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Posted: Monday, 03 January 2022 13:50

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Vinexpo India: Relevance of Wine Clubs in India

Jan 03: Vinexpo India saw an interesting Masterclass on the last day, 11 December with Presidents of five wine clubs Pan India sharing their experiences and challenges during the journey with Subhash Arora (Delhi Wine Club), Bunty Singh (Delhi Wine Society),), Abhay Kewadkar (Bangalore), Chinmaya Arjun Raja (Chennai), Sharad Phadnis (Nagpur). with Alok Chandra (Bangalore) acting as the moderator, writes Subhash Arora, President of Indian Wine Academy and Founder Chairman Emeritus of Delhi Wine Club

From l to r: Sharad Phadnis, Chinmaya Arjun Raja, Subhash Arora, Bunty Singh, Abhay Kewadkar and Alok ChandraThe idea for this Masterclass was conceptualised by Subhash Arora who wanted the Presidents of well-established clubs (at least over 10 years’ age) which had survived despite the difficulties and challenges faced by them. The extinct clubs or the younger ones were not invited and it became obvious early on in the Masterclass that each participant would stress that the clubs were relevant for growth of wine culture and would focus on their individual experience.

The Wine Society of Delhi

Alok Chandra has been the Founder President of Bangalore Wine Club he founded in 2002. He introduced Kulbir (Bunty) Singh, President of the Wine Society of Delhi. Kulbir reminisced the beginnings going back to 1997 when Late Ghulam Naqshband had founded it as Table de France under the patronage of the French Embassy which wanted to promote French wines through the wines it sponsored.  In 2001 they changed their name and expanded the repertoire of wines, keeping a select membership of about 100 and limit the number of wine-related events to around 6 annually. Occasionally, they have blind tastings as well. After Naqshband retired due to advancing age, Bunty Singh took over and is currently carrying on the duties as the President. This is a non-commercial Club.

Bangalore Wine Club

Abhay Kewadkar, has also been a President of the Wine Club in Bangalore which has at least 4 other clubs, much smaller in size and with diverse objectives. He talked of the Club being run truly by a Committee which is headed by the President who is elected at a club meeting. The Club has now repeat Presidents, the current one Abhijit Saha being a second time President. Abhay stressed that the club has a democratic working and sees much less challenges than Delhi because the government policies are more customer friendly in Bangalore. It is also a non-commercial club.

Delhi Wine Club

Subhash Arora founded the Delhi Wine Club (DWC) in 2002. He narrated an instance which reflected the importance and state of affairs of Clubs. He disclosed that he had helped in motivating Yasho Saboo in forming the Chandigarh Wine Club in 2003-4; the club ran for around 15 years even though he started taking less interest due to lack of time, but the Club faced difficulties and mounting challenges which forced it to shut down. He had also helped Hyderabad Wine Club which is defunct now. Both the Presidents of Chennai Club and Nagpur Club had visited him almost a decade ago and he had given them all the information and advice positives and negatives of forming a Club. He is always available for any advice for any budding wine clubs.

He also narrated an instance when a member of DWC had asked him why there should be 2 clubs in Delhi when one already existed and why not merge.  Arora explained to him about the relevance and importance of wine clubs and wondered why there should not be a 100 clubs in Delhi alone. There were hundreds of residential complexes in Delhi NCR with multiple towers. Each such residential complex could form a club.

He averred that the Clubs were good for the producers and importers as they could and taste their wines to a reasonably aware and interested audience and with proper incentives they could even find several new customers and increase their sales. The members could have an opportunity to taste new wines and the club provided an opportunity to learn about them.

Listing the challenges, he cited high taxes and more importantly the rigidity in procedures that were deterrents because of tightening rules like a noose. For the first time in 20 years, he had to organise a wine dinner for Indian Wine Day in Gurgaon because a last-minute circular suddenly forbade supply of wine to the restaurant on time.  Following the Rotary tradition of numbering each event, he achieved his goal of 300 wine events in 18 years of President- ship. He advised those interested in club culture to look for such events at the residence of members by rotation, where they could taste different wines together and each person bringing a bottle could talk about his or her bottle.

He also shared the Challenge of spending time and effort required for each event. A few months Before the 300th event in January 2020, he gave an ultimatum to the Club to find a new President or he would abdicate. He did retire in January 2020 and the Club now has Ranganathan Parthiban as the President; he is confident that the Club will run smoothly in future even though he still extends a helping hand when required. This is also a non-commercial club, suffering the pangs of Covid like other clubs but DWC did manage to organise 6 events in 2021.  

Chennai Wine Club

Inspired by his interactions with winemakers and wine professionals in France during his first trip in 2000, Chinmaya Arjun Raja started Chennai Wine Club in November 2000. Membership was a group of Indian and French people and mostly French wines to start with. He organised Chennai's first ever French wine and Food weekend festival at Alliance Française of Madras in 2001. It slowly grew and he included other wines, with the club meeting 5 to 6 times a year.

He went for frequent trips to Europe and visited many wineries. He organised and conducted the first ever public wine appreciation sessions and workshops in Chennai for the public from 2007 onwards. In between it was a strictly membership based club but now he keeps inviting interested people for the events so more people can join different events instead of the same people attending all the events. He wants it to be more democratic to promote the wine culture and education.

Nagpur Wine Club 

Sharad Phadnis had to leave to catch flight to NagpurThe Octogenarian Sharad Phadnis proved that passion was the key ingredient in forming a successful wine club, besides hard work, by forming Nagpur Wine Club in 2011 and with constant efforts has taken the membership to nearly 350 members. The Club organises a wine festival every year in early December and despite his indifferent health and organising the annual festival a few days earlier, came to Delhi with two other members to attend Vinexpo India. Due to the difficulty in availability of imported wines, most of the events are organised with Indian wines. The Maharashtra producers are always willing to cooperate and come forward to help. They see an expanding market in the city and extend support to the Club meetings and the Festival. 

Subhash Arora who was also the Conference Chairman of Vinexpo India managed to organise several wines from the exhibitors at the Show, some cheese and a couple of dishes from the nearby stand of Mr Veg sponsoring two vegetarian versions of their easy-to-cook dishes-both in terms of appearance and taste resembling the Real McCoy but with no possible adverse effects of meat.

It was one of the enjoyable Masterclasses at Vinexpo India. And one felt even more certain that more wine clubs need to be encouraged, and all possible help ought to be given to the new entrants.

Subhash Arora

 

 

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