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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 February, 2004, 00:41 GMT
Indians embrace wine-drinking

By Zubair Ahmed
BBC correspondent in Bombay

Wine is becoming big business in India as the country drinks more glasses of red and white wine than ever before.

Indian wine now competes with French and Italian wines
Indian wine now competes with French and Italian wines
Last year, India drank 3.5 million bottles of wine.

It's a mere drop in the ocean when compared to France and Italy's consumption of 60 litres a year per person.

But wine consumption is defiantly on the rise at a rate of 20% a year, despite India's traditional penchant for whisky, rum and potent locally-distilled brews.

Local vineyards claim that India is now on the world's wine map.

And India is not just drinking wine by the case-load, it is exporting it as well, to classic wine-producing countries, such as France and Italy.

Changing fashion

The tipple of choice on a typical night out in many of Bombay's four thousand bars is now wine.

Wine is becoming the drink of choice in sophisticated bars
Wine is becoming the drink of choice in sophisticated bars

Rajiv Samant of Sula Vineyard, one of the first to have started wine production, says his business is doubling every year

"I started six years ago, since then we have been seeing a100% rise in production every year."

His vineyard produced 500,000 bottles in 2003, twice the volume of the previous year

It's the same story next door in China, but unlike the Chinese, Indians are overwhelmingly drinking their own, home-grown vintages.

Imported wine

In big Indian cities, however, it is increasingly the fashion to raise a toast with a glass of Chardonnay or Bordeaux.

Indian winemakers are increasing their production
Indian wine-makers are increasing their production
Around 20% of wines sold in India are imported from France, Italy, South Africa and Australia.

Indigo is one of several bar-cum-restaurants in Bombay where wine outsells hard drinks, such as rum and whisky.

It has more than 220 imported and indigenous vintages on offer, and sells $60,000 worth of mellow glassfuls every month.

Its owner, Rahul Akerkar, believes the new-found love for wine in India is due largely to the fact that it is considered good for health.

"The alcohol content is just over 10%," says Rahul. "It is now greatly appreciated by business executives and boardroom managers."

It is also a style statement, as French wine, being so expensive in India, is consumed mainly by English speaking, Western-educated men and women.

Wine appreciation courses

With millions of Indians building up a powerful thirst for wine, bar owners and vineyards are running wine appreciation courses.

They are also training their staff in the art of pairing wine with food.

It is a fair bet that much of this growth is driven by the three main wineries in India, Sula, Grover and Indage.

The Sula winery began life just five years ago as a gleam in the eye of its owner, Rajeev Samant, a former Silicon Valley engineer.

Now it is readying to become India's largest winery.

And in a classic coals-to-Newcastle twist, it is already exporting to traditional wine-producers France and Italy, as well as California, home of the New World style of wine.

Rajeev says triumphantly that Indian wine is not being exported to Indian bars and restaurants in those countries, but to local bars.

Frantic activity

At present, demand heavily outstrips supply.

There is room for many more players.

Already, frenetic activity in the Indian wine sector has led to several overseas companies setting up shop in the country.

Meanwhile, Indian companies are gearing up to maximise their production.

Pradeep Patil, one of the main wine-makers of Sula, which manually bottles its 150,000-litre capacity, says capacity will be tripled soon.

"We are in the process of setting up a new winery, after which which our annual production will be 1.5 million bottles compared to 500,000 bottles now," he said.

Domestic wine production expected to grow at an annual rate of 30% for the next five years.

Wine-loving Indians don't appear to have a hangover just yet, even though they were drinking a mere half-a-teaspoonful-a-head of wine just three years ago.

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