The wine industry in India is projected to grow at more than 25 per cent annually in the next decade, making it the fastest growing industry in the country, says leading wine industrialist Rajeev Samant of Sula Wines.
Enthused by the "tremendous success" of the just-concluded international conference and exposition on grapes and wines in this wine capital of India, the chief executive officer of Sula Wines, who chaired the gala event, said the remarkable participation of wine grape growers has boosted his confidence.
"The 300 farmer delegates were enwrapped in the proceedings - taking copious notes of technical presentations by foreign experts, asking questions and talking among themselves about the lessons learnt - this is phenomenal," Samant told IANS in an interview here.
The wine industry lobbyist, who is playing a vanguard role in popularising wine culture in urban India and motivating table grape growers in rural India to turn to the more profitable wine grape cultivation, said he hoped the goal of bringing 3,000 acres under wine grape cultivation every year in the next decade would be met.
"It is a big task, and at the same time a big opportunity, given the fact that rural incomes in our country are not rising," he remarked.
Talking about the onerous task of turning table grape growers towards wine grapes, the Sula CEO said: "Though the 10:90 ratio of wine grape to table grape production in the country is poor in absolute terms, it is still a big rise from a mere one percent five years ago."
"It would be a veritable revolution if it goes up - which it will - to 20 percent in the next 10 years."
The quantum jump from two million litres of wine production from four wineries in Maharashtra in 2001 to 13 million litres in 2007 from 51 wineries has set the trend for phenomenal growth of the infant industry, which, at a 30 percent annual growth rate is the fastest growing industry in the country today, Samant pointed out.
"But the tiny 9 ml per capita consumption in India, compared to 400 ml in China, indicates the huge scope for further growth though, given the rising popularity of the drink even in the second tier cities. I have no doubt that it will be achieved," he said.
Referring to Maharashtra Minister Chhagan Bhujbal pointing out in his keynote address that wine is a preferred drink in parties these days, Samant said socialites have started taking pride in serving wine and, that too, the Indian brands.
"Indeed, it's nice to see wine becoming a part of our Page 3 culture, with pictures of film actresses and models flaunting wine glasses published in the magazines," he chuckled.
The wine industry leader readily admitted that government support in the shape of reduced taxes, concessions and liberalised licensing requirements has gone a long way to help as well as an array of promotional activities undertaken by the industry.
"But the sales tax remains at par with that on hard liquors," he pointed out.
Permission to sell wine through malls is another salutary gesture, said Samant, whose Sula Wines already has a tie-up with Big Bazaar.
The Sula CEO, who personally went to several liquor bars and clubs in Indian metros presenting wine bottles and urging connoisseurs to taste it, said that he was dismayed to hear some doctors say at a medical conference in Delhi that red wine was as bad for health as any hard liquor.
"Research across the world has adequately proved that regulated consumption of red wine is good to control coronary heart disease," he said.
Justifying stiff import tariffs on foreign brands - it has been slashed from 250 percent to 150 percent though - on the plea that the infant domestic industry does need protection for some time, Samant said Indian industry would certainly welcome competition when it comes of age.
"In fact foreign companies are already setting up wineries in India. Seagram is in Nashik, some others are coming, too, and it's fine."
While Maharashtra, particularly its western and southern parts, would continue to be the single largest wine producer because of its favourable climate for wine grape cultivation, Himachal Pradesh and possibly Andhra Pradesh besides Karnataka can be the other states to try it out, Samant said.
Hoping to see a rush of cultivators rooting for wine grapes given the better prices they stand to get for many years to come, Samant said the industry would certainly support any move to extend crop insurance cover against droughts to farmers along with the government.