CWG: Crying Wine Grouch
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Posted: Friday, 08 October 2010 17:36
CWG: Crying Wine Grouch

Common Wealth Games began in Delhi on Sunday on a much better note than the media feared a month ago, but the Indian wine industry has missed a golden opportunity to showcase the wines that are supposed to rock the world within the next few CWG, writes Subhash Arora who claims no efforts were made from any quarter to promote Brand India in wines.

This is in sharp contrast to the well established wine producing nation South Africa which hosted the mega World Cup only three months ago. There had been similar cries of shame by several citizens including opposition parties about the wasteful expenditure, corruption, inefficient execution of projects and many predicted a doomsday. At the end, they pulled off the event with great aplomb and the world cheered them for a job well done!

In preparation of the historical event, they had started wine promotion activities two years earlier. A campaign with Fundi wine- a specially created domestic label for wines which they sold and used the profits to promote wine as also to train sommeliers and wine waiters, was quite successful and was a focused attempt that will go a long way in promoting Brand South Africa for wines.

A chat with Jagdish Holkar, President of All India Producers’ Association confirmed my fears. ‘I know we as an industry are not doing any promotion. I don’t know much since I took over as the President from Mr Sham Chougule only a couple of months ago. But as you know that there are not too many producers marketing in Delhi. DelWine has already highlighted the excise problems several times.’

Excise complexities are the crux of the problem. This is crying shame that due to the rigid laws (we are not talking about the strict laws or dogmatic policies) the producers were not given a chance to showcase Brand India. During the opening ceremony of the games sarees, classical dancers, folk dancers and music was pan-India to project Brand India. In Delhi, the presence of just the few existing 3-4 producers to sell wines implies we did not showcase the full range of our wines and wineries and our capabilities.

I would blame the whole industry for this lethargy-All India Producers’ Association included. DelWine had been harping on this golden opportunity and I wrote several times about how it was slipping away slowly. One needed to lobby with the Delhi government which was having its own problems with the main project and wine promotion would be the last thing on their mind. One needed to take up the issue through proper and strong channels and reason with the excise department. All that was required was to convince the department to assess the situation fairly and allow tastings at various places where wine was already on the Menu. All the unregistered producers would still pay the excise duties on every bottle but could have been participants.

Excise would have had to be lenient in overlooking the Registration process and annual charges for a certain period, at those venues. As an example, the producers could have come with their wares and have the delegates, athletes and officials taste different wines at several venues as much as possible. They would have been happy to give the wines free of cost and even pay for the vend fees which even Mr Suresh Kalmadi could have otherwise paid from several heads of legit expenditure available to him.

While the producers may be blamed for selfish interests, Producers Association for inefficiency and being nonchalant, but the responsibility should equally be shared by the Indian Grape Processing Board. They are an apex body that should have twisted the hands of the FPI ministry, if needed and got the permissions from the Delhi government to ensure that the tastings took place. Indian industry has 20-30 serious and passionate producers and they should have all been showcased.  Apparently one tasting had been  tentative planned but somehow got shelved.

It is not that there is no wine available for the athletes. The games village has mercifully allowed wine and beer to be served. In fact, Sula, Grover and Nine Hills are already present there. Rajeev Samant, CEO of Sula confirms, ‘Sula is the preferred wine of the CWG athletes’ village and they have chosen our Chenin Blanc and Satori.’ Over a 100 cases of 5 labels of Sula have already found their way into the village besides Madeira for cooking. Nine Hills Chenin Blanc and Grover’s La Reserve have also been selected and a few cases of each have been already supplied. Interestingly, the contract for selection and wine supply has apparently been given to an Australian firm, in the true common wealth spirit. 

Wines from UB have not been involved in the selection process, apparently. Abhay Kewadkar, Head of UB’s Wine Division says, ‘to the best of my knowledge there were no special efforts made to promote Indian wines,’ adding, ‘however, we have made sure that we are well stocked and stacked in the duty free section at the new Terminal T-3 at the Indira Gandhi airport.’ UB has had an enviable position to be the only supplier of Indian wines at the duty free shop in Delhi and have made the most of it by organising a beautiful display before the competitors arrive on the scene.

The 5-star hotels in general are smiling because of the wines sales getting propped up along with the room occupancy. A general survey of three hotels indicated 95-100% occupancy with over 60% tourists being CWG related. Indian food is more in demand suddenly but Indian wines are not, says the spokesperson of a hotel, explaining, ‘our customers prefer to have Indian food but want imported wines-from their own country.’

This is another area where Indian wines could have been promoted by making sure that 5-star hotels were giving special offers on Indian wines, with a little help from the friendly tourism ministry which could have made sure that Indian wines got their due share of display, and at least we could send a proper signal that we not only win gold medals in commonwealth but are capable of winning Golds in our wines too. This may be  just a matter of time.

By missing out the opportunity India has perhaps pushed the clock behind by one Commonwealth Game-or two. This was an important step in learning how to walk in the world of wine where exports play a significant role.

Subhash Arora

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