Arjun Sachar On Delhi’s Wine Scène Culturelle

Donning an elegant suit, tie pinned up, cufflinks coordinated with his pocket square; you might just mistake the dapper sommelier for a banker. But make no mistake, the sommelier can sell you a bottle of wine faster than the banker sells you a mutual fund. Welcome to the grandiose world of wine! Here theatrics are the tipples, stage is the bar and we men & women are merely players trying to bring to you the nectar of the gods.

In a country boasting of a growing consumer base for wines, the industry has to constantly adapt and mould itself to the ever changing trends. Prevailing laws make it tough to work in this niche and cluttered alcohol-beverage sector, and now we are compelled to welcome the much talked about highway laws which have brought in some more sour grapes to the ‘grape-vine’ network.

Pros and cons aplenty, it’s applaudable that the industry has always managed to create a buzz surrounding wines. It was only about 25 years back that wine consumption developed in small communities in India and a mere decade since its popularity has trickled down to a larger audience, with a significant increase from 2015-16 of 21 percent.

As wine appreciation grows, the major pours continue to come in from the brick and mortar spaces across the country. However, a believer of the retail trade, I advocate mobilising this sector in order to make wine an everyday tipple. So, I identified a few offbeat trends that are exciting, and if given the right direction, will help the goal of making wine shine.

 

Drinking In, Drinking Big!

The niche group which was content sipping wine in restaurants has now broadened their horizons, bringing the vino home, with retail outlets playing cupid. Wine is viewed as a healthier alternative to spirits and an aspirational step forward from beer. Parents perceive it as a lighter drink and don’t mind offering it to their younger ones. Therefore, the onus is on the retail trade to improve the selection of wines and storage conditions, quality wines priced between Rs. 1,200 to Rs. 2,500 will help increase sales considerably.

 

Wine, Not Whine

Millennial’s are eliminating the customary snobbery surrounding wines. They sip summer sangrias and mulled wine during winter, with confidence; unperturbed by the existing adulation around wine. We as an industry need to encourage this. These are the immature wine “cocktail” drinkers who are influenced either by a change in lifestyle or due to certain circumstances. When it comes to wine (as it is) they aren’t the customers looking for violets, lavender, or strawberry in a wine. They are blunt about their choice and either like it or dislike it.

 

The Price Is Right – When It’s Below the 1000 Mark

“Price is what you pay, value is what you get” – Warren Buffet.

For me, ‘Value! Value! Value!’ is as important in retail trade as ‘Location! Location! Location!’ is for real estate. The biggest competition for a wine brand is not another wine brand but the value that a customer gets by picking a bottle of whisky, vodka, rum, gin or 10 cans of beer for the same price. The offer has to be worthy enough to challenge those 12 large pegs or 10 beer glasses. Many customers can’t rationalise the fact that if two people are drinking a Rs. 2,000 bottle of wine, it gives them 2.5 glasses each and a lesser high than Rs. 1,000 –  Rs. 1,500 bottle of alcohol which will offer around 6 large pegs per person and a longer lasting high.

We need more wine in the Rs. 700 – Rs. 1000 price bracket to see an overall growth of the industry. Two of India’s largest importers of wine have a brand each in this category. Though profit margins for them might be low, the wines sell by the case. Such wines can account for significant transitions and even a small percentage in shift of spirit alcohol consumer to wines will be a mountainous increase in the percentage of wine consumption.

 

Sparkling The Way Forward

Image: elliotandvine.com; Sparkling Wine & Champagne

India has seen an approximate growth of 30 percent in the sparkling wine (non-champagne*) category; everyone wants to open a bottle of bubbly for a celebratory occasion. Prosecco (Italy), Cava (Spain), and Indian sparkling wines have made them accessible to people. Champagne though, caters to a niche, mature audience; despite that it has maintained increasing sales year on year. While the knowledge on sparkling wine is still limited in the country, there is a desire to be associated with its opulence and extravagance. The fact that it makes for the perfect gift, has only furthered the cause.

*Champagne is sparkling wine that comes specifically from the Champagne region in France.

 

It’s All In The Label

As a developing market, label recognition and remembrance is one of the most important factors for continual re-purchasing. This holds the key to why Chilean, Argentinean, and Australian wines have done particularly well. Apart from being delectable on the palate they stand out as no-nonsense wines. Reasonably priced, neat labels, and easy to read information, all this makes you look like a pro when you come back to the shop for repurchasing.

Some of the world’s most popular wines such as Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Chassagne-Montrachet, Ribera del Duero, Entre-Deaux-Mers, et all, find themselves sitting on shelves for much longer periods (even though allocations for retail trade are minute for such wines).

P.S. – Were you able to pronounce them at the first go?

 

Sweet Treats

Admit it or not, we Indians can replace desserts for main course! Consumers love wines that are fruity and, or carry a sweet note; whether it’s white, rosé, or even a sparkling wine. The love for sweet treats observed in this country has prompted domestic producers to experiment, all for achieving this sweet sensation (even in dry red wines). A world famous sparkling wine house has recently tweaked one of its Indian labels to suit the sweet palate and the wine now has some residual sweetness to it.

 

New Makeover For Wine Appreciation Sessions

Wine-centric events targeting new consumers need to be made more approachable. For the longest time, we have focused on formal sit down dinners and while they cater well to a particular market, they have also adversely impacted the larger section that is not comfortable with such a notion. One-upmanship needs to be done with. A few restaurants have brought in various types of quizzes & games to make it more interactive and the result has been impressive. More such sessions need to come in place; In a relaxed atmosphere, where everyone is able to discuss their wines openly, rather than staying silent and limiting their judgement to the opinion of their host, the real appreciation for the vino will come through.

 

One of India’s youngest wine connoisseurs, Arjun Sachar is known in #OurCity for his unfathomable wine knowledge which he has uncorked through a co-founded online platform, Wine and Spirits Academy. Being one of the youngest Indians to have done an MBA in Wine & Spirits Business in France, he is currently the Country In-Charge for Tonnellerie Demptos and Speyside Cooperage. Having seen both sides of the coin in the wine industry, production & marketing, this ace of the base gent always has some tipsy tips aging, awaiting for the right time to pour. However, wine isn’t his only passion, he is also known for his love for travel, football, and eating crocodiles (yep, you read that right).