Sep 07: Marketing of imported wines in India may be tougher than climbing Mount Everest, but Sula Selections, with its eye for value-for-money quality wines, has made Le Grand Noir from Languedoc region in South of France, popular enough to become arguably the best selling French wine brand in India within 5 years of import, writes Subhash Arora who is quite impressed with the Reds and the Rosé variant
I attended an important, unavoidable Big Fat Indian Wedding recently in Pune where the marriage party stayed at Ritz Carlton Hotel-double vaccinated and RT-PCR tested. I arrived at around Lunch time and soon after check-in went to the top-floor Restaurant where a big Lunch and generous portions of wine, creative cocktails and liquor awaited.
Knowing my passion for wine, the host had requested me to select the wine for the event as a part of the Menu. Used to the high import duties and X-Factor (Multiplier) at 5-star hotels, I was nevertheless shocked to see the Menu prices at this topmost hotel in town. No Indian wine for under around Rs. 4500 and the imported wines were generally upwards of Rs. 7,500 ($100) a bottle for a quaffable wine!
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My eyes suddenly spotted Pinot Noir from Le Grand Noir!! LGN has been my favourite French wine with a retail price of around Rs. 1500 since it was first introduced by Sula Selections in 2016. So I nodded approval and it became a standard pour at all the events for the next 2 days. I enjoyed the wine and the compliments I received from several wine lovers.
The LGN label was introduced by Rajeev Samant, Founder CEO of Sula Vineyards, through the imported wine Arm-Sula Selections. It has been ascending fast in popularity with 4 labels- Chardonnay, GSM (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre), Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. The Provence-styled Rosé (Grenache-Syrah blend) in light onion pink colour and the Brangelina- owned Miraval bottle, was added last year and has been climbing steadily in the popularity charts.
‘In all four regions –whether off- trade or on- trade, LGN has been well accepted and doing very well; especially in Mumbai metro, Bangalore and Delhi NCR region with a growth of 250% over last year. In fact, LGN Rose is currently out of stock. LGN Pinot Noir has been our star but Rosé is a super-star. Imported barely a year back, it has taken off in the past 6 months,’ says Rajeev.
When I share my LGN story with him, he says, ‘it shows our commitment to consumers for value. 90% of our wines are below Rs. 2,000 MRP. We hardly deal with wines selling for over Rs. 3,000. Trapiche, Cono Sur, Hardys and LGN are our 4 pillars. We will sell more LGN than our earlier best-seller, Hardys this year.’
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The genesis is in Rajeev’s belief that India did not have reasonably priced quality French wines earlier. He had been scouting around for a good, affordable brand for several years. Robert Joseph whom he had met first in around 2005, had started producing these wines in Minervois in the Languedoc region of South of France about 15 years ago with two partners, with the philosophy of ‘Luxury at affordable price’. He started talking for the Indian market to Rajeev who kept on sampling a few of the labels at Vinexpo and finally liked what he tasted in 2015 and ordered these labels.
The business philosophy of Robert Joseph, the well-known English writer, critic, wine competition judge and author with over 2 dozen books to his credit, is congruent with Rajeev. The old-world Brit with New World ideas believes the wine must be quaffable but affordable quality to make a dent in any market. He also believes that labelling and packaging are equally important, especially to attract younger consumers. No wonder, his company has crossed a sale of around 32,000 cases and exports in 62 highly competitive markets, with excellent response in the Indian market.
The ascent has been fast. Based on the IWSR Report, Rajeev says 39,000 cases of French wine were imported in 2019-20, with an estimate of 45,000 cases for 2021-22. (delWine believes these figures to be conservative). He anticipates a sale of 10,000 cases of LGN during the current year and is even more optimistic about the future, expecting a growth of 2.5 times during the next 3 years. We are constantly running out of both the red Pinot and the Rosé. Besides the pricing and quality, packaging has played a crucial role. ‘The Rosé has been a real knockout. By next year we expect LGN to become the #2 selling brand in India, with a sale of 15, 000 cases a year,’ he adds.
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Robert is an Old World Brit with New World ideas and focus on quality, affordability and packaging. Le Grand Noir brings together the elegance of the fine French wines with the friendly approachability and softer tannins from the New World. The company has already exported 8500 cases to India this year and plans to export 12, 000 cases next year, followed with an annual growth of 20%.
As one expects from the taste profile, Pinot Noir Red and the Rosé are not oaked to keep fresh while 20% of Chardonnay and GSM are barrel fermented/aged. Cabernet Sauvignon is aged in oak for 6 months -using staves and barrels, says Robert who claims they produce close to 32,000 cases with most of their wines exported to 62 countries.
Interestingly, Sula has revisited the import philosophy since it made a foray into the imported wines over 15 years ago. It has drastically cut down the imports by 50% in the last 3 years. ‘About 90% of our wines are below Rs. 2000. We hardly dabble with wines selling for over Rs. 3000. It is our goal to offer the best value French, Malbec, Australian and Chilean wines and we aim to be either no.1 or no.2 in each of our 4 pillars-with LGN, Trapiche, Hardys and Cono Sur. Sula has also reduced its non-wine portfolio with focus mainly on wine,’ says Rajeev.
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The Le Grand Noir spell ‘Jai Ho’ to the connoisseurs with an eye on their pocket and palate.
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