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Delhi Wine Club

Posted: Monday, January 11 2010. 13:03

Feature: Mario Sequeira- Port King of Goa

Mario Sequeira may not be permitted to label what he produces as Port in Goa, if the EU laws became strictly applicable, but the quantity he produces makes him the king of this Port in India today and perhaps the third highest quantity-based wine producer. Subhash Arora who chatted with him in Goa recently, reports

Visit any restaurant in Goa serving wine. Chances are they would be serving a Portuguese wine labelled as Castelinho (MRP Rs. 299) or Susegad (Portuguese word indicative of being laid back) Shiraz, Merlot and Chenin Blanc (MRP Rs. 499). They may not be the best quality wines but in a state generally inebriated with the local Feni made from distilling the cashew apple, or the Rs.60-100 concoction termed as Port, with Zinzi selling at Rs. 199 and Indage’s Vin Ballet available for banquets at a price as low as Rs.180, these wines are relatively princely.

Tonia Liquor Industries, owned by the well known politically connected Sequeira family- three brothers, is known more for its Port sold under mainly the San Andre label for Rs.70. Around 7000-8000 cases a month of wine are sold, most of which is Port, claims Mario. This would make him the number one Port producer.

Mario insists his family believes in giving back to the society; his father who was in politics and even went to Mombasa in exile, where Mario was born in 1971, refused the monetary awards conferred on him as a Goa freedom fighter.

His claim as the top Port producer could only be challenged by the other well-known producer, Vinicola who also sells to a lot of private labels. However, the owner is undergoing some family crisis and one did not think of intruding his privacy at this time to verify and countercheck the claims and the sales figures.

The fact that what is being produced by fortifying the wine or reportedly taking neutral alcohol and infuse colours, sugar and fragrances cannot be called Port - ae prerogative of the Portuguese town of Puerto only does not inhibit the Goans from manufacturing the popular beverage.

Mario Sequeira who primarily looks after marketing, says that several individual liquor vends get the port made under their exclusive brands. Brand registration is not a big issue in Goa. Since bulk of the sales are to unsuspecting out -of- state tourists, the vend owners push their own labels as the best wine at Rs.100 or even more, while offering San Andre at Rs.70 as a lesser quality option. Since the customer cannot check the prices due to the non-availability of the label anywhere else, it is easier to convince the gullible customer.

But the brand enjoys enough loyalty in several states with the cognoscenti of Goan port and with Andhra Pradesh alone ordering around 3000 cases monthly, says Mario. But does Goan Port have any grapes in it or is a mere alcohol driven concoction flavoured with syrups and suitably coloured, I ask? ‘I cannot vouch for other producers but we make ours using indigenous grapes-Bangalore Blue (40%) and Bangalore Purple (60%),’ he asserts. ‘After it reaches an 8% alcohol level, we add natural alcohol thereby stopping the fermentation and then bringing up the alcohol level to 18%,’ he adds.

Unlike some other producers, Mario is not shy in admitting that his Castelinho-both the red and white, is a bulk wine imported from the well-known Rebatejo region of Portugal and is sold as an imported product.

The family started the business in 1990 and got into wines in 1995. They started with Goa Classic wine in 1998. Castelinho (meaning beautiful, small castle in Portuguese) was brought in 2003-04.

With the rising wine demand, the Sequeira family is planning to extend its operation across India, barring Delhi and Mumbai where Mario feels the time is  not right to spread the wings due to organizational constraints. He also plans to expand the imported wine portfolio which currently includes Castello di Monastero from Chianti Classico region in Italy ‘We have got it listed in Kenilworth and Inter-continental Hotels but I must admit we have not been able to do justice. However, we are planning to become more aggressive on our imports soon,’ he says.

Interestingly, if one takes the volume of total wine production as a measure to define the pecking order in the Indian wine industry, at around 90,000 cases a year Tonia would be vying for the third spot, right next to Grover, although the lower values would make it a much smaller player on the national scale.

Subhash Arora


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