New Emissary

Wine’s Appeal Bubbling in India

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New Emissary

Wine’s Appeal Bubbling in India

Despite an emerging wine culture in India, high prices of imports are limiting the potential of the ‘healthier’ spirit.

A few months ago, I spoke to an Indian food connoisseur and author who was visiting New Delhi for the first time in six years. She told me she was surprised at how dramatically the city had changed. In fact, she said it almost felt like she was in a different country, in a city ‘transformed into a modern metropolis, with highways, glitzy malls and upscale restaurants.’

She also pointed out how alcohol, ‘long frowned upon by middle class Indians’ and avoided by women, had become much more widely accepted…and enjoyed, by locals.

One thing she said that stood out was the emerging Indian wine culture marked by some new trends: ‘a glass of wine with your meal has become de rigueur,’ she said. But she also mentioned that while India has started producing some good wines in the western state of Maharashtra, imported wine, sold in ‘elegant wine and liquor stores with glass shelves and concealed lighting,’ are still extremely expensive.

In fact, according to a recent report in The Times of India, although New Delhiites are opening up to the idea of wine, they haven’t been completely won over by it, because of one major factor: price. Although analysts believe that there’s a promising market for wine as a ‘lifestyle product,’ especially in India’s urban centres like New Delhi, the drink still remains inaccessible to many due to its high price.

Subhash Arora, president of the Indian Wine Academy and the Delhi Wine Club, blames the government, saying that it needs to ‘loosen up on customs duties’ and learn to ‘appreciate the difference between wine and hard liquor to formulate their policies accordingly.’ According to the Times, Arora has even written a letter directly to Indian President Pratibha Patil, imploring her to consider serving Indian wines at state events to promote it as the healthier of the alcohol options available.

According to recent statistics, spirits make up 88 percent of Indians regular intake of alcohol. Beer, meanwhile, has only a 10 percent share of the market, and wine just 2 percent.

Interestingly, however, in Chandigarh (the capital of both Punjab and Haryana states), wine consumption has reportedly increased by 35 percent to 45 percent this past year, with two particular brands—one domestic and one imported—heading the jump in consumption. The first is Nine Hills, launched by Seagram India in 2006, which has seen 35 percent growth over 6 months in Chandigarh, while the other is Australia’s Jacob’s Creek, which has posted an impressive 50 percent increase. The success of wine in the area is partly being attributed to the increasing awareness amongst consumers of the potential health benefits of wine, especially now that manufacturers are focusing their marketing on this point.

Perhaps Patil could spark something of a wine revolution if she takes Arora up on his suggestions.