Travel Logs from 2009
Yes, Virginia, there is wine in India
India does indeed have a wine industry. It is still nascent at this point, but it is certainly promising. I have tried a Zinfandel that was passable, although it suffered from poor storage, a red Pinot blend that was simple but decent, and a Cab/Shiraz that was very good.
The Cab/Shiraz came from Grover Vineyards which is associated with the Bordeaux wine star, Michelle Rolland, and it showed.
As with China, another country that has had little modern wine experience, India will probably find early success with joint ventures with those from more traditional wine producing regions.
Again, like China, the local population has little to no expectation of what wine should taste like, or in some cases even exactly what wine is. The local wine store we went into actually had no wine. They probably just liked the sound of it on their sign. Our hosts where we are staying have never tasted any wine, and one of our friends asked if it was similar to Tequila. The restaurant we went to last night was decorated with wine motifs, but did not actually have any wine for sale. A decent Riesling would have been a great addition to the meal.
Dry reds remain the wine of choice among those who fancy themselves to be wine lovers, but considering the spicy foods and the difficulty in learning to enjoy something truly foreign, it is probably the slightly sweet wines that will first win over the population here. We saw a program on local TV that featured Grover Vineyards, and the host was unnecessarily apologetic about the residual sugar in the Sauvignon Blanc only to gush about the dry red.
Once more drawing a parallel to China which has a much more mature wine industry, one of the largest hurdles will always be price, but those with ability to afford luxuries always turn to wine first as a status symbol, and eventually for the pure love of it. The attitude towards wine, even among those that have never tried any sort seems to bear this out.
I think it is no coincidence that a country's wine evolution so closely resembles an individual's. It may take a decade or more, but the love of wine is sure to be part of India's culture eventually.
So who is drinking what?
There is definitely wine in India, but who exactly is drinking it? I have tasted pretty much all of the local, at least grape, wine I can find, which was pretty easy, as that is a population of about three producers. I ran across fruit wines being sold up in the foothills of the Himalayans, but I didn't have a chance to try it, and I don't usually count it as wine, at least for the scope of this blog.
The most amazing thing about wine, at least this far from Delhi (I am up north in the large city of Chandigarh) is people's perceptions of it. They, at least the locals I have met, do not know exactly what wine is. They assume it is a sort of whiskey, and a high priced one at that.
When I had a chance to share wine with them they were delighted with the taste, although to be fair I started them off with a slightly sweet white. This is a beginner wine for many people, and it was well received here, and went nicely with the local foods.
People here drink whiskey, and they drink it with nibbles before a meal. Drinking wine with the dinner was not something they had ever thought of doing. In fact drinking wine at all was something they had not thought of doing.
Almost every block there is a store that sells liquor and beer, and while the signs say they have wine, none actually do. Only a few stores carry wine at all, and their selection is very small.
That is not surprising given that most of the people in India I have met have no idea what wine is. The few restaurants that have wine listed have "both kinds" red and white, and nothing more descriptive than that.
The wines made in India are not bad, but they are very expensive. In a country where a hair cut cost $1.50 a $12 bottle of wine is an investment that few consider worth the risk.
It is changing. The ultra rich are drinking the big name labels, as they always do. The middle classes are ordering Dominos pizzas in their Levi jeans over their cell phones, and sooner or later they are going to start equating wine with their lifestyles.
Once India gets a taste for wine, watch out, there is a huge potential market here, if you are very, very patient, or very, very proactive.
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