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Delhi Wine Club

Posted: Tuesday, 06 April 2010 17:19

Antinori divorces Sonarys, marries Berkmann

In the Catholic Italy divorces are not very common, neither are they in their wine world but Marchesi Antinori which was with Mumbai based Sonarys for almost a decade has called it quits and instead has appointed Berkmann Cellars India as its distributors  with effect from April 1, writes Subhash Arora .

The trouble seems to have started fermenting ever since Berkmann Cellars of UK decided to open office in India in November 2007 and poached Farhad Bhabha from the Sonarys stable and made him the MD. It was relatively easy for them to snatch labels like the Australian Yellow Tail but Antinori seemed to be the plum target.

The London based £65 million Berkmann Cellars, being managed by an Indian, Dinesh Changela is one of the biggest and oldest distributors of Antinori in UK and the speculation was rife about the imminent change in distributorship for some time. Also, adding to the speculation was the fact that Stefano Leone, the export manager of Antinori had reportedly worked with Changela several years earlier for the same company and this could have made life tough for Sansula  from the start.

If there were two Italian brands that could be recollected as the most popular brands in India and perhaps rest of the world, they would have to be- in that order, Antinori and Frescobaldi- Gaja being an icon but in a different genre. The lator was cornered by Brindco in the very beginning of its import carrier and which has been running a very tight control in promoting the brand with the ubiquitous Danzante and Pater Sangiovese though equally vigilant about the super premium Mormoreto and Ornellaia labels from the family.

To say that Sonarys put all his might behind Antinori would not be an exaggeration. Helped by the continual presence of Alessia, the beautiful and warm daughter of Piero Antinori, at several important wine events since 2003 when she came to India for the first time and fell in love with India. Sanjay Menon, the owner of Sonarys aka Sansula, popularized Villa Antinori, Peppoli and Marchesi Antinori Chianti Classico and Casasole Orvieto- some of the Antinori labels. He claims he helped promote the international icons Tignanello and Solaia too in the wine-infant F & B industry. It cannot be denied that Antinori became a name as one of the top Tuscan producers who could boast quality despite big volumes.

During a meeting with Piero Antinori in Villa d’Este last October at the first World Conference of Davos of Wine at Lake Como, delWine was informed categorically that ‘Sansula has been doing a wonderful job for us in India and we do not have any plans to change them- the rumours about our substituting them with Berkmann are not true.’

The words were right but the expression seemed less than enthusiastic. Indian market also told a different story. While Berkmann Cellars India seemed very confident about bagging the important trophy, the market was also bereft of Antinori wines. A bottle needed in Delhi for the Villa Antinori to be honoured with a delicious value-for-money wine title by delWine, could not be procured in the market and one knew all was not well.

There were murmurs of dissatisfaction in the hotel industry that the brand was not being nurtured as before and the sales coupled with recession suffered more than others- the difference became even more jarring as Frescobaldi did well, despite recession because of  the progressive and aggressive design of Brindco.

The decision to part way was official a month ago and was effective from April 1. Confirming the news, Sanjay Menon who feels hurt and let down by the decision, says, ‘who knew Antinori in the F & B industry when we brought them to India? No doubt it was the flagship of our portfolio but we worked hard to get them to the level they are today, thanks to their support and trust in us.’

How about the rumours of financial troubles and the overdue payment issues? ‘Show me an importer who says he did not face payment problems and I will show you a man who is lying. It is true that we delayed their payments, but there was a financial disaster in the industry that shrunk practically to half in the last 2 years! But at the end, we paid them off even though we suffered losses.’

‘It is no doubt a big blow to us. We built the brands over 10 years. But we have to face the reality. We are already working on alternatives. We helped build Antinori- we shall be able to promote others too. We are exploring the territory,’ says a resigned Menon who is very fond of Alessia and feels she had surely nothing to do with the decision.  

Sonarys is not new to these pangs of separation. Col d’Orcia from Montalcino took the label from him over 6 years ago and handed it to Brindco, only to change and put the hat on another importer, Ace Beveragez.. Brindco had to relinquish it because of their flirtation with the jealous ‘American’ Banfi  About 5 years ago, another iconic winery Gaja was snatched away from Sanjay and fell into the lap of Brindco which continues to do a wonderful job of promoting it on-trade.

However, things have not always been so rosy for Brindco either. In the early 2000s, they imported Zonin from Veneto but 4 years ago, there was an amicable parting of ways and it went to the then new-into-wine business Aspri Spirits who have been doing reasonable justice not only to Zonin but various other labels from different regions.

The bed-hopping is not restricted to Italian wines only. Sula had brought Taittinger into India but it later went to the house of Torres- now the partnership firm of Prestige Wines- which also cornered Joseph Drouhin, a premium family-based winery in Burgundy, from the Global Tax Free Traders. Whether it was due to the unsatisfactory performance or not, may never be disclosed. But Miguel Torres did share with delWine in an interview last year that it was a logical choice for them to handle it since both wineries were members of PFV- Primum Familiae Vini, which has currently 11 members and does the joint promotion in which Alessia Antinori always took part, as member..

If it were not for Taittinger being with Prestige Wines, Sonarys could be in trouble once more because the Pol Roger Champagne in its portfolio is also a member of PFV and like Drouhin might have been ok with the switch- except that Torres is already selling Taittinger in China and may not find the switch feasible. Incidentally, another FPV member Symington Port sells the premium quality Grant’s Port which is being handled currently by Sonarys but is sold by Torres in China.

The problems of switching existed earlier too, with minor portfolios being shifted here and there.  Pieropan, Carpene Malvolti, Donnafugata, Tasca d’Almerita, De Bortoli, and  a few other producers have been shifting the portfolios. There are at least a dozen more who are currently contemplating a change. Unfortunately, most of the unsatisfied ones are frustrated with the current performance-whether it is in terms of sales or overdue payments. With 12 and a half importers being productively active, each one trying to grab as many partners as possible, this problem will carry on until the number of players increase or the excise laws are rationalized some.

Unfortunately, the hype has also been more than the real market expansion, with a government not willing to come to the aid of industry or the consumer in market expansion. The recession has been no help either. One will see many more cases of flirtations, affairs and divorces coming out in the open in future. Fortunately, no one is frustrated enough to become celibate after a poor experience and not many have been turned off by the Indian market- except those who were looking for one-night stands.

Subhash Arora

For an earlier related article, visit:

Berkmann Wave Hits Delhi



Himadri Bal Says:

Mr. Sanjoy Menon is a very good man ( as I personally know him) & one of best knowledgeable man about wine in India, but he must personally take care about Business. The tragedy is wine exporters come through Sonarys hand but the fault of marketing team of Sonarys, they just gone to another importer. Sonarys was No. 1 importer some years ago & now we have to find Sonarys, he must re think about his team, In the businesss, knowledge about the product is not everything, Marketing & sales team strategy is one of the important point, Brindco have another Problem, they have huge portfolio & not able to look each & every brand like Maison Albert Bichot change partner & join Aspri, A renowned name Maison Louis Jadot is happy with Brindco, I am very surprised that Aspri is doing quite well compare to others with hard working of Mr. Jackie Matai, Mr. Arun Kumar & Mr. Sumedh Singh Mandla (CEO), All the Best to Mr. Sanjoy Menon & Sonarys.

Posted @ September 10, 2011 12:18


Subhash Arora Says:

None whatsoever. It just happened that this was a big news at that time- the biggest shocker. We added a few similar examples relevant at that time-though Champagne was also a part of the article. If you read delWine regularly, you will notice similar articles relating to distributors and producers in other countries like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile and of course India- that come to mind, off -hand. Subhash Arora

Posted @ August 31, 2010 16:02


James Swann Says:

Would there be a motive as to why so many of the wineries mentioned here are Italian?

Posted @ August 31, 2011 10:18


Subhash Arora Says:

Thank you. Yes, I did mean Graham's Port only. And I do recognise PFV a wonderful association and I won't want to give the impression you members are looking for the same importer. That would defeat the purpose and excitement of having it, won't it! Thanks for the correction. Subhash Arora

Posted @ April 08, 2010 15:40


Euan Mackay Says:

Dear Editor, Simply a point of order, I am sure that Subhash Arora meant Graham's Port in his article and not Grant's, who as far as we are aware are not involved in the Port industry ! I would also add that although we have a lot in common with our fellow PFV members and are extremely proud of this association, membership does not always automatically imply that we are looking to work with the same importers in every market. Euan Mackay, Sales Director, Symington Family Estates.

Posted @ April 08, 2010 15:18


Dr Yashoda Devi Says:

Sanjay Menon is one of the few people left in the wine world who lets his heart rule over his head where wine is concerned.It is indeed a pity that Antinori has decided to appoint someone else in place of Sonarys after all the effort Sanjay has put in to make them a success story in India.How can anyone forget Sanjay hosting the Antinori wine dinners in the presence of the lovely Alessia? Or how can we bury memories of his witticism , extreme passion and knowledge when he conducted the Antinori tastings? To divorce a loyal partner in favour of one that promises commercial success is as common a trend as marriages that have begun to fall apart world-wide.To hang in there was the right thing for Antinori to do.If not for anything, at least to show support to a man who promoted their wines with a passion that they will find hard to replace.Their loss will be someone else's gain!

Posted @ April 07, 2010 15:34




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