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Posted: Sunday, 26 January 2020 14:14

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Star Interview: SAM Conversations with Subhash Arora on Wine Cluture

Jan 26: In a candid interview styled chat in which Tarun Basu, President of Society for Policy Studies posed several questions about the growing wine culture in India including the known government impediments and how China has come along so much and so fast, Subhash Arora cleared several misgivings as a part of Sam Conversations organised by South Asia Monitor to be broadcast in South Asian countries and a group of viewers in the US, with the objective of disseminating the current status of wine industry in India

Taking Tarun Basu and Nirupama Sekhri, a journalist and educator back to history of Indian wine, Arora stressed that our mythological records show the use of wine in some form even 5000 years ago as Som or Somrus but the records indicate the Mughal royalty drinking wine from Shiraz (Persia) during their reign. Closer to us in history, the British encouraged wine production and indeed there is a mention of wine being produced in Kashmir. In fact, at the Calcutta International Exhibition in 1884 there are records of Indian wines winning medals. Post phylloxera in 1890-1900 when the vineyards were destroyed, the British did not encourage the restart of the industry due to social pressures against wine and alcohol.

In the post-independence period wine was being consumed in Goa due to Portuguese influence and in fact 1970’s saw the production of cheap Goan Port wine which was fortified wine made from eating grapes and costing less than Rs. 100 a bottle. This was the period of Golconda wines. The modern day wine production was pioneered by Indage which brought in Marquis de Pompadour sparkling wine with foreign collaboration in the 1980’s and later Riviera (and Chantilly brands) still wine labels that became popular. But the credit for varietals goes to Grover and Sula in the 1990’s that started the modern day winemaking.

The real sales and wine culture took off in 2001 when the government allowed free import of wines (with heavy taxes though).

To a question that men drank more wine, Arora opined that men in India were known to drink hard liquor but their chauvinistic attitude saw women drink Sherry and Port and at times Madeira which were sweet and considered light substitutes for liquor. Men are much more into wine globally. Women were not given too much professional importance till 80s and 90s when women were still considered to have their place in the kitchen or lower level jobs- women are much ahead now. Husbands don’t mind their wives having a glass or two of the ‘soft’ alcohol. Middle class women are drinking wine- in Maharashtra it gives a good feeling when one sees even lower middle class women imbibing domestic wine.

Concurring with Arora, Nirupama Sekhri who has worked in the airline industry, reminisced that men wanted whisky the moment flights took off. She wondered if the weather and soil were good enough for making wine in India, Arora explained that India did not have the proper latitude to make good wines- globally about 28-45⁰  {30-50⁰ is considered the best spectrum both in the Northern and Southern hemisphere) and India with about 13-11⁰ is far from ideal. But with modern progress with viticulture it is possible though India might never make great wines.

Nashik is not necessarily the best production area though it has the requisite temperature climate but not necessarily the soil.  Karnataka is good too. So is Andhra Pradesh but Uttaranchal and Himachal Pradesh (and Kashmir valley) are excellent but political climate is not conducive for   wine production.

To a suggestion by Tarun Basu that Nashik was known as the Napa Valley of India, Arora said the title was a creation of the producers and journalists only while explaining that India was number seven producer of grapes (according to OIV- the world body for vines and wines, of which India is a member)

To a query about Indian wine exports, Arora emphasized that he had been a great proponent of exports because that set the benchmark for the world interest in our quality. The producers were not so inclined as they could sell whatever they produced in the local market. But it started about 15 years ago in a small way and now getting bigger with producers also looking at it seriously. Though we may not be competitive enough in price, some of our wines are world class.

When he asked me about my fetish with the government being an impediment in the growth of the industry, Arora clarified that the genesis of this was in our Constitution (Article 47 directs that the  State shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of intoxicating drinks and drugs which are injurious to health). Politicians have instead been using to raise taxes and claim they are discouraging consumption by increasing taxing (In a most recent case where three districts of Maharashtra imposed prohibition in 2015, Chandrapur is considering repealing it with the new government in place because the district is losing tax revenue of Rs, 235 Crores (Rs, 2.34 billion) as received earlier, which is now being cornered by the bootleggers and smugglers). 

Since wine is labour intensive the government ought to encourage wine production and also export since it gives jobs to many farmers and hundreds of thousands of jobs could be created. On one hand farmers are committing suicide when they could be gainfully employed. Fortunately, wine production does not need very fertile land either. But local taxes are very high and need to be rationalised.

Reflecting on the growth of wine production in China, Arora emphasised that it was only due to the positive approach by their government for it healthy properties that it had taken off. While deprecating the Chines fetish for red wine as it was good for health and blindly drinking red wine (of late, white wine has started making gains, especially in the coastal areas where sea-food is in plenty), in India we should be drinking more white wine. China realised that the rice wine and alcohol that was being consumed could cause shortage of cereals and so encouraged wine as a preferred drink of choice. Today China is making quite good wine and was already the second –largest in the world in terms of surface area and was sure to become number one in years to come.

Regarding Arora’s Wine & Health articles where he emphasises that wine is not spirit and is healthy, Arora said he had attended wine and health conferences in the US where top heart specialists from the world congregated. Studied conducted in the 1980’s and 1990’s had shown that the resveratrol found in the skin and pips of the grape was antioxidant that elongate life span when consumed in moderation.

He disagreed its benefits for cancer-in fact even a glass of wine every day increased the chance of breast cancer among women. However, a regular intake of folates that were very inexpensive reduced it to nil. He continues to recommend wine consumption of a maximum of 3 glasses (of 125 mL and 12.5 % alcohol adjusted downwards for higher alcohol) for men and 2 glasses for women with a break of a couple of days in a week. He recommends wine colour of choice but preferably with food, as it helps breaks down the alcohol before reaching the kidneys.

On being asked by Ms Sekhri if wine was acquired taste, Arora agreed that it could be for red tannic and slightly bitter wines or matured collectible wine but not necessarily white wines. He had been himself a teetotaler before he started drinking after tasting a fruity white wine for the first time. He recommend a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand for a teetotaler tasting wine for the first time. Young Indian Sauvignon Blanc from Indian producers or even a slightly sweet Riesling from Sula could be delicious for someone who did not like drinking wine.

Young people are the hope for expanding wine culture as it is a lifestyle and aspirational drink, he opined and implied ‘you have arrived’. He was concerned however that during the Last 2-3 years there had been a trend abroad that was percolating into India, with craft beer and gin getting increasingly popular and he saw it as a red flag.

Arora summed up by saying that wine consumption would go to the next level only with people starting to drink wine with food and it was not in Indian DNA (especially Indian food and this needed to be promoted aggressively)).

The interview/Chat concluded with ‘Cheers’ and Arora disclosing that he had coined the Indian word ‘Jai Ho’ for Cheers and said Jai Ho to his viewers,

Subhash Arora

For Video Presentation, go to www.youtube.com

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Subhash Arora Says:


Sagnik, I susggest you become a member of Facebook group of Indian Wine Academy closed group. Lots of information, Suggest you also join to get delwine (www.delwine.com) newsletter. 846 editions are there. its free and more info than you can get in any coursed in India. Then you just need to drink and taste wine as much as possible and as you like. You are onto something nice and different. Pursue it further.

Posted @ May 27, 2020 09:53


Sagnik Kusari Says:


Hi Sir, Greetings, I hope you are doing fine. I just watched your interview which I thought was absolutely fascinating. I have been studying the alco-beverage market lately, reading different articles and watching many interviews but this interview of yours has been the most educational of all of that I have seen till now. In a short span of only 20 minutes, you dived into such depth and made the topic so interesting that its difficult to get my mind off it now. You are truly a source inspiration to a growing community of wine enthusiasts and I hope to see more of your interviews in the near future. I wanted to thank you personally for the educating us through the interview and I was only hoping that the interview would go on for a little while longer. Thanks a lot again, Sir. Regards! Sagnik Kusari

Posted @ May 27, 2020 09:14


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