New ventures brew in old wine bottles

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As paradoxes go, this one clearly tops the tipple. At 15 ml per capita consumption, India is among the lowest wine consuming countries in the world. But at 25-30 per cent year-on-year growth, it is also the fastest growing wine market in the world. Now, the latter is what a new breed of entrepreneurs have been quick to raise a toast to. Sniffing a lucrative opportunity in grappling with grapes, some have even quit corporate careers to get into the brewing business.

So, there’s wine aficionado Ajay Shetty, who once crunched numbers for Morgan Stanley in New York and Merrill Lynch in Hong Kong, decided to shift base to Bangalore to set up Myra Vineyards and launch his wine brand in March 2012.

Then there’s Ashwin Rodrigues, once a chartered accountant, and now director and chief wine maker at Good Drop Wine Cellars at Nashik, who stormed the market with his Rio brand last year. Encouraged by the response at home, Rodrigues is eyeing the overseas market that includes China, Vietnam, Thailand, Kenya, Tanzania and Nigeria.

Aiming at the American market is another Uma Chigurupati, co-founder of KRSMA Estates.

A new entrant, the company won international awards for its wines before it launched its range of reds and whites under KRSMA brand in Bangalore this February.

Said Shetty: “I always wanted to be an entrepreneur, and after working for eight years as an investment banker, I got into the wine business and sold my first batch of labels in March 2012 at Mumbai, Bangalore and Pune markets.” He says he invested a total of Rs 3 crore from his own savings in the business. “Mine is a zero debt company and I am targeting to break even and start booking profit within a couple of years,” he added.

Last year, the Bangalore-based Myra Vineyards began selling the special limited edition of red and white wines produced at its winery at Dindori, near Nashik in Maharashtra and at Bijapur in Karnataka to test the market. There has been no looking back since and Myra now has a range in red and white wines in the entry, premium and super premium categories. A 750 ml bottle starts with a range of Rs 800 while a 375 ml bottle starts at Rs 330.

Myra has also entered the International Wine Challenge competition being held in London this year. The Shiraz and Sauvignon Blanc and Reserves Cabernet Sauvignon labels have been entered for wine challenge, Shetty said. The Sauvignon Blanc won a bronze at the Indian Wine Consumers Choice Awards (IWCCA) held in January 2014, while its Shiraz won the gold medal at IWCCA in 2012.

Bitten by the brewing bug, Rodrigues, who gave up his job in financial services in Sydney, Australia, and moved to Barossa Valley, a well-known wine valley in Adelaide district in 2007 to learn the art of wine making.

“I worked at three wineries in the valley and returned to India to make wine in 2009,” he said. First, he also joined a wine company in Nashik, the wine bowl of India, for one year to learn the nitty-gritties of the business before starting his own. Rodrigues, who made wines from a rented winery in Nashik for two years, set up his own winery with a total investment of Rs 1.5 crore from his savings in 2013.

Last year, he launched his first collection of sparkling wines made in an Italian frizzante (semi-sparkling) style with a lower alcohol content of 9 per cent compared to 13 per cent in normal wines. The wine sold under the Rio Fizzy Wine brand tastes fresh, fruity and semi-dry. “The frizzante style sparkling wine is inspired by Italian bubblies like Asti Spumante, Prosecco and Lambrusco which carry a sticker price tag of over Rs 1,500 per 750 ml bottle,” Rodrigues said.

Rio, says Rodrigues, is a new concept in wine, tailormade for the Indian consumer. The lower alcohol content makes it light and easy to drink and ideal for Indian weather, he said. “The idea is to popularise wine drinking and make it a mass market product in India,” he said.

Love for wine also led Chigurupati and her husband, Krishna Prasad, to invest Rs 7 crore to buy a 170-acre estate in Hampi Hills in north Karnataka. KRSMA brand is carved out of their first names, Krishna and Uma.

“We have launched four premium and super premium labels in red and white wines this February in the Rs 750 - Rs 1,500 price range,” Chigurupati said. The super premium Magnum 1,500 ml bottle costs Rs 3,100. “We are now all set to export our wines first to the US market,” Chigurupati said.

“The world class wine is aged in fine grain French oak barrels, the bottles are imported from France, labels from Australia, capsules from Spain and natural cork from the US,” Chigurupati said.

The wines from KRSMA brand like the Chardonnay of 2013, Cabernet Sauvignon of 2012 and the Sauvignon Blanc of 2013 won the double gold, gold and silver medals respectively, at the China Wine and Spirit Awards 2013. The Sauvignon Blanc of 2012 has also picked up the bronze medal at the New Zealand International Wine Show 2012, while the Chardonnay was commended at the recently held International Wine Challenge 2014.

“Last year, India consumed about 20 lakh cases of wine (one case comprises 12 bottles of 750 ml each), out of which 4-5 lakh were imported,” Jagdish Hokar, chairman at the Indian Grape Processing Board told Financial Chronicle.

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