Jan 28: Sula Vineyards which pioneered Rosé in India in 2001 using Zinfandel grapes and went on to add The upper end Source Grenache Rosé in early 2018, and also a couple of bubble variants, has seen an unprecedented boom in the last 5 years, making Sula the biggest Rosé producer with 9-10% of its total product mix, and temporary shortage expected of The Source Rosé this year, says Rajeev Samant, Founder CEO of Sula in an exclusive chat with Subhash Arora
Rosé has been chugging along in India since it was first introduced by Sula in 2001. But the sales started galloping during the last 5 years, making it the fastest growing category -even when compared to white wines. The growth is perhaps finally at par now with the global trends as a category, says Rajeev Samant, Founder CEO of Sula.
Sula Zinfandel Rosé
It seemed natural that Sula would use Zinfandel grapes for their first Rosé variety. `We cultivated the grape right from the beginning but were not happy with the concentration from the young vines for red wine. But we found it perfect for Rosé - just needed to harvest the grape slightly earlier,’ he says, ‘we also added a bit of Chenin Blanc to make it softer and less overwhelming; the latest FSSAI laws allow 75% of the varietal grape as in the US and Australia.
Zin is also higher yielding, easier to grow and make wine from. The price is very reasonable at Rs. 660 in Delhi and Rs. 700 in Gurgaon though slightly higher (Rs. 750) in Mumbai. The off dry, affordable wine has received maximum traction during the last five years, especially in the Covid period, and is responsible for the sale of over half their Rosés, because of the flavour with slightly higher residual sugar and an excellent Price Quality Ratio (PQR).
The Source Grenache Rosé
I was quite impressed by this new Label, new grape and new Rosé at SulaFest 2018. Sitting in Rajeev’s office, I tasted The Source Grenache Rosé launched a few weeks earlier. The first glass- and I was hooked. The beautiful Provence pink, juicy berry flavours and a pleasant mouthfeel with perfect sweetness bordering on dry, I was hooked to this refreshing wine with soft feminine tannins.
When someone asked me about Sula wines later, I looked back and realised I had tasted a wide range of wines, but found myself drinking bucketfuls of the new Rosé with endless refills. This variant soon established The Source as the new high quality affordable label in between Sula/Dindori and the Super Premium Rasa. With The Source Sauvignon Blanc and later a Cabernet Sauvignon, it offers excellent VFM wine at around Rs. 1100-1200.
Seco Rose sparkling- Although Sula was already making Sula Brut with the Traditional Method, they introduced this fizzy variant as Brut about 10 years ago, followed by Rosé soon thereafter. The second fermentation in the tank made it frothier, lighter on the palate and cheaper on the wallet with a good amount of sugar (40 gms/liter) making it a darling of the young and women who have been on the forefront of imbibing wine as alcoholic beverage and like to have lower alcohol.
This category is hitting the roof also because of the highly affordable price of Rs. 700. Those who love a glass of bubbly in summer with Indian food, find it irresistible. Though a bit sweet for me, I found it very pleasant at 7-8⁰ C served from the ice bucket in Rajeev’s office. It did not matter how it was made. I felt it had 20-25 gms of sugar, perfect for spicy Indian, Chinese or Thai food; and costing only around Rs. 550 then!
Tropicale Rosé- This wine has been a bit of an enigma since I tasted it at Sula’s 15th anniversary celebration at St. Regis in Mumbai in October 2015 when the new bubbly Sula Brut Tropicale was also launched. The 360˚coating of multi-coloured paisley design was extremely attractive and in fact the packaging set the tone for many premier bubblies from competitors later, but it was categorised Blanc de Noir as majority of red wine grapes- Pinot Noir and Shiraz were purportedly used, with white grapes including Chenin. It was pitted against its own Brut and that from Chandon Brut introduced in 2013.
Poured generously during the evening, it was a big hit. For me it was a heavenly match with the delicious shrimp Paella. I was slightly foxed by the ‘Brut’ categorisation though. I had even noted in my Report, ‘one factor that would go either way-for or against the label, is the colour. Though I loved it, one has to wait and watch the reaction by the consumers since it is not Rose and yet pink in colour’.
I am happy to note that Tropicale has now been classified as a Rosé. In fact, Rajeev says they have started stamping ‘Rosé’ on the labels too. Sula also shifted to the Charmat method about 3 years ago to make it lighter on the palate. Priced at Rs. 1100 in Gurgaon and Rs, 1450 in Mumbai (Rs. 1340 in Delhi) it is priced now at almost half the price of recently increased price of Rs. 2500 for the competing Chandon with Ultra Chic packaging. Sula has been a big beneficiary of this retrograde policy.
‘Their Price increase is downright unfair to the consumer,’ asserts Rajeev, adding, ‘Sula has gained a huge share of the market now because of their retrograde policy. Market is limited today for such expensive bubbles. With more young people drinking wine, price is a big factor. Chandon might have positioned it for the Restaurants mainly for expensive brunches costing Rs. 6000. But that is not a big market these days and let’s face it-there are not too many takers at that price!’
Rajeev may have a point but when I remind him it is unfair to compare the two since Tropicale is Prosecco styled but Chandon is produced in Champagne style, he takes umbrage to my remarks and says, ‘I have a strong objection to that suggestion. The customer is looking for a lighter style and most people do not want the yeasty, heavier bubbly. During the last 10 years Seco Rose has already demonstrated that. If you believe that 80% of wine is made in the vineyards, our viticultural team is better. The location is Nashik-same for both. So how can they justify the difference in cost of over 50%,’ he wonders.
Rosé s’il vous plaît
We bring the focus back to my favourite Grenache Rosé and ask him how Sula thought of a totally different Rosé when the Zin was doing well. ‘In just one word - Provence. The beautiful pink, the soft tannins, this refreshing Rose has become the de facto standard for Rosé globally,' he says.
I agree with Rajeev. Rosè s’il vous plait has become the buzzword with Provence sales growing by 500% in the last 15 years. It has become a global benchmark for pleasurable Rosés and is making the world fall in love with France’s signature pink drink.
To my surprise, the sales of Zin Rosé are still manifold since the price difference of Rs. 300- 400 makes it the best VFM wine in their mid-price segment. ‘Sula has always tried to maintain quality and keep wine affordable. Remember, there are not too many Grenache grapes available. Our challenge is we cannot make as much ‘Source’ as we can sell. But we are keeping the prices stable, maintaining high quality. We may not even have stocks for a couple of months this year. What we sell is absolutely fresh. Currently we are selling only 2021; 2022 will be available in April.
He also advises consumers to drink the most recent vintage. ‘As a rule Rosé, even in Europe, is made to drink young to keep the freshness. So I won’t lay it down much. For the same reason no oak is used to keep it fresh and fruity,’ he recommends.
Exports and Travel
Sula is still a ‘red and white’ wine company. ‘We do not export Rosé at all; India is our focus. Our wines have a higher level of acidity as we realised that higher acidity is good for travel within India. Wine is shipped in cool trucks and the warehouse of our distributor- Brindco, is air conditioned in Gurgaon. Retail shops are mostly air conditioned too so Rajeev feels the wine remains fresh even after travel. Of course, the challenge is much more between April and August. Winter is the right time to buy these wines’, he says with his inimitable smile.
Rosé in Can
Sula pioneered Wine-in-Can with Dia red and white versions launched in 2020 at SulaFest but then let Fratelli take the lead when it introduced TILT and went with blitzkrieg, taking a lion’s share of this segment, with 4 variants. He dodges my question about the possibility of introducing Dia Rosé Cans except saying, ‘I can’t talk about it but it is a natural progression so it should happen,’ dropping a hint that it may be already in the pipeline.
Serving Rosé Wine and Food
Like a father with two children, Rajeev refuses to be drawn into his personal preference. `We both agree that for Indian weather conditions Rosé is a much better choice than even the white. I drink them both depending on my mood. Sometimes I prefer Zin, especially with Indian food but at times when I am just in a mood for a glass or two of wine for relaxation, I go for slightly drier Grenache which I believe goes better with the western cuisine.’
An interesting tip
Rajeev has an interesting tip to enjoy the Rosé. While it is acceptable to have a cube or two in the wine glass to cool it, he advises the use of a chilled glass, dropping a cube in it and then slowly pouring wine over the cube, removing and discarding the cube afterwards so that the wine is not diluted.
He recommends serving white wines at 8-10⁰C but Rose at 10-12⁰ C. He cautions against serving it chilled at 6⁰C like bubbly which is ok because of slightly higher acidity but would freeze the flavour of a Rosé.
Rosè s’il vous plaît? Try The Magnificent Four from Sula!