Now that the ghosts of the year past have almost departed, and those of the year ahead are upon us, it's time to look back at the events of 2013 and wonder what 2014 might bring for wine in India.
Surely the defining moment of 2013 for wine in India was the launch of Chandon Brut and Chandon Brut Rose - the sparkling wine produced in Nashik by Champagne major Moet Hennessy India - in November. The party at the Four Seasons, Mumbai went on till 3 am, and I am told that 500 bottles of the stuff were quaffed by just 400 invitees! A new sparkling wine range was announced by industry leader Sula as well as by newbie Fratelli. The ensuing slugfest is sure to benefit consumers.
Another landmark development was the merging of veteran winemaker Grover Vineyards with Ravi Jain's Vallee du Vin to form Grover Zampa - the entity has taken on veteran hotelier and wine professional Sumedh Singh Mandla as CEO, and is targeting 100 per cent growth in volume.
Last (but not least) is the emergence of Fratelli Wines (Maharashtra) as a major player in the Indian wine scene: its quality is better than ever, the range has expanded manifold, and it's investing in improving distribution across the country, particularly in leading hotels and restaurants in all major markets.
Sales of imported wines remained buoyant, propelled by wider availability of a decent range of wines in key markets and good support from luxury hotels. Australia's Jacob's Creek was the market leader this year and continued to be the favourite for banquets as well as for entry-level drinkers at retail, but there was strong competition from both French (Laroche) and South African (Two Oceans, Nederburg) wines.
So, what's 2014 likely to bring for stakeholders?
The domestic alcoholic beverages industry is going to be shaken up by Diageo's acquisition of Vijay Mallya's United Spirits and some change may percolate down to the latter's wine division, Four Seasons. A precursor was the movement of the company's Bangalore head office from central UB City to remote Whitefield some months back.
Few new Indian wine companies will debut during the year: one such is north-Karnataka-based Krsma Wineries, whose owners, Krishna Prasad and Uma Chigurupati, are marathon runners and have the stamina for the long haul required to make it in this business. Nashik-based Charosa Winery also will launch its fare, with owner Ajit Gulabchand having the deep pockets required to expand distribution.
However, with general elections to take place next May, authorities are unlikely to make any change in import duties on wine (basic customs duty currently being 150 per cent), despite the Indian Grape Processing Board having reportedly recommended changing back to the 3-tier system prevalent till 2007 - which would continue to levy the same tariff on cheap wines while reducing duties on more expensive labels.
Things I've been doing: Participating in the development of a Wine App for smartphones (both Androids and iPhones) called Winescapes, currently undergoing Beta-testing, that's available free on both Google's Play Store and Apple's App Store. The App enables users to search for most wines available in India (the database currently has nearly 2,000 wines); at a later stage it will connect users to retailers.
Wines I've been drinking: The Honig Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2010, with 93 points from Wine Spectator, which was rated number 54 on the magazine's 'Top 100 Wines of 2013' (out of some 20,600 wines they tasted). The complex and intensely aromatic wine was perfectly balanced, having a medium plus body, and a lovely long finish.
Wishing you all a terrific 2014.