IN A country of one-billion-and-a-half, one sometimes wonders why we still haven’t been able to produce an all-round Olympics team? Forget medals, we don’t even seem to find due representation for the various disciplines of the sporting event. Similarly lamentable is the fact that when recently the Indian wine industry made its first venture into the UK market, there were barely any Indians to carry the banner high.
Let’s start from the beginning. The authorities have always felt the need to make an impactful entry into western markets. A planned exercise, they thought, with some of the country’s top wines would be the best way to go about it. So the plan was made, dates were fixed and everything soon got underway. But here is where things went hopelessly awry: the dates happened to coincide with the Hong Kong wine and spirits fair and, as a result, none of the relevant names (from the UK trade and media) were around for the India event in London. No MWs (masters of wine), no reputed wine writers and no critiques. Everyone who was interested in Asia was, understandably enough, in Asia for the big Hong Kong event. In fact, most sessions were populated by making participants and speakers for other sessions fill up the empty seats.
The only Indian wineries present on day one were Fratelli, Sula and Grover-Zampa, all three of which already have representation in the UK. So clearly, the media there wasn’t going to be excited about tasting any of these. York, the only brand, which isn’t currently exporting to the UK, never received its wines on account of the organisers messing up. Their entire day of tasting with the scattered trade and media that did show up went to waste. Soul Tree, a brand that retails only in the UK, was also present and although they make decent wines, they are already (and exclusively) present in the UK market, thereby making them not the most ideal representation of the Indian wine-making diaspora.
Most seminars were conducted and presented by foreigners who, although well-informed about the market, still remain spectators at best. Peter Czismadia-Honigh’s book is a worthy tome on Indian wineries, but his role, too, was fairly curtailed. Certain presenters had vested interests in the industry to be speaking from an entirely neutral standpoint. The walk-around tasting and seminar areas were set up in the same room, which meant that at all points in time, one was disturbing the other. The proximity was undesirable and reflects poor planning.
I could go on, but I think I have made my point. I was there—I even made a brief presentation, albeit without the wines I wished to present (as they never turned up!)—and in spite of the noble thought behind the idea of having such a show, it was a bit disconcerting to consider this event as an industry-wide initiative. In fact, it was a classic case of mistaking motion for action. And this is precisely why Indians are considered sketchy when it comes to doing business internationally. We over-promise and under-deliver, leaving people disappointed and underwhelmed by our general lack of professionalism and precision.
The only saving grace was the dinner at Quilon with chef Sriram Aylur. He managed to accommodate all the invitees—the number just kept swelling—and still churned out some delectable food with top-class silver service that showed yet again why he merits the coveted Michelin star. That said, I can only hope that the UK forgives this visit and doesn’t turn its back on us because, as the adage goes, “If you can make it in London, you can make it anywhere”. India has a lot of fine wines to show, but a rickety platform isn’t the way to showcase them. We need to go back stronger with a more representative line-up of wines and speakers, and invite people who will write about them and make them known to the rest of the world. Either that or we can contend ourselves with selling across state borders and be happy about the few odd containers that some big wineries ship abroad now and then. Or maybe it’s better that the producers here get organised and conduct their own events with focused wine-centric teams to organise things—possibly free from the bureaucratic hurdles that mar most such official initiatives.
The writer is a sommelier