Wine industry outside India appears to have misconstrued the order of the Mumbai High Court a couple of months ago for winding up Indage Vintners and fueled by rumours, have come to believe that the company has collapsed and gone bankrupt. The fact is that it has since raised substantial capital and is hopefully on way to recovery.
During my recent wine visits to the US, Chile, South Africa and Germany where I have met several wine jurors and journalists from over 50 countries across all continents, the one question many don’t fail to ask or comment on, is whether Indage Vintners (earlier called Champagne Indage), known for Omar Khayyam in many of these countries over the last couple of decades, has collapsed and gone bankrupt.
It is important for our overseas readers to understand the difference between winding up petition being accepted by the court and actual bankruptcy. In India, a private or public company may be wound up (liquidated) through court order when it becomes insolvent and is unable to pay the creditors. The court may appoint an independent liquidator (receiver) who manages the affairs of the company till a solution is found or assets can be sold and the amount so recovered paid to the lenders under some conditions. In the case of Indage the court has passed the winding up order but there are several legal turns and remedies for the company to survive within our fair legal system.
Founded by Mr. Sham Chougule, Indage was the first Indian company that put India on the world map. Omar Khayyam was the sparkling wine branded in India as Marquis de Pompadour (MDP), which was exported from the very beginning and was well accepted. Some people in the industry had in fact started referring to him as Robert Mondavi of India because of his passion for wine and encouraging farmers in Maharashtra to switch to wine grapes.
The legacy of MDP and Omar Khayyam exists even today. I met Jacques Orhorn, a wine globe-trotter and educationist from Montreal last week in Germany. He had met one of the Chougules (I presume Shamji) in Chile some 20 years ago. ‘Champagne Indage produced Marquis de Pompadour and I remember it was very good,’ he said reminiscing of his meeting Chougule.
Although well accepted, it was mired in controversy with wine specialists and journalists. Indage claimed to have used Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and tried to promote it as ‘champagne’. However, doubts were expressed locally and in the international press. A reliable wine book with a small chapter on Indian wines, even highlighted the issue.
I have met several people who worked in Indage during that period. They confirm that it was mostly Thomson seedless table grape. Same story was repeated in Riviera table wine which they claim contained Pinot Noir which as everyone knows does not grow well in the area at all!! Credibility of the company had become increasingly in question. Robert Mondavi never had this problem and was a darling of the wine industry till his very end despite his being forced to sell the company eventually.
Robert Mondavi whose passion to improve quality brought him to Bordeaux and use modern techniques to make Napa a famous brand and constantly working to improve the wine quality and increase consumption, establishing it as a revered wine region in the US industry. Indage however started wine making purely as a commercial venture. The ambition for unbridled expansion by hook or by crook brought the company to its knees and the present woes.
From the Indian industry’s stand point it is important that Indage does not go bankrupt. Although Sula is doing a wonderful job in maintaining the seemingly infallible top position it snatched from Indage last year, healthy competition is extremely important for the growth of the industry.
In this respect, it will be extremely important for Indage to consider changing its business policies and strategies if it wants to keep away from bankruptcy. It is anybody’s guess if Indage will be able to take harsh decisions which are necessary. DelWine will continue to report with the usual straight-forward and unbiased approach. It was heartening to see Mr. Sham Chougule with whom a 10- minute meeting at the winery I had a few years ago stretched to 3 hours, walk up to me at the National Conference organised by the Indian Grape Processing Board of which he is the Chairman and say, ‘you are just doing your job, keep it up.’
Coming from a man about whose company I was the first in India to report that it was in trouble and that Sula had overtaken it, earning the wrath of many loyalists and received nasty and almost abusive feedback, I took it as a compliment. It gives me great satisfaction to set record straight, for international journalist, readers and other wine friends that Indage is NOT bankrupt.
And for the sake of Indian wine industry, I hope it would never be…