I lived and worked in India from 2008 to 2010. At the time I was the regional cellar master for Amanresorts looking after South-Asia, based in New Delhi.
Often when I told people I worked in India people look at me puzzled and asked – why? As though I had signed up for voluntary torture. Its fairly safe to say that the vast majority of people who have visited India either love it or hate it – there is no in between…no hmmm…yeah, it was ok. Most people return home saying their experience was either amazing or horrendous.
I’m happy to say that I fall into the former category and love it. There’s no denying – it’s not the easiest country to live in and being the wine industry I most certainly struggled with the bureaucracy and red tape, but to this day I feel as though every time I have the opportunity to talk about Inida and my time there it gives me a little bit of its energy back.
After subsequently living in a number of other countries since, I have still never had a more passionate team, eager to learn and take the next step in their careers. It was definitely the most rewarding country I have ever trained in and if the wine taxes were to be reduced and the right opportunity came along, I would gladly go back. Some of my most cherished memories and friendships were made in India, including those of the suppliers I worked with.
One of the importers I most enjoyed working with was Vishal Kadakia, the owner of Wine Park, based in Mumbai.
India can seem somewhat impenetrable to wine producers, so vast and complex, that it is almost impossible to know where to start. Hopefully through Vishal’s perspective below we will be able to shine some light on how the current industry stands.
Voyageur Selections: When did you start Wine Park and why?
Wine Park: In 2005 I returned back from a 8 year stint in Boston to join my fathers plastics manufacturing business in India. I had developed a liking for wines during my stay in USA thanks to my European friends! After a level 2 WSET program and an exposure to the fascinating world of wine, my liking of wine quickly turned to a passion. A trip to burgundy in 2003 was an eye opener. I had then decided to do something in wine when the right opportunity came along. During my trip to Rioja in 2006, one winery showed willingness to work with us to export wines to India. Hence Wine Park was born in December 2006 as a small Producer.
VS: Tell us a little bit about the Wine Park philosophy and some of the producers you currently represent.
WP: Wine Park’s philosophy is to work with small family driven wineries making hand crafted wines. We work with dynamic, passionate and like-minded owners who are as equally excited to work and grow in India as we are. However this philosophy has many challenges in India. Small producers who could be rockstars in the rest of the world are relatively unknown in India and a huge effort has to be put into market their wines. We have been able to find success with clients by continuing in this direction and celebrating producers who make beautiful wines. Inputs from several individuals in the trade including Kavita has helped us shape this philosophy over the years for which I am grateful. A few of the producers we work with are: Saint Cosme (Gigondas), Querciabella, Brancaia, Bibi Graetz (Tuscany), Vietti (Piedmont), Donnhoff (Nahe), St. Urbans-Hof (Mosel), Billecart Salmon (Champagne), Roda (Rioja), Boekenhoutskloof (Franschhoek), Saint Clair (Marlborough), Honig (California), Rolf Binder (Barossa), Dominio del Plata (Mendoza)
VS: What is your decision making process for adding new producers to your portfolio?
WP: The process is very personal. I need to first really enjoy the wines in order to be able to sell them in India. Comparisons of wines from same region are important. I also need to get along with the producer. The pricing, packaging and commerce plays a vital role. And the most important is the Indian market requirement for new wines and its potential to be successful or not in today’s scenario.
VS: What is selling well in India at the moment?
WP: New World wines from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa are selling well. Consumers here in India find wines with a fruit forward style easier to drink and often easier to understand with their more simple labels and easier on the wallet too! Italian wines are also doing well due India’s love affair with Italian restaurants (probably the most popular after Indian and Chinese cuisine)
VS: Do you notice trends based on style or are they more linked to price point?
WP: Both. Let me cite an example. People enjoy Malbec from Argentina, however if you bring a very top end expensive Malbec from any producer it is unlikely to sell. There has to be a value associated to it. Similarly people enjoy a Chianti Classico but will often choose a cheaper one (even a Chianti) on the menu.
VS: What is the current tax structure for importing wine into India?
WP: This is a complex question and needs to be addressed separately. Generally the import tax is 160% and then there are a host of other taxes, which are state dependent.
VS: Is it correct that tax rates vary for every state? What is the most difficult and the most simple state to sell wine?
WP: Yes. The easiest state to work is Maharashtra (Mumbai) and Karnataka (Bangalore). Most complex…there are many.
VS: Are Mumbai and Deli still the biggest markets? Is one more prominent than the other from a consumption perspective?
WP: Yes. Mumbai and Delhi are still the biggest.
VS: Are importers like Wine Park able to sell wine directly to private clients/consumers or does wine have to be sold through a restaurant/hotel/retail outlet in India?
Wine Park cannot sell wines to a client directly. It has to be routed through the channels mentioned – Restaurant/Hotels/Wine Shop
VS: Are the majority of well known restaurants still found in hotels or are there more stand alone restaurants being opened?
WP: Indian F&B scene is booming. There are many more exciting stand alone restaurants found today then a few years ago.
VS: Do you see retail sales increasing?
WP: Yes, retail sales are increasing, but more for Indian wines than imported wines as there is a huge price differential between both segments. However with more modern retail wine stores opening in India and good wines finding shelf space, the segment is growing steadily.
VS: Where do people mainly drink wine in India – or home or out socially?
Wine still is generally drunk socially. However there is a steady increase in home consumption of wines with better quality Indian wines becoming more available in the retail market.
VS: Do you see the strong whiskey presence lessening any time soon?
VS: When I was living in India, I believe the average wine consumption was 1 teaspoon per person per year, this obviously diluted by the huge population. Has the consumption increased over the last 5 years?
WP: Marginally again with more Indian wines being sold.
VS: What in your opinion needs to occur to open up India as a major player in the Asian wine market – as we see in Hong Kong and Japan etc?
WP: In random order 1) Reduction in Taxes 2) Wine Education 3) Hiring of Sommeliers in Major Hotel/Restaurant Chains
VS: What have been some of your highlights over the last decade working in the wine industry in India?
WP: Meeting and making some fabulous friends across the world. Drinking some beautiful wines. Traveling to amazing vineyards. And the journey of becoming a wine entrepreneur!
VS: What would be one piece of advice you would offer a wine maker interested in exporting his/her wine to India?
Find a right importer willing to work with you. Be an enthusiast of the Indian market: visit often and be willing to invest in the long term. Most importantly – be patient.
To learn more about Wine Park, visit their website http://www.thewinepark.com/