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by Madhurima Mukhopadhyay

The Indian wine industry has had a long and rich history. It has seen many ups and downs and is slowly but steadily growing. Today, the industry even produces export-quality super premium wines and is becoming a force to reckon with, writes Madhurima Mukhopadhyay.

If you go through the history books, you will find that wine was consumed in India for the first time many centuries ago. However, the princes and the kings put their glasses down and then it literally took hundreds of years for the Indians to pick the wine glasses up again! It wasn’t till the late 1980s that the wine industry in India began to flourish. Thankfully, ever since the graph has been moving up and more and more Indians are taking to wine like fish to water.

The beginnings

Did you know that wine was majorly produced and consumed in India in the latter part of the 19th Century? With the British Rule in full swing, wine was locally produced mainly for consumption by the British who lived in India. Vineyards flourished in Baramati,  Surat and Kashmir. The wines from India were regularly featured at international exhibitions and were greatly praised always. However, at the fag end of the 19th Century, a phylloxera epidemic wiped away most of the wine grape plantations, putting an abrupt and rude end to the Indian wine industry. Even after the epidemic ceased, the industry had a very difficult time getting back on its feet as various political, social and economical challenges were thrown in front of it. From alcohol being considered a taboo in society in the 1940s and 1950s, to strange and unfavorable tax rulings being targeted towards industry, the wine producers didn’t have it easy in any way. It was only in the early 1980s that the trend began to change.

The rebirth – 1984 onwards

All the wine lovers in India should be thankful to the efforts of Tonia Group, a family business that resurrected the wine industry in India. The Goa-based Tonia group started making wine in India by collaborating with French winemakers and it was for the first time that wine varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot blanc, Pinot noir and Ugniblanc were being grown and processed in India. The many vineyards that were forced to grow table grapes and produce raisins, took cue from the Tonias and started wine production as well. It was also around this time that Champagne Indage’s plant was set up in Maharashtra, leading to the full-scale production of wine in India.

The popularization of Indian wines

Sula Wines was one of the first wine companies that took to marketing the wines in a methodical manner. Sula is the market leader today and is the only company that has wines across all price segments. Apart from Sula, Grover Vineyards also emerged as one of the top-selling Indian wine brands. Fratelli, Four Seasons and York are some of the biggest names in the wine industry today. The urban population is opening up to wine and the drink has become integrated with the urban lifestyle today. Wine events and tastings, vineyard tours and wine education programs are on the rise, things that were almost unheard of in the country even a decade ago! Wine is still a more urban drink and a whopping 80% of it is consumed in the metropolitan cities. Mumbaikars and Delhites consume the most wine at 39% and 23% respectively, followed by Bangalore and Goa, both at 9%. Pune, Chennai and Kolkata are other cities were wine is popular.

The production

While California has its Napa Valley, we in India have our Nashik region in Maharashtra! Known as the Napa Valley of India, a majority of the renowned wine estates of the country are located in this belt. Over two-thirds of the Indian wineries are situated in Maharashtra. Another popular wine growing region is found in southern India, in the state of Karnataka. Apart from this, a small number of vineyards are available in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh.

The challenges faced by the Indian wine industry

All the above mentioned statistics ring a favorable bell for the industry, but there are still a lot of challenges that the winemakers in India face. The biggest challenge is selling the wines. It was reported by the Times of India that in 2012, 50 lac liters of wine remained unsold in India. Then, there have often been less-than-favorable weather conditions that caused barricades in the cultivation of wine. The recent hail-storms in the Nashik belt affected the grapes as well, but luckily for the wine grape growers, the losses weren’t too huge. According to Dr. NeerajAgrawal, Sr. VP – Operations, Sula Wines, “only 15-20% losses were recorded in case of wine grapes wherever the hail was received”. A fortunate escape, for sure! However, the tax structure isn’t so lenient and the wine producers are constantly battling the uneven taxes levied on wines in India. In Delhi the tax on wine is at a consistent rate of Rs. 200 per liter. In Karnataka the tax is Rs. 630 per case of 9 liters, whereas in Andhra Pradesh the wine tax is dependent upon the alcohol content as well as on the volume. Such uneven tax patterns pose a huge challenge for the smooth sale of wines across the country.

A battle won and a long fight ahead…

The Indian wine industry has won a long battle and has emerged victorious by graciously staying alive amid all the challenges. And while the victory is sweet, the industry has a long way to go still. However, the trends are favorable and the industry is growing at a healthy rate of 19% each year. Then, another feather in the industry’s cap has been the birth of super premier Indian wines. Today, a lot of wineries are producing wines that are priced Rs. 1500 and above. These wines are even exported to countries around the world, making them true Indian treasures! Sula’s Rasa Shiraz and Fratelli’s SETTE are among the most popular Indian super premium wines.

If the patrons and the authorities continue to extend their support, Indian wines may soon become a name to reckon with. Cheers to that!


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