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Cheers to the grape

Happy feet: Guests stomping on grapes at the Sula festival

It is a sultry afternoon at the Sula Vineyards, about 12km from Nashik. As Jaguars, Ferraris and other luxury cars roll up the dusty approach to the venue of a wine festival — ignoring the ragtag team of protestors squatting on the ground right in front of the gate — Sula founder and CEO Rajeev Samant sighs. “The world should be like this fest — leave everything aside to sit on the grass, sip wine and listen to great music,” he says.

Protests from some quarters notwithstanding (this demonstration was by local politicians who thought the festival was “immoral”) wine fests are a big rage in India today. The Nashik festival, organised by Sula earlier this month, is one of the many being hosted across the country. Some of the other events are the Mumbai Wine Tasting Festival, Kala Ghoda Wine Festival, Pune Wine Tasting Festival and Goa’s Grape Escapade.

Organising such festivals are clubs, wineries and government bodies such as the Indian Grape Processing Board (IGPB), functioning under the ministry of food processing industries. In December, Karnataka hosted the International Wine Festival in Bangalore, while the day-long Great Grover Stomp was hosted by premier wine brand Grover-Zampa at its picturesque vineyards in Nashik in January. An event that’s being touted as the mother of all wine festivals — the India Grape Harvest — will be hosted in Nashik by the All India Wine Producers Association (AIWPA) on March 2 and 3.

“Wine fests are proliferating. In three months, 10-15 fests were held in Mumbai and elsewhere,” says Kiran Patil, director of Reveilo Wines, known for its Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve.

It’s not just the big companies in the grape-growing states of Maharashtra and Karnataka that are celebrating wine. Grape harvest fests will be held in cities such as Delhi, Hyderabad and Calcutta too, says AIWPA president Shivaji Aher, owner of Renaissance winery in Nashik that exports its labels to Germany and the US.

The IGPB too is planning more fests. “We want to form 40-50 wine clubs comprising wine enthusiasts across India and hold wine fests through them,” says Jagdish Holkar, chairman, IGPB.

India already boasts of several private wine clubs — such as the Delhi Wine Club, Mumbai Wine Club and Terroir One, the Mumbai chapter of the Delhi Wine Club — which are associated with fests such as the Mumbai Wine Tasting Festival, launched in 2009, and Kala Ghoda, established in 2010. “We are now looking at Kerala and Punjab to host wine fests,” says Pratap Arora, consultant for Mumbai Wine Tasting, Kala Ghoda and the Goa wine fest.

The fests are becoming more and more popular. When it was launched in 2008, Sulafest was attended by 400 people. “This year, it attracted around 8,000 visitors,” says Cecilia Oldne, head, international business, Sula. The Goa fest, held in Panjim and supported by the Goa Tourism Development Corporation, attracted a record 30,000 visitors.

The Mumbai Wine Tasting Festival too has seen a sharp increase in visitors. “We started with just two or three stalls and a few hundred people,” recalls Arora. This year, the festival, organised at the pier in Colaba overlooking the Arabian Sea, drew 2,500 visitors.

Although promoting Indian wines is the common thread binding the fests, there’s no fixed format for the festivals. Sula focuses on music — its music-loving owner built an amphitheatre in the vineyards in 2007 to support music. Grover-Zampa, on the other hand, wants to keep its fest exclusive. Held at its scenic hill-top vineyards, the Grover Stomp was meant for a “mature” crowd.

“Our event is meant for people who have a taste for the finer things in life,” says Ravi Jain, CEO, Grover-Zampa. “Grover stands for ‘fellowship of the finest’. So we had jazz, art and gourmet food — some of the most sophisticated things in life that go hand-in-hand with wine.”

Some of the festivals are also meant to acquaint people with the culture of wine drinking. “People prefer a more compact and intimate format that dwells on wine education or briefings — how to hold a glass, how to taste wine and how different kinds of wine can be paired with various kinds of cuisine,” says Bindu Malhotra, president, Terroir One.

Efforts are on to draw on local culture too. The coming India Grape Harvest will pay tribute to Dadasaheb Phalke, who was from Nashik, and mark 100 years of Indian cinema. “But the main focus will be on wine, vineyard tours, grape stomping, seminars and tasting,” says Holkar of IGPB, which is supporting the fest. With 20 wineries participating in the Harvest, it will showcase Indian wines along with Lavni dance and local cuisine.

The proliferation of wine fests is, of course, fuelled by a robust growth in the industry. The Rs 1,050-crore Indian wine industry is growing at an annual rate of 25-30 per cent. India now consumes about 13.5 million litres of wine per annum. By 2020, the industry is expected to touch more than Rs 10,000 crore in revenue with consumption up to 72 million litres. According to AIWPA, the largest consumption areas are Mumbai (37 per cent), Delhi (25 per cent), Bangalore (12 per cent) and Goa (10 per cent).

“Consumption and sales in Calcutta have also increased tremendously over the past few years,” Samant says.

Because of regulations on liquor advertisements in India, the industry also sees the festivals as an effective platform for wine promotion. “The wine market by and large maintains a business-to-business format. As manufacturers, we interact with distributors and retailers, but not with end consumers,” says Patil of Reveilo. “So this business-to-consumer format is very useful to us.”

As the industry burgeons, expect more and more such festivals. Already, in Mumbai, neighbourhood wine festivals are being held. So get ready to roll the barrels, stomp the grapes, and sip and swirl — wine festivals are here to stay.

The best of fests

Mumbai Wine Tasting Festival
The Grape Escapade in Goa
The Great Grover Stomp in Nashik
Sulafest in Nashik
Kala Ghoda Wine Festival in Mumbai
India Grape Harvest in Nashik (on March 2 & 3)
Pune Wine Tasting Festival
International Wine Festival in Bangalore
Shillong Wine Festival