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Expensive, Exclusive and Indian

The Indian wine connoisseur is ready to pay for high-end quality wine, says wine writer, Ruma Singh.

It was a sign of the times.
Fratelli Wines launched its most ambitious wine venture to date with a mega poolside bash, complete with fairy lights, flashbulbs and the clink of flutes for Delhi’s glitterati. This was the launch of J’NOON, a portfolio of three limited edition wines – only 2400 bottles of each, created in collaboration with famous French wine producer Jean-Charles Boisset (who operates between Napa in the US, Burgundy in France). The three wines – a sparkling barrel-fermented 100% Chardonnay named JCB No. 47 after the year of India’s independence; a white wine made of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay; and a red wine, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Marselan with Sangiovese, were uncorked for the guests to taste. The talking point that evening beyond the elegant black-and-gold bottles and potential photo-ops with the flamboyant Boisset, were the prices – at Rs 2500 for the white, Rs 4000 for the red and Rs 3500 for the sparkling, these were now India’s most expensive wines in their categories.
Within a fortnight of the launches, 1200 bottles were sold on request – they are not available in retail – from the three centres where J’NOON was launched – Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. Quite the flying start.
This marks a growing trend in the launches of limited edition high-end made-in-India wines. When Hampi Hills-based KRSMA Estates launched in 2013, eyebrows were raised at the price of their flagship Cabernet Sauvignon: Rs 1500 for 750 ml. Today, KRSMA can’t make enough wine to supply their growing band of customers. Their Cabernet is now priced at Rs 2000, their Sangiovese is Rs1800. They do not raise any eyebrows any more.

Grover Zampa Vineyards Insignia, is a limited edition estate-grown Shiraz made by winemaker Karishma Grover.

Grover Zampa Vineyards Insignia, is a limited edition estate-grown Shiraz made by winemaker Karishma Grover

A year later, in 2014, Grover Zampa Vineyards announced the launch of Insignia, a limited edition estate-grown Shiraz made by winemaker Karishma Grover. Insignia was made from single vineyard grapes, hand-picked and matured in French oak barrels for 24 months. Three hundred magnums were made and sold by invitation at Rs 5000 a bottle, making it India’s most expensive wine at the time. Today, after a sold-out 2014 batch, the 2015 is being snapped up at Rs 6000 each and the 2016 vintage will see production scaled up to 500 magnums.
So who buys and drinks these high-end wines? According to Grover, they are being made for a growing segment of mature consumers; wine lovers who recognize India’s ability to make wines which can stand up to the best from the West and are ready to pay to enjoy it. “It’s not just a story I’m selling – I’m giving wine drinkers top quality wine, comparable to any at an international level. Insignia showcases what we can do, and there are enough consumers in India and abroad to buy this quality at this price.” Grover Zampa’s next best, the ‘expensive but accessible’ Tempranillo-Shiraz blend Chêne (Rs 1700) has, along with the Insignia 2015, received accolades from wine critics like Jancis Robinson, along with Fratelli’s Sette, its hitherto most premium wine which sells for Rs 1700 (750ml) and Rs 3000 for a magnum and comes with its own wine aerator-pourer.
Are these four-figure prices for a bottle of wine too expensive? Not at all says Grover. Given that effort that goes into making wines of this quality, it’s just right.

Fratelli too, admits J’NOON isn’t for the masses, but a specific, targeted audience – niche, quality-conscious buyers. According to Sekhri, the plan is to start small with J’NOON as “it is important for us to attract the right audience.” They plan to increase quantity gradually each year, he adds, hoping that Indian consumers will sit up and take pride in the launch of this quality label. Fratelli is also clear it wants J’NOON to be noticed globally. “It’s a wine made for the wine connoisseur globally, not just in India.” Boisset expands on this: “We feel it is critical to create an example of a very unique, high-profile, exquisite, high-end wine.”
Grover points out the acceleration in the number of launches of super-premium wines in India. “The very fact that within a year of Insignia’s launch, Fratelli have launched their own brand speaks volumes. So in a space of two years we have two super-premium wine launches – and I think it is excellent. This way we are all pushing one another to be better. As a winemaker I find that exciting.”
With other major players like Sula and KRSMA also focusing on developing quality wines at the top end of their portfolio rather than concentrating on bread-and-butter budget wines, the signs are clear. This, they feel, is the way to grow their brand and convince the world that India has what it takes to make good wine.
And for the quality-savvy Indian wine drinker who is ready to pay, this can only mean good times are going to get better.
Note: Prices mentioned may vary from state to state.

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