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High label registration fees, taxes, duties and indifferent policies of state governments have been a big dampener in the Indian wine growth story: Abhay Kewadkar

In an exclusive interview, Abhay Kewadkar, MD, Tetrad Global Beverages and India’s first winemaker talks to Steena Joy about how Indian wines have matured and what needs to be done to incentivise the domestic industry

As India’s leading wine veteran, how has the wine industry in the country evolved over the years? How many organised players make up the industry?
When I started my wine career in 1984, there was not a single quality winemaker making wines using wine varieties of grapes. Today, wine varieties of grapes have been planted over 5,000 acres and there are at least 10 organised well-known wineries and 30 or 40 more wineries basically functioning as feeder units or making lower-priced wines. From a very small production in those years today, the wine industry is 3.5 m cases, growing at 15-20 per cent YOY.
In terms of consumer involvement, there has been a substantial increase in awareness, knowledge, and acceptance of wine as a beverage. I still remember the consumer asking me whether to consume wine with water or soda, today consumer is asking about wine by varietal. Unfortunately, the base still remains very small as compared to other alcoholic beverages. High label registration fees, taxes, duties and indifferent policies of state governments have been a big dampener in the growth story.
Wine is still considered as an aspirational beverage for the rich considering the high-end consumer prices. Wine needs to be considered as part of the meal and everyday beverage of choice as it happens in other countries.

Have Indian wines matured enough to be comparable in quality and taste to international wines?
Good wines are made almost all over the world now. Definitely, some of the wines made in India are better than some wines made in France. In fact, some Indian wine producers export their wine to France. But when it comes to the best quality wines, France is far ahead. We will be doing ourselves great injustice if we compare ourselves to European countries which have been making commercial wines for over four centuries now. Although the wine culture in India penetrated much later, with favourable terroir and really talented winemakers, India is producing some world-class wines today.
I am very proud to say that I was the part of winemaking team which really put Indian wines on the international map, to start with La Reserve Red wine when I was heading Grover Vineyards.

How can the government incentivise this sector? What role can the government play to place Indian wines on the global map?
Maharashtra and Karnataka have already incentivised the wine industry in their respective states. This includes subsidies for setting up wineries, excise duties being very low in Karnataka and zero in Maharashtra.
But on the other side, both the states have implemented restrictive and discriminatory policies for wines coming from other states. The impact of this is that only big wineries will survive as they can afford wineries in multiple states. Boutique style wineries with more focus on quality and style will not survive as they are forced to sell only in their own state. These boutique style wineries, in fact, create the excitement and help the consumers keep experimenting and thus buying more wines.
To put Indian wines on the international map and make them famous, we need to find ways to increase consumption domestically first by making simpler laws and low entry barriers. Simultaneously putting in place quality control and a certification system so that Indian wines have more credibility.

Your Early Dark label. How has it performed in India?
We launched the label in February 2019. We are today available in select stores in cities like Bengaluru, Mumbai, Pune, Goa, and in Kolkata we will be available by July. Delhi and other North Indian markets by September.
So far, we have got a great response from the customers and wine connoisseurs in Bengaluru. The range of wines in the Early Dark portfolio has been curated specially for the Indian palate keeping in mind the consumption preferences and style of food we consume.

Your partnership with Vignobles Arbeau?
Early Dark is India’s first batch of hand-made wines made in collaboration with Vignobles Arbeau, award-winning winemakers from France producing award-winning wines. Vignobles Arbeau has been making quality wines for five generations and has been farming sustainably since 1998.
This carefully curated portfolio of wines has been produced in the celebrated vineyards of Sud Quest France. The Early Dark portfolio boasts of a Reserve Range of three varietals and blends and a special Regional Range of another three varietals. The Syrah – Negrette – Gamay red wine in their Reserve Range has won many awards, that include being rated at 90 points by Wine Enthusiast, 86 points by Guide Gilbert & Gaillard, and a Silver medal at the Concours Elle à table.
Besides this, we import wine from France’s biggest family-owned winery and wine merchant groups. They have over a dozen of Grands Cru class wines and classical Chateaux in Bordeaux.

Apart from the wine growing pockets of Nashik and Bengaluru, which other terroirs in India can be developed or are suitable for the wine industry?
Vineyards in India are populated around the Deccan Plateau of Maharashtra and Karnataka but the terroir in Hyderabad, Telangana and Himachal region are also favourable towards making good wines.

Your thoughts on wine tourism as a millennial concept that can drive wine consumption in the country?
Wine tourism is gaining reasonable momentum. Several world-class vineyards in the vicinity of Nashik and Bengaluru are attracting avid travellers and wine enthusiasts through their carefully curated packages, including stay.
The vineyards are luxurious and offer a full 360-degree experience from grape plucking, traditional wine stomping experience, a peek into bottling wines, structured wine tasting and so on. This not only gives millennials a glimpse of life in a vineyard and how wine is made but helps demystify wines and educates one about ways of consuming and pairing wines with food.

Future plans for Tetrad Beverages?
At Tetrad Global Beverages besides launching our own label range of wines under Early Dark, we have started with importing fine French wines. Going forward, we will add wines from famous regions of Italy, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, and Portugal. We will also be looking to increase the footprint of Early Dark. Discussions are underway to add boutique style Malts, Gin and select alcoholic beverages.
We will shortly be launching our first Microbrewery in Prestige Shanti Niketan Whitefield Mall. Idea is to scale up this business as well.

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