July 13: Deepak Bhatnagar who joined Sula in 2002 and rose through the ranks and retired as Director, Sales and Marketing for Sula on March 31, 2020 has decided to invest substantially in the fruit wine venture of his long-time family friend Shrikant Save and his daughter Priyanka Save and help them expand the Hill Zill Winery in Bordi Maharashtra, writes Subhash Arora who feels the market is unlimited with little competition and tremendous scope if handled professionally
Deepak Bhatnagar retired as Director, Sales and Marketing for Sula on March 31, 2020 on reaching the retirement age, after rising through the ranks since he joined the company in 2002. He has been working as an Advisor since and has reportedly invested a sizeable amount of capital through his wife Rashmi Bhatnagar in the Hill Zill Winery that makes Fruzzante brand of fruit wines in Bordi, Maharashtra and is advising them also on improving production, quality, marketing and in fact, every aspect of the operations.
Deepak has known Shrikant Save who built the Hill Zill Resort in the 1990s, and his family for 20 years. Shrikant’s daughter Priyanka Save and her husband Nagesh Pai returned from the US and set up Hill Zill winery making fruit wines and mead (honey wine) with the first vintage in 2016. He had been visiting the winery occasionally as a friend and when Shrikant knew he was retiring from Sula, he requested him to use his decades of experience in the wine industry to help his children. He even offered him a sizable stake in the business at a reasonable price which Deepak accepted.
I have known Deepak for over 17 years and met him every time I have been in Nashik or in Delhi. But I was really moved when he came to meet me specially at the Fruit Conference in November last year at Bordi. He has been travelling occasionally to the winery due to the family connections but when he heard about my visit, he made sure to come and meet me and spend an evening with me.
I have known Deepak to be a staunch Sula loyalist and one of the most faithful employees. He says unabashedly, ‘everything I have and learnt in the wine industry I owe it to Sula. I prospered and learnt a lot under the leadership of RS (Rajeev Samant) and will always be his ardent admirer and a staunch supporter of Sula. It was my personal commitment not to get near the grapes or (grape) wine industry. I invested in this project with his blessings and support,’ adding, ‘there is so much one can do to promote fruit wines in India anyway’.
He has been advising the winery in a professional capacity since April 1. He has already made changes in the marketing strategy. Fruzzante is available now in different parts of Maharashtra, covering now 10 cities like Thane, Pune, Aurangabad, Nashik, Nagpur and Kolhapur besides Mumbai. Plans are afoot to enter Goa and another state after this is set properly. He has set a target of 10,000 cases of fruit wine and mead in the current year, Covid notwithstanding- a growth of over 800%. Hopefully, with his experience at Sula, he will encourage wine tourism as well.
Pineapple and Mead have already developed a good market. He wants them to focus more on mango, strawberry and of course chikoo (sapota) wines. He will continue to live in Mumbai but visit the winery occasionally for consultations.
Priyanka Save is ecstatic as she informs delWine, ‘I am very happy to share with you that DB (as Deepak Bhatnagar has been known in Sula) uncle has taken stakes in Hill Zill Wines in April and is also advising us now to help us grow faster. We are truly blessed to work under his guidance.’
On my visit I was very impressed with Mead-it promised to be one of the top sweet wines in India. He has managed for them to buy some barrels in which they plan to age these wines and make them even more complex. But I was surprised to see Hill Zill Winery using small beer bottles for packaging and not wine bottles. This could be a negative factor for perceiving fruit wine as wine. I hope among other improvements recommended by him, Deepak would be able to help them select proper wine bottles-even if they are 375 mL in size. Deepak says these are currently made similar to cider style and not meant to be fruit wines. They have plans to make serious fruit wines and one would see them soon both in 375mL and 750 mL bottles and in a premium packaging.
Of course, many such improvements would be expected. One can see a rise in the popularity of fruit wines in Maharashtra.
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