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Le Grand Noir enters India in Style Sula

Posted: Friday, 21 October 2016 11:20


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Le Grand Noir enters India in Style Sula

Oct 21: The highlight of the recently concluded Globe in the Glass Roadshow by Sula was the Launch of Le Grand Noir from the French stable of British wine industry consultant, author, journalist and producer Robert Joseph, promising to be an excellent value for money French wine for India, according to his distributor Rajeev Samant, Founder CEO of Sula. Subhash Arora who chatted with them at length during the first Asian Wine and Spirits Forum and Conference-The Silk Route organised on October 10-12 in the FunHill District of Beijing, reports

Click For Large ViewAlthough the events organised in Delhi (Oct 3), Bangalore (Oct 5) and Mumbai (Oct 7) showcased around 40 wines and 15 spirits produced by Sula Vineyards or distributed by Sula Selections in India, the Launch of four variants of this label from Languedoc region in Southern France in Delhi and Bangalore and  tasting in Mumbai was the highlight. Rajeev Samant was very happy with the success of the launch and the tasting in the three cities. He added, ‘our target was to have 1100 people attend at the 3 cities but we had a total of around 1500 attending at the three venues. We will be happy to repeat the event next year,’ he said.

Robert Joseph, whom I had met me in Germany recently at the Mundusvini International wine Competition where we have been meeting at 10 consecutive annual tastings as fellow judges, told me he had tied up with Sula and was planning to come to India for the Launch at the roadshow. He was really upbeat about the event and the feedback received for his wines.  ‘I noticed more and more people coming back for the refills of Le Grand Noir at every venue and the listing of these wines already in good hotels in Mumbai is a very positive sign.’ With an annual sale of 1.8 million bottles, 95% of which are outside France, he is very excited about the brand catching on in India too.

The genesis of the brand goes back to Rajeev’s belief that India does not have reasonably priced quality French wines. He has been scouting around for a good, affordable brand for several years. Robert Joseph whom he had met first about 12 years ago, around the same time as I met him in Delhi at a wine fair, had started producing these wines in Minervois in the Languedoc region of South of France, with two partners Hugh Hyman, a sharp Bordeaux-based British consultant winemaker and Kevin Shaw, a US- based friend who is a label and packaging specialist. ‘I got them together so we could produce wine with our philosophy of Luxury at affordable price. And as we kept on increasing production, I started talking for the Indian market with Rajeev who kept on sampling a few of the labels (at 3 Vinexpo)! He finally liked what he tasted earlier this year and the deal for distributorship was stuck,’ says Robert.

A container of GSM (Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre), Cabernet- Shiraz, Chardonnay and Viognier was imported and the wines were introduced in the Mumbai market, about 2 months ago. ‘The response has been fantastic. To give you an idea, we had targeted to sell one container (1000-1100 cases) a year. Within two months we have already ordered another container,’ says Rajeev.

Robert has been an Old World man with New World ideas. He believes that the wine must be of good and yet affordable quality to make a dent in any market. He also believes that labelling and packaging are equally important, especially to attract younger consumers. His focus has been quality, affordability and packaging. ‘I like to give an affordable luxury’, he stresses. Obviously, there are many takers for his idea- ‘US is already the biggest market. Started 11 years ago, 95% of our wines are being exported. Surprisingly, the French market has also started to take note now and with the recent enquiries and interest shown, I believe our share in the domestic market will increase,’ says Robert.

His thinking is congruous with Rajeev’s philosophy. ‘We have priced these wines at around Rs. 1400. There has been a significant increase in the sub-Rs. 2000 imported wines in India. Our clear strategy is to be leaders in this category and also in the sub Rs.1500 category French wines,’ says Rajeev who has personally tasted and selected these wines.

Robert who had seen a huge potential in Indian the early years was disappointed with the Indian market later due to several factors. Read my interview with the Enfant Terrible on: Counter Point- ROBERT JOSEPH –Enfant Terrible of Wine Industry

So what made him change his thinking now? ‘Things have changed in India. Earlier, the progress was slow. The industry was really unfocused. Wrong people were making wrong wines.  Cabernet Sauvignon is a perfect example. It doesn’t grow well in Nashik but people insisted on these grapes. You also need to make less of Chenin Blanc. India needs to make ‘Indian’ wines. We need to make premium wines and stop thinking like Brits who are always thinking of discounted wines.’

Click For Large ViewHe is quite optimist about the Indian wine industry now. ‘Out of 80 or so wineries, 20 are serious winemakers. One is astonished at the progress made by Sula and their focus. Grover is back on track.  I am glad to see young people are drinking more and more wine, as are women,. I am glad to see people like you promoting wine and succeeding. Things happen fast in the wine industry. The world has changed a lot in the last 5 years. Who would have thought 5 years ago that Britain would leave EU? Who would have visualised the presence of I-phones? Who would have thought that Donald Trump would be at this stage in the US elections?’ Coming back to the main focus for him, he says,’ it was very productive to have been a part of the Sula Road Show.’

And what made Sula decide after so many years to have a roadshow of this magnitude, I asked Rajeev. ‘It makes sense to connect with all clients at one time. We bring all consumers under one roof and taste our products. Sitting in the Head Office we don’t have direct contact with the market. How do I know if a Hardy or Le Grand Noir or a Bouchard is being offered by my team to the trade and the consumer? With this programme we can conduct tastings in a controlled way,’ he replies.

From the looks of things, the Indian wine industry seems to be on the move. One ought not to wait for the next ‘Globe in the Glass’ event to taste wines and spirits from the Sula stable and certainly check out the of Le Grand Noir in Mumbai where it is already available and in Delhi and Bangalore where it will be available soon, as soon as the registration process is complete.

Subhash Arora

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