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Delhi Wine Club

Posted: Saturday, 12 June 2010 10:44

Grover Ready to take on Sula-in London

Come summer and everyone who is someone in India heads for London- to see and be seen. It is not surprising that Grover has also gone to London to show off its quality wines by tying up with the powerful importer Bibendum and take on Sula, in a market which may not be very big in size but is  prestigious and perhaps a gateway to the world  for Indian wines.

A communiqué from Bibendum and circulated by Grover, gives them exclusive right to initially market Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet-Shiraz and La Reserve. Tim Marson MW, the buyer for Bibendum says, ‘With more than 6000 Indian restaurants in the UK this is a very exciting opportunity to bring India’s best wines to a wider audience.’

The Press Release is quiet on Grover’s best export-worthy product, the Cabernet Sauvignon based Rosé which Michel Rolland loves with Indian food and Jancis Robinson went on record a few years ago, saying it is the best Indian wine for Indian cuisine- it is also regular pour at the Gordon’s Bar, the oldest wine bar in London. Kapil Grover, Director of Grover Vineyards, who is very excited about the new arrangement, clarifies, ‘We did not produce any Rose in 2009 and it would not be proper to send 2008 as it won’t be that fresh. So we took a joint decision that when we are ready with the 2010, we will send it.’

So what happens to Shailen Patel of Cranbrooke Wines who has been importing their wines for the London market for a number of years and has introduced it in places like Gordon’s Bar, Bombay Brasserie, Quilon Restaurant? ‘I believe in long term working relationship with our distributors. This arrangement has been made with Shailen’s help and concurrence. He has been a great asset for us. But he has a small business and has been selling more out of passion for Indian wines rather than a business. So we made Bibendum agree that he will independently service these and a couple of other accounts he has been handling,’ says Kapil. DelWine tried to contact Shailen who is in Mumbai but he was not available on phone.

At the London International Wine Fair last month, the 2006 La Reserve was the choice of Grover Vineyard at the Indian Masterclass conducted by Stephen Spurrier, where nine wines were presented, eight of them from the producers who exhibited at the Show. All eight producers being from Maharashtra, this was the lone Karnataka wine tasted.

And when does the agreement start? ‘Our first consignment of the three labels should be reaching just about today. So I guess it starts today.’ And how much are they planning to sell this year? ‘With Bibendum being behind us, I would like to believe 10,000 cases. If I were to spend a year in UK, I would say we could easily sell 10-15000 cases-the market is there. However, I’d say 5000 cases is realistic,’ says Kapil whose company has done rather well in the export market last year with 13,000 cases sold, a majority in France and Japan.

Helping Grover sell Bibendum the Grover wines is their newly appointed brand ambassador. Amber Vaidya, son of Mr. Vaidya who has been a member of the Board of Grovers since inception and took retirement recently due to old age (90 years). Amber  is a  resident of UK and an appassionato of Indian wines. Having spent a career in Finance he is very keen to promote Indian wines. Kapil does not mind admitting, ‘it is he who bought the Bibendum proposal to us and we did all the samplings in conjunction with Shailen.’
Competition Heats up with Sula

This is where the implicit competition begins with Sula although Kapil does not like to be dragged into number game or the competition-he says he just likes to do the best he can for his wines; they did 80,000 cases only as compared to 250,000 by Sula which is also focusing on the exports to London and gearing up for a big jump in revenues, especially after a very successful LIWF. 

Sula’s importer in the UK is Hallgarten Druitt which took over their previous importer Novum earlier this year. Like Bibendum, Druitt is also one of the UK’s top wine importers with a portfolio of over 1,000 wines from over 80 producers globally, compared to about 50 for Bibendum. They are also very strong in both off-trade and on-trade. Like Bibendum they have also been winners of the IWSC ‘Importer of the year’ trophy several times.
Sula is candid to admit that their sales in the UK were down slightly last year from the previous year but have picked up well this year; they have already shipped almost 2000 cases. Cecilia Oldne, Head –International Business says, ‘we are targeting not only the ethnic market, but hope to take advantage of Hallgarten’s strong presence and unparalleled distribution. They are already into selling wines in ethnic markets with over 8, 000 cases a year from Monsoon Valley in Thailand.
To top it all, Rajeev Samant who is unquestionably, the brand ambassador for Sula, will be back in London by month-end again with Cecilia. He could have let the distributors handle it by themselves and concentrate on the much higher target of 350,000 cases he has set for himself and his team but ‘ I like to go back myself for tastings, market visits and strategy meetings with our importer. If the trend that we are seeing in the UK continues, it might become our No. 1 import market,’ says the man who is credited as much for his vision as for his energy, consistency of quality and his marketing skills. 

Several of the other producers also have set their sights to conquer our ‘erstwhile conquerors’. Four Seasons, Vintage, Miazma, Mercury, York are a few of the producers making export worthy wines and are trying to capture a reasonable share of the market. The numbers might look small but it is a gateway to exports to the western world and success here would only mean that the whole world could be the oyster for your Sauvignon Blancs and other wines.

With the UK market wide open for Indian wines, with the number of Indians settled in UK in big numbers, with the British placing Indian curry way ahead of other ethnic foods, it should mean higher demand for our wines. There ought to be a big scope, if we can wean them away from beer. There is a good scope for both Grover and Sula to capture a decent share of the market.

We can sit back and relax with a glass of their Sauvignon Blanc in hand and see who wins in the UK market. 

Subhash Arora


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