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by Caroline Andrade

India as a young wine market has been making progress by leaps and bounds with every passing year. Today the country is also gaining popularity as a growing market for producing super-premium wines that match international standards in terms of quality and pricing, writes Caroline Andrade.

The wine industry in India is young and evolving every year. Although there is no ‘one’ best wine to qualify for the top spot, there are a slew of Indian wines that have recently caught the attention of many.

Indian wineries have also come to challenge entry level international wines by producing incredible wines and matching their prices. International winemakers working with local wine producers ensure utmost quality control measures such as trellising methods, lower yields, and combating disease and rot.

Akluj based Fratelli Wines born out of a passion to create a product made in India following Italian traditions which would meet international standards has today carved a niche for itself in the Indian wine industry. One of its Directors and Co-Promoters, Alessio Secci, says, “It is good to see that some of the Indian wines are doing really well on the International platform and changing the way how Indian wines are perceived abroad.” He says that his vision that India could produce good international quality wines was correct, but there is a need to respect the international quality standards which are always based on control of your vineyard and quality targeted yields (against a standard high yield per acre in traditional wine industry).

He says, “If one wants to make quality wines, it is imperative to invest in your own vineyards, by choosing the right soil, working properly, choosing right varietals for any given soil, accurate care of vineyards management, deep knowledge on how to prune and what and when to harvest. The decision on what kind of quality of your wine you want to make is taken directly on vineyards that is why we invested in 240 acres of our own vineyards, since at Fratelli we believe that good wines are made in the vineyard first.”

According to Cecilia Oldne, Global Brand Ambassador & Head, International Business for Sula Vineyards, the Indian Wine Industry has huge potential for growth. With respect to wines, the influx of imported brands also such as Ruffino, Cono Sur and Hardys to name a few, has exposed Indians to world class wines. Over the past decade, the Indian wine consumer has matured and will continue to do so over the next decade.

In line with these major changes taking place, few Indian wineries producing premium wines have consciously started selling their select wines at a price point of fifteen hundred rupees and above which marks the beginning of a new super-premium category in the Indian wine market.

Fratelli which is proud of its SETTE, since the very beginning, believes its wine was meant to be the best wine Fratelli can make every year and is inspired by the famous Super Tuscan wines. SETTE is currently being exported to Japan and Italy and will soon be exported to the UK next year. Secci informs, “Coming from Tuscany, both Piero Masi and I saw this opportunity to make the same in India. Hence, we planted 12 different varietals, in particular- Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc which are commonly used to make Super Tuscan wines.”

“SETTE,” he says, “is always a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon and can be added with a little percentage of Cabernet Franc according to that given year of production. After 14 months, or more according to the tasting and evolution of the wines, we do make the blend and let it age in tanks and then in bottles before being released into market.”

Throwing light on the super-premium category of wines being produced by Fratelli, Secci explains, “I feel it is the belief in your own product and what one has to offer. For the last two years, we have been doing the same with our premium brand SETTE. Being our wine maker, Piero’s signature blend, the top one percent of the grapes from Fratelli’s vineyards go into fulfilling this dream. It is in this category of wines that India can show ageing potentials of Indian red wines. The first time I had tasted an Indian red wine was 7 years ago and was clear that they were not made for being aged. SETTE belongs to the Super Indian (known as Super Tuscan in Tuscany) category of wines which will become better with ageing.”

He adds, “Imported wines are priced too high in India according to the quality they offer. In Rs. 1500 you can get an average quality imported wine. The Indian consumer presumes that because it is imported it will be very good. But for us Indian producers, we want to show that at Rs 1500 range, we can offer much better wines, quality wise, which can be compared with the imported wines of Rs 3000 and over.”

Detailing some of Sula’s super-premium wines which get exported to over 22 countries worldwide Oldne says, “In our sparkling wine category, we have Sula Brut and Sula Brut Rosé which are crafted in the true “Méthode Champenoise” – bottle fermented and aged in Sula’s underground estate cellars for a minimum of 15 and 12 months resulting in exceptionally smooth, creamy, complex wines with the finest bubbles.” She further says, “In our red wine category, Rasa Shiraz is the finest red wine ever to be produced from our vineyards. This complex wine with power and finesse is only produced in the best vintage years, making it a collector’s addition. Also, in our whites, Sula Riesling is the first ever Riesling to be produced in India. The wine produced from this versatile grape is a part of our super premium/elite range. Apart from that we also have some exceptional wines from our Dindori region – Dindori Reserve Shiraz and Dindori Reserve Viognier that fall in the super-premium category.”

Oldne is of the opinion that the increasing number of brands entering this space is helping the industry to grow on the whole. “Wine education is something we are focusing on as well, which helps our consumers understand the product better. With this understanding they are more open to accepting elite labels at an elite price. It is definitely the beginning and we sure have a long way to go,” she says.

Reiterating India’s potential in this segment she says, that India has the potential to emerge as a serious wine producing and consuming country. Wine is currently consumed by less than 1 per cent of the total population and with current average per capita wine consumption in India at just 10ml per annum, the sky is the limit. Consumers are also becoming aware of the fact that wine is good for health when consumed in moderate quantities. The industry has witnessed an approximate 15% growth in consumption of wine in India over the past years.

She says, “It is sensible to nurture the matured wine drinkers with a super-premium product. Having said that, the Indian palate has evolved leaps and bounds. With respect to wines, the influx of imported brands has exposed Indians to world class wines. Over the past decade, the Indian wine consumer has matured and will continue to do so over the next decade.”

According to Secci, a matured wine drinker can appreciate a good quality wine priced at Rs. 650-800 for daily consumption, but at the same time can enjoy to drink a premium wine at a higher price range.

“We believe that all the wines in our portfolio must show a common signature. The higher you go, the more complex and elegant wines you would have to offer to the consumer. We feel that in order to increase the consumption of wines, we must introduce Indian consumers to quality on any level so that the consumer will shift slowly to more complex wines and understand and appreciate them. At the same time, the matured wine drinker can appreciate premium wines better and also be surprised that at Rs. 1500 or above one can get a better Indian red wine as compared to an imported one. This change we have to bring about in the mindset of our consumers. Our mission as an Indian wine producer is to raise the quality bar constantly and prove that Indian wines are better and affordable.”

Ask these wineries if special care is taken in the packaging of the super-premium category of their wines and they are quick to say, “Of course yes.”

Secci says, “SETTE has been very well accepted not just because of its quality but also because of the label design and packaging. It is presented in a way that is already a statement and speaks of quality and luxury. It has a pick me up effect on the shelves. We are selling very well on retail mostly because of packaging but offer quality too. Of course if you open a bottle and what shows outside doesn’t support what is inside then you have lost your customer, but with SETTE it’s not the case. If you want to establish a benchmark you have to use the best. We are using top notch quality bottles from France, best cork from Italy and high quality labels designed by myself in Italy but printed in India.”

As for Sula, packaging and bottling are a focus when it comes to all the brands.

“The Sula sun logo is indisputably Indian and we have maintained our Indian roots in the products we offer. We have always been clear that we want to stand out as a winery that takes pride in being Indian,” states Oldne.

Speaking about future expansion plans of these award winning wineries in the Indian wine industry, Oldne informs, “At Sula, we’re not just focused on making great wine; we’re focused on making great wine well. And since great wine starts with the environment, it’s in our best interests to take good care of it in the long run. Our sustainable agricultural practices and efficient winery operations are environmentally friendly, economically sound, socially responsible, and mindful of the earth’s limited resources. We strive towards being one of the world's most sustainable wine producers and our goal is to make Sula completely sustainable and as close to organic as possible. We do not plan on increasing our portfolio per say but to continue improving the quality of our wines year on year. We hope our initiative would influence other Indian wine producers to follow suit.”

While Secci says “A few months ago we successfully launched Asia’s first Sangiovese Bianco being one of the few brands in the world to have produced one. We recently launched our first sparkling from the house of Fratelli - The Gran Cuvée Brut. It is 100% Chenin Blanc based created using the method traditionelle. We will soon be launching a premium dessert wine called SANTO made out of 100% Chenin Blanc.”

“SETTE will be followed next year with the first Indian Chardonnay fermented in French oak barrels. Today with our third vintage, we are present in 14 states with 17 varietals on offer. Globally we have started exports to the UK, Italy, Netherlands & Japan,” he says.

As it continues to grow, India is seen by many as well poised to become a significant figure in the global wine scene, and is heading for major expansion on the road to success. Experts deem the future of Indian wines to be huge even exceeding the growth of China which is good news to many who are taking the plunge slowly but steadily ahead.

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