Suddenly one sees imported wines everywhere: in retail shops, on the wine lists of hotels and fine-dining restaurants, and (of course) at parties thrown by the smart set in the big cities. There’s an enormous amount of interest internationally in the potential of wine in India, and new wine brands seem to be getting launched every other day.
This phenomenon really started in 2001, when alcoholic beverages were taken off the ‘Restricted List’ of imports – today wines (and other alcoholic beverages) can be imported by anyone under OGL (Open General License) – all one needs in an Import-Export Code, and you’re off & running… which is why today there are probably more than 100 importers big and small.
So who are these wine importers, and what do they import?
1. The biggest wine importer today is undoubtedly Brindco International, headquartered in Delhi, who this year would probably finish with depletions of some 25,000 cases (one case being 12 bottles of 750 ml each). Boss Aman Dhall’s father has distributed spirits for McDowells (now United Spirits) for many years, and Aman himself did a stint overseas with UDV before returning to start-up the distribution of imported alcoholic beverages in around 2001.
Brindco has tie-ups with at least 62 wineries from 11 countries – a portfolio of over 500 wines, including such venerable marques as Baron Philippe de Rothschild, E. Guigal, Albert Bichot and Louis Jadot (France); Allegrini, Marchesi di Barolo and Gaja (Italy); Joseph Phelps, Francis Coppola, Caymus and Opus One (California); and Leeuwin Estate, Wolf Blass and Peter Lehman (Australia).
Aman confesses that they didn’t make any money for the first five years – but that he had a lot of fun setting up the business, and that interacting with the owners of the top wine-makers was a bonus no amount of money could buy. Today Brindco is the key vendor of wines (and many spirits) to top hotel chains in India – including the Taj and Welcomgroup hotels.
2. The second-largest wine importer has to be Sanjay Menon’s Sonarys Co-Op Brands.
Based in Bombay, Sonarys focuses only on imported wines (and beer) and has been in this business since 1974 (in its earlier avatar as Sansula).
Sonarys has assembled a fantastic portfolio of wines; some 350 labels from over 45 wineries in 11 countries, including Montes (Chile); Arrowwood, Clos du Val and Robert Mondavi (California); Faiveley, Hugel et Fils, Domaine Laroche, Paul Jaboulet Aine and Pascal Jolivet (France); and Antinori, Umberto Cesari, Michel Chiarlo and Prunetto (Italy).
Sonarys will probably do about 20,000 cases in 2006/07, and has formed enduring links with most upscale hotels in the major cities and with his own principals: a recent coup was bringing the Primum Familiae Vini – the First Families of Wine (family members of 11 of the most prestigious family-owned wine makers in Europe) – to Bombay for a wine-tasting and dinner
3. Next in line would probably be Global Tax Free (Delhi). Mukul Mehra and his son Adil have built an enviable track record of providing a range of excellent wines to their customers. They operate from a lovely bungalow in Sainik Farms – the compound also houses their air-conditioned bonded warehouse where their repertoire of wines are lovingly stored.
GTF would probably have sold about 15,000 cases by March 07 – their portfolio includes wines from Laurent Perrier, Jean Claude Boisset, Joseph Drouhin, Rene Barbier and Calvet (France); Casa Givelli, Cassetta and Fontella (Italy); Taylor’s of Australia, Concha y Toro of Chile, the giant KVW of South Africa, and Trivento from Argentina.
4. Interestingly, Sula (the Indian wine producer) would probably rank quite high among wine importers with a likely volume of about 10,000 cases this year. Rajiv Samant has hand-picked one winery each from the principal wine-producing countries internationally – what they term as “Sula Selections”, and targets both retail shops as well as hotels and fine-dining restaurants.
Sula’s portfolio of imported wines includes Two Oceans from South Africa; Hardy’s from Australia; a lovely range from the house of Ruffino, Italy; Trimbach, JC Le Roux and Fortant from France; and sake from Sho Chiku Bai, Japan.
5. Also among the largest wine importers, with a volume of about 10,000 cases would be Moet Hennessy India, whose portfolio largely consists of wines from wineries actually owned by the parent company LVMH.
Moet Hennessy is, of course, best-known as the largest Champagne company in the world – their line-up in India includes Dom Perignon, Krug, Veuve Cliquot and Moet Chandon Brut. Their still wines include Terrazas from Argentina, Casa Lapostolle from Chile, Green Point and Cape Mentelle from Australia, and the amazing Cloudy Bay wines from new Zealand.
6. Also making waves of late is Sovereign Impex of Delhi, which was set up only three years back by NRI Naresh Uttamchandani, and which should have done about 5,000 cases. Naresh specialises in Chilean and Italian wines, and his portfolio includes Valdivieso and Santa Ema (Chile), Lungarotti, Pio Cesare, Folonari and Mastroberardino (Italy), and the Wildekrans Wine Estate of South Africa.
There are a few ‘old stalwarts’: importers who have a history of supplying imported beverages and condiments to the embassies, airport shops, airlines and ship chandlers, and who since 2003 have expanded their clientele to the duty-free business from hotels. These include
7. Mohan Brothers, Delhi : Rohit Mehra comes from an old Delhi family involved in this business for years – brother of Mukul Mehra of GTF.
8. RR International has bonds in both Delhi and Mumbai – Vinod Garg deals in a variety of imports, including wines
9. Ghaio Mull & Sons also operate out of Delhi, and have been in this business since 1910. Sumit Munjral operates M/s Munjral Brothers, and apart from their own wines (Castel of France) provide logistics support for Pernod Ricard.
10. Last (but not least), would be useful to mention a clutch of ‘Young Turks’: new start-ups who are slogging it out with the big guys for market share in niche areas:
Sumedh Mandla of Brand Wagon (Bombay), who has a big list of good wines, including Brokenwood and Yering Station (Australia); Bava, Montresor and Fettoria del Cerro (Italy); Georges Duboeuf (France) and Marques de Murrita (Spain).
Jackie Matai floated Aspri Spirits in Bombay a few years back, and apart from Absolut Vodka has landed the De Bortoli, Sacred Hill and Windy Peak wineries of Australia as well as Campari and Cinzano from Italy.
The Francis Wacziarg Group in Delhi is an offshoot of the Neemrana Group of hotels – when I last checked they had a goodly list of wines, including Fontanilles, Louis Chantel, Lanson and Listel (France) and Inglenook & Paul Masson from California.
Of course there are many other wine importers in India – after all, although the present consumption of imported wines is only about 150,000 cases, “it’s early days as yet” and one can confidently forecast a growth of 25% + for the foreseeable future. The growth rate will accelerate with reduction in customs duties – it’s a question of when, not if.
Here’s toasting the future of imported wines in India – Salut!