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He is young and dynamic and is a popular figure in the wine scenario of Kolkata. Having had a vast international experience in the wine and spirit industry of USA, Canada, Australia, Thailand and China for over two decades, freelance wine and beverage consultant, Keith Edgar speaks to Caroline Andrade on his plans of teaching the London wine education program WSET for the first time in West Bengal and his contribution to the wine industry in India.
Can you tell us about your contribution to the wine industry since you started?
Events that I created, for example, the Beijing International Wine & Food Experience was the first of its kind in China. For the people of China, at that time, wine consumption was very small and over the next few years it just blossomed into what it is today which is just massive. I am sure I didn’t quite do everything to make that happen but it certainly elevated wines in China because these events had not been done before. We also at the same time organized the first Chinese wine competition and it was also the first trade event ever done for just wines in China. These are small things that we’re doing in Calcutta in West Bengal as well, we’re doing the Calcutta International Wine, Whiskey and Food experience which will be one of the first wine trade events in West Bengal and is going to have international wine celebrities and international guest chefs come down from abroad. People in the industry can come and taste the wines of all the different distributors that are available and there will also be a public tasting. The level of international celebrities all coming to the same event hasn’t been done before in India.
What are your views on the present wine scenario in India?
The quality of wine being produced in India now is becoming extremely good. For example, the Fratelli’s Sette that I had experienced last week is my new best wine in India, but I honestly feel that the more I am exposed to new wines there will be a lot more of those. It’s just that the wine business much like the vines that grow the grapes need time to mature before they can produce quality fruit and I think we’re just starting to see that. The vineyards that have been planted three to seven years from now are starting to produce really good quality grapes and we can now see the results of that which are these better wines. With the growth of wine consumption just goes the growth of wine quality as well. It’s just inevitable that the two will go where there is a demand, and supply, but making good quality wine cannot be done overnight, you can’t even do that in two years or three years, so there is a lot of energy and people that are involved in making that but we’re just starting to see the results of that. The future of Indian wines is huge and I was even surprised when I learned the percentage of wines consumed in China now which is about a billion bottles, 65% of that is grown in China and India will be the same, so the domestic wine market is one of the biggest opportunities I feel in India.
How do you think your wine experience in China is similar to the growing Indian wine scenario?
There are a lot of parallels between India and China in regards to the development of the wine business. When I was in China fifteen years ago, the same things were being said then that are being said now about the wine business in India which is, “Oh you will never settle down with wine. It’s just not possible,” and we now know that it cannot be true. There were also similar amounts of consumption happening at the same time. Volumes of wine being purchased in China were also quite low as they are in India although they are getting more in India, but at the same time China had similar taxations that is currently going on in India which is the 150% roughly tax. It was not long after that the government changed and dropped the taxes to 50% and that was really the impetus for the speed of the growth of the wine business in China and we have similar expectations from the government in India as far as removing the height here so they have more imported wines. I feel that the growth of wines in India will exceed the growth of wines in China because India already has a much larger, more sophisticated middle class than China ever had at that time so the consumers are all over here. What they are lacking is opportunity, education about wine and pricing to become better.
What are the various programs conducted by you so far to increase awareness on wine in India?
I’ve done a number of wine tastings that have helped to develop wine awareness and one of them was through The Wine Club which was a lifestyle event showing how wine dinners can be included in your entertaining. I also just did a wine tasting event strictly for women where there were about 60 odd women, to highlight the fact that they are actually the fastest growing segment of wine consumption in India who were less interested in the hard spirits and more interested in wine. The women really enjoyed it because they learned something more about wine and it was done as a very casual setting, unlike a formal sit down tasting and that one I had done with Four Seasons wine. The event was a tasting of four different grape varietals- Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz and we tasted the first two whites at the same time so they could actually then contrast the flavors and the aromas they were experiencing and also then we served food that was appropriate for the wine, so they had specific food for the white wines. Then I talked to them about the wines and we moved onto to the next set which was the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Shiraz and we did the same thing, so they were not just learning about wine, but also that food and wine work together.
What has been your main aim behind undertaking the many levels of WSET courses?
It was the internationally recognized path of master of wine, to become a master of wine you need to complete levels 1, 2, 3 & 4 of the WSET. It is also the internationally accepted standard for continued wine education with exception of sommelier programs. The sommelier programs are geared more towards the industry, people working in restaurants and hotels with a WSET are geared more towards just in the wine business not necessarily in the restaurant/ hotel, but WSET course are also for everyone.
My goal is to make the attempt at Master of wine which I am about three years away, it’s a long process.
WSET level one and two are going to be taught by me for the first time in Calcutta, West Bengal in conjunction with Parsan Brothers and they will take place on March 30th, 2013.
Do you plan to expand your activities beyond Calcutta?
Basically wherever there is a need, anyone wants me to do something I will do it. I have always tried to expand to Bangalore. I am going to be doing an event in Mumbai, it just isn’t confirmed yet. I will be also doing some teaching in Delhi through the IIHM and also next week I am going to Bangkok to help with the tasting of Italian wines.
Tell us about your future plans in wine experience and wine infotainment programs that you are trying to bring about.
Future plans just continue to be what I am doing now but definitely I will be doing more of the wine education over the hotel school level. I’ve also become quite busy working with the wine companies and wine & spirit distribution companies helping with their training programs and I am also working very closely with five star hotels to help with their wine training but also their wine and food promotions for their guests.
But what I’ve been doing lately is having more long term relationships with individual organizations versus with a onetime wine tasting session.