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Delhi Wine Club
Le Wine Company C'est Arrivé

Posted: Monday, 06 January 2014 12:44

Le Wine Company C'est Arrivé

Jan 06: The Wine Company, one of the new wine restaurants opened in the buzzing Cyber Hub in Gurgaon has taken off within days of getting the liquor license, perhaps because of its decent wine selection at Retail prices, but Subhash Arora feels that the path-breaking policy will succeed only if the surging volumes remain a steady feature

Click For Large ViewEvery third Thursday in November, the Beaujolais Nouveau is released throughout the world- in Delhi IT Maurya Sheraton had taken the lead a couple of decades ago and made it one of the more interesting events in the annual calendar but now the event is only nostalgia. Pullman Gurgaon undertook this project over during the last 2 years- with the French Embassy becoming the common denominator. As a part of the ritual, the local runners everywhere shout, ‘Le Beaujolais Nouveau C’est Arrivé’ at midnight with casks and bottles of the newly arrived easy drinking French wine of the new vintage.

At a similar time last month (a couple of weeks later, actually), Ashish Dev Kapur (MD) and Ajay Saini (COO) sang in unison on December 8, ‘Le Wine Company C'est Arrivé!’ The Wine Company has arrived! Graffiti on one of the doors in the back of the restaurant says, ‘Wine! Because no great story started with someone eating a salad’; and it has a few wine stories of its own to tell.

Firstly, ‘The Wine Company’ is misnomer for the restaurant. It should have been named as ‘The Wine Experience’ as it offers a never-before-tasted wine experience! As you walk through the seating area outside where you can enjoy alfresco dining during clement weather, on your left is an open wine cellar currently been stocked with wine bottles displayed vertically in various racks and stacked according to the country of origin. You feel compelled to walk through it and search for a bottle that could be your companion for the evening.

‘There is no Wine Menu or Price List,’ says Ashish Kapur, the Managing Director. ‘What you see is what you get. All the labels we offer are on display along with the prices. You pick up the bottle you like, checkout and drink it anywhere in the 210-cover restaurant.’ Of course, a couple of bottles of the same label are kept chilled to the right temperature and delivered on the table, he explains. Additionally, the restaurant has 60 ice buckets-one for each table that can be used to further chill the white wines. It has targeted 120 wine labels to choose from.

Click For Large ViewThe unprecedented USP of the restaurant is that the prices are kept the same as Retail. ‘We have kept the prices same as the wholesale prices in Gurgaon-what a customer pays at a Retail shop.’ You will be pleasantly surprised to see a Sula Dindori Reserve priced at under Rs.800; ditto for Fratelli Chardonnay at Rs.770. The imported wines are priced as low as a red and white Emiliana from Chile at Rs.990. Champagnes and Prosecco are also on display at the wholesale prices affirms Kapur.

The wine glasses are no Riedel or Spiegelau but the stemware is perfect for the restaurant with glasses with big, rounded bowls and long stems; the wine service is generally quite adequate.

Ahata in Disguise

The Wine Company appears to have borrowed the idea from the ‘Ahata’ concept prevalent  in Haryana for several years. According to the Haryana Excise Act, ahatas are the places adjoining the licensed liquor vends where at an annual fee of Rs. one lakh (Rs. 100,000) the licensee can sell food items to the customers who fetch wine and liquor from the adjoining vend at Retail Price.  A majority of such ahatas have been upgraded as air-conditioned restaurants. They are quite successful in Chandigarh where I visited a couple of them a few years ago, and where I was told even women often walked in groups and ordered food and wine. I was pleasantly surprised when I visited an Ahata a few years ago in Gurgaon where they had even built small private party rooms with flat TV screen and served food at reasonable price to increase sale of wine and liquor. With a horde of young professionals working in the tall, concrete buildings around, it had discovered a big clientele.

The restaurant and in fact the whole of Cyber Hub with over 40 restaurants-a majority of which have been open for less than a month, caters primarily to this expanding population. Ajay Saini, the founding partner and COO, however stresses that they have taken a regular restaurant bar license costing Rs.7 lakhs a year. They pay extra Rs. 5 lakhs to serve alcohol for an extra hour after midnight.

Click For Large ViewBarely 10 days into the license and they have reached the average sale of 35-40 bottles of a wine every day, selling Indian as well as imported wines like Caballo Loco ( the top wine from Chilean Valdivieso) at affordable Rs. 6600 and as expensive as Tignanello for under Rs. 15,000 and Chateau Palmer for Rs.66, 000. ‘We would like to stock wines like Gaja and Antinori too but our distributor has not registered the labels and we have requested him to do so for such labels,’ says Ajay as he concedes, ‘out of our target of 120 labels 27 are not registered in Gurgaon! We have discussed with our Distributor, Lake Forest and are trying to get him to register them.’ With Rs. 30,000 needed to register each label, it may not be a simple exercise though.

What may come as surprise is that customers order much more wine than liquor. ‘We have also been surprised because even the liquor is priced at more or less the Retail prices but wine accounts for 90% of our alcoholic beverage sales,’ discloses Ajay while Ashish Kapur defends their unique wine pricing policy and says with a grin, ‘we are still able to make a mark up of 40-70% by negotiating with importers and getting special prices since we want to make it as the ultimate wine destination.’  An importer confirms  he says, ‘not only do they want special, low prices, but we cannot sell to them unless we are registered through their distributor.’ Furthermore, unlike Delhi, in Haryana there is no non-discountable MRP policy; only suggested Retail Price. Discounts to the tune of 5-20% or even more are anyway available depending upon the customer’s capacity to bargain, he explains.

The name of the restaurant and the wine programme has caught the fancy of wine lovers and gourmands alike. The 6-day a week buffet lunch dispensing more than 30 items, costs only R.525 +taxes. But what most customers still don’t know is that for an extra Rs.100 one can order a glass of (150mL) house wine of the day; the ubiquitous Jacobs Creek was the wine of the day when I visited the restaurant at lunch time.

Notching huge success in such a short time might have had some detrimental effect on the quality and service. The food served could do with quality improvement and the service which is normally quite good but seems to be stressed at the seams when the restaurant is too busy. Saini is aware about the minor glitches and says the restaurant is taking steps to improve in both the areas. He made a quick note on his phone-Memo when I told him it was important to have a few half bottle- wines in their wine list  since many customers might not find it feasible to order and finish the whole bottle. Then there is the issue of storage of wines, especially in summers. They are in the process of acquiring another big wine chiller and come summer, also store expensive wines in separate wine coolers.

The current prejudice against Indian wines by the skeptical consumers may not be surprising even if unfortunate. ‘A big majority of our sales are imported wines though most are for Rs. 2000 a bottle or less. Many of our Indian wines are available at under Rs.800 a bottle. But they prefer ordering Jacobs Creek as they feel it is imported and only a few hundred rupees more expensive.  Emiliana (Chile) at Rs.990, Trapiche (Argentina) at Rs. 1430, Claar Cellars (Washington, USA) at Rs.1320, Valdivieso (Chile) at Rs.1320, Selbach Riesling Qualitaetswein Mosel (Rs.1980 and the perfect companion to the Corn Jalapeno Fritters I loved), Torres Viña Esmeralda (Spain ) at Rs. 1620, are a few of the other good-value, interesting wines for under Rs.2000.

Click For Large ViewAs I leave the restaurant I ask Ajay, ‘in which category would you place your restaurant- casual, fine dining or casual fine dining?’  ‘I’d say we are a wine bistro,’ is the parting shot from him. I’d place it as a trattoria - good food in warm, casual and friendly surroundings with wines at fabulous prices making it a great place for youngsters to unwind and enjoy conversation with friends.

This wine bistro is currently on the path of ascent of popularity. It could show the way as a business model to be emulated by other restaurants committed to be wine destinations and should inspire 5-star hotels getting duty free wines to rationalize their prices and increase sales. It could be a game changer to help increase wine consumption in on-trade. But it will be successful  in the long run only if the volumes keep rising and the prices are kept at the Retail Prices, making more wine lovers want to come back to the restaurant for an enhanced wine experience every time. Time only will tell if it is a run-away success.

In the mean time, wine lovers are in good company at The Wine Company.

Subhash Arora



Rishi Vohra, CSW Says:

This is a wonderful concept. Wine by the glass would be great at such a place to ensure repeat patrons (for wine) but I understand storage issues. A possibility is to declare one particular wine as wine by the glass for the day. That way the restaurant would have to deal with only one open bottle at a time. And it would surely increase wine sales and also encourage business lunches.

Posted @ January 31, 2014 16:47


Gul Says:

This is really great. Wish they would start something smiliar at these prices in Mumbai too, so that large people can access to this.

Posted @ January 10, 2014 14:00


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