Good Drop Wine Cellars is the only winery in India specialising in fizzy wines. The company aims to broadbase wine consumption in the country and has priced its range of wines affordably in the domestic market, pitching it against beer By Sudipta Dev
Launched in 2011, Nashik based Good Drop Wine Cellars specialises in fizzy wines. The force carbonated wine is being promoted in the domestic market as an alternative to beer. “The whole idea being I want to broadbase wine drinking. I do not want wine to remain a niche product,” says Ashwin Rodrigues, director, Good Drop Wine Cellars. A chartered accountant by qualification, Rodrigues went into wines when he was in Australia. He was working there in financial services. “I saw the potential in the wine industry and thought that it is something good that I can bring from Australia to India. Having lived in the west where typical in the alco-bev pie, wine has a third of share, in India it is just one per cent. So the potential is huge, I want to unlock the potential, by releasing products that are broadbased,” says Rodrigues.
To learn about wines and wine making, he started working in the industry in Australia and did his ground work. He worked as a daily wager / a cellar hand in wineries in Australia. “I was the oldest there, the others were all 17 or 18 years old. I was in my early thirties. I wanted an idea about the industry, however I started to fall in love with wine making,” states Rodrigues, pointing out that he was fortunate to start his wine making career in Barossa Valley in South Australia, which is one of the most premium wine making regions in the world. He spent a couple of years in Barossa Valley, and then he went to California and did a harvest there. Following which he came back to India to start his dream project.
He first took up a job in one of the local wineries in Nashik. “I started by not building a winery. There were so many wineries that were defunct. There are a few extremely successful wineries like Sula, but most wineries have shut down. Nashik is in fact a graveyard of wineries,” remarked Rodrigues. He believes this has happened because many people get into the wine industry but very few succeed and get to the top, and once they teach there they have to do really well. “That is true around the world for the wine industry, from Australia to California. There are two things in the wine industry that people miss – the long working capital cycle, when you put money in the beginning of the year, it takes you one full year to recover the money. It is also a capital intensive industry. The second factor is that it is a marketing intensive industry as it is a consumer brand. It has to be backed by substantial marketing spend,” mentions Rodrigues, pointing out that a lot of people in the industry get it wrong as the focus is on sales discounting and not on marketing and creating awareness, of the category and the brand.
Initially Rodrigues decided to use the existing wineries instead of setting up his own. Rio Fizzy Wine was released in 2011. “It is a sparkling wine, a force carbonated wine. Which is why I do not call it a sparkling wine, I call it a fizzy wine,” states Rodrigues.
Rio Fizzy Wine is an easy drinking, fresh, fruity, aromatic wine. It has an attractive packaging and a pull off top. “The wine did really well,” says Rodrigues with pride, adding that within about four-five months sales were going up, but he had a lot of difficulties with his production partner. He shifted to another winery, which was worst, followed by a third. “So my theory of working with local people who had wineries proved wrong. I knew by 2011 end that I had to set up my own winery. It takes about a year. In 2012 I went about getting the licenses to do that and by 2013 had set up my own winery,” informs Rodrigues. By then he had increased his range of products. After Rio, he launched Rio, the Carnival Collection, which is a low alcohol fizzy wine. Rodrigues asserts that low alcohol is good for the Indian weather, and people can drink more without getting a hangover the next day. Subsequently he launched Rio Strong, which is a stronger version of Rio Fizzy Wine. It is pitched against strong beer in the market.
The wines are for the domestic market. Rio is Rs 110 for a pint, while Rio Strong is Rs 100 for a pint. Carnival Collection is priced at Rs 125 for a pint. “It is easily interchangeable with a beer or Bacardi Breezer and I see those as my competition,” avers Rodrigues.
Fizzy wine being a new product in the India market, it was important to create awareness. Rio was first launched in Tier II cities and was pitched against the beer and people went for it. “I started off with smaller markets as I wanted to make my mistakes in smaller markets. Mumbai I launched in 2014. In Tier II cities we are advertising our wines like a beer, putting up hoardings,” he mentions.
The recent launch is Casablanca, a sparkling wine. “Our philosophy is to make approachable wines for the Indian consumer. Secondly, it should give consumers value for money, without a snob value. Casablanca is priced competitively at Rs 850 and is tailormade for Indian consumers. It is a white wine made of a blend of four different grape varieties. The name Casablanca evokes feelings of mystery, adventure, romance… the movie Casablanca, and that is what we have tried to capture in the bottle,” says Rodrigues. Casablanca Rose is around the corner and will be launched in January.
Plans for the future include a full range of sparkling wines. The company will also bring to the market a range of still wines but it will not be a focus. “I feel that for Indian palates fizzy is the way to go. We love our drinks fizzy, we love our drinks cold,” asserts Rodrigues.
The problem wineries are facing in the industry today is that supply exceeds demand. Wineries are not spending enough money in marketing, and too much on discounting. “Out of my sales 20 per cent goes in discounts and that is lower than the average. My marketing spend is about seven per cent of sales, I am going to increase that to 15 per cent and bring discounts down to 12-15 per cent,” informs Rodrigues.
When all wineries come together they have a lot of potential to develop the industry. Under the Indian Grape Processing Board (IGPB), Rodrigues has started a marketing sub committee that meets in Mumbai. “We thrash out issues of common interest. We are going to roll out marketing programmes under the Wines of India banner,” he informs. There are also plans to roll out a host of programmes.