. The fact is also not lost on me that those were the years when India was a lot in the news (currently the interest is waning due to the disappointing performance of the Indian wine sector from their point of view, though the government policies which de facto, have become more encouraging for Indian wines and helped them to improve quality and increase their market share despite doomsayers.

DelWine and Sula’s 10 Years

It has been our strength that based on information from the reliable people in the industry; we are able to publish Breaking News frequently and sometimes even before the drama unfolds. We have been censured on more than one occasion for our bold stand. In August 2009, when Indage had been the industry leader and galloping away reportedly towards new heights, we had surmised that ‘though official statistics are not yet available, Sula Vineyards appears to have whizzed past the biggest, rival wine producer in India, Indage Vintners which has seen a dramatic fall in its sales last year and is undergoing a dire financial and marketing crisis this year’. It was also interesting to note thatLast year (2008-9) Sula reportedly sold 196,000 cases of wine despite the onset of recession in September over 6 months earlier,’ according to the archived Article. Sula sold over 950,000 cases in 2015-16!

In the Article we had cited several factors that had made us come to the conclusion on August 1 when there was no such talk yet in the industry. Although the Article was well received despite surprising some people, there was a strong criticism from some quarters-perhaps the die-hard loyalists who could not accept the downfall and were hopeful for a comeback for Indage.

Surely there were bouquet in the form of one subscriber Sourish Bhattacharyya, writing ‘ I must congratulate DelWine for being the first to report about Sula's climb to the top of the domestic wine business. It's heartening to see how Rajeev scripted the success story. You'd also been the first to report about the conditions at Grover.’

Another unknown subscriber, Anup (who I came to know months later, but have never met, had been a senior employee of Indage) wrote, ‘ Dear sir, having had first-hand experience with Indage I would like to reiterate that Sales in Indage have never been what was being projected. The major hoopla around a one million-case market and Indage having 70 % market share is a fallacy -a far cry if you see carefully the sales are just stock transfers and in some markets the inventories of bad stocks are more than their 10 years sales. Renewal of licenses is a perpetual problem for they owe loads of money to their suppliers and distributors. Their staffs have not been paid their salaries for last nine months.’

There was also a backlash- a ton of bricks came my way from another unknown person Neeraj Sharma who claimed to be a journalist and chided me for unprofessionalism and sensationalism. He wrote, ‘Dear Subhash, After going through the above article and the first few posted comments, it doesn’t reflect well on the quality of the contents. It seems very immature to see someone writing about a company and you posting it without checking on the authenticity of the information. I agree that freedom of expression should be practiced but to bring about a social change in the country...not to hamper someone's reputation without knowing the facts. Today we are witnessing sensationalism in the media world but let us not go down to such levels of bringing information which may or may not be accurate. I have studied journalism since many years but what I make out from the above news item is sheer un-objective.’ As a policy, we did publish those comments and of course, we all know what happened to Indage shortly after. As we had surmised, it went bankrupt.

In yet another case, I had seen an Article in a US magazine, which I thought was very well-written and though ahead of its time, could be interesting and educational for our readers. I wrote to the editor for permission to publish with full credit to the magazine and the author. I was instantly sent a favourable response and the Article published. A couple of years later, the author sent us a legal notice threatening a big suit, ostensibly egged on by another journalist in India. She cooled down when I sent her the permission letter, but I was too glad to remove the Article from Indian Wine Academy, which also gave her some publicity and recognition in the growing wine culture.  There are a few other cases but generally people now understand that we do not mean to be against any individual and in general are very helpful to the wine industry.

Sula: From Zero to Hero in 10 years

Starting with a sale of 4,000 cases in the first commercial vintage of 1999, Sula went on to record a 190,000 case sale in 2008-09, thanks in part to the fiasco of Indage. But when I wrote the Article, ‘From Zero to Hero in 10 Years’ during the same year in December, Rajeev Samant took umbrage to my title of the Article and was visibly upset. He was not willing to agree to our viewpoint that the ascent of Sula had been accelerated by the policies of the competitors. Indage had buckled under the management and financial problems. Even Grover Vineyards had quality issues due to which its revenues nose-dived from Rs.230million to Rs.130million in 2008-09. According to Neeraj Sharma it would be considered sensationalism in journalism. In our eyes, we were referring to the exponential rise of almost 50 times in the short span of 10 years. Being a logical person, Rajeev did finally see our viewpoint.

delWine had a practically a zero base (about 2000 when we sent out the first issue) when it started in 2006. Because of our continuous efforts, it has crossed the 33,000 subscriber-figure this year. We had also started a closed group of Indian Wine Academy a couple of years ago to give an ad-less platform to members to exchange information and generate discussions on wine. Any wine subject may be discussed-members may post information but promotion and commercial posts are strictly disallowed. There are around 8,500 members and counting.

Seventeen years on, Sula has continued with its progress, in terms of sales and pricing at various quality points. delWine continues reporting objectively about winemakers like Sula diligently. This is just coincidence that at the first-ever delWine Excellence Awards held on September 14 this year, Sula was announced the Best Producer of the Year by the jury and subsequent public voting. Its efforts to wine tourism were also recognised by the jury and the public which selected Sula as the Best Wine Company promoting wine tourism.   

Subhash Arora

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