By now many would be aware of the fact that Grover Zampa, one of India’s oldest wine companies has picked up an international trophy for best in class for its Art Collection Sauvignon Blanc 2014 at the Decanter Asia Wine Awards a few days ago. While there are wine awards aplenty, Decanter is undoubtedly one of the biggies, which is what makes this especially significant. With a judging panel headlined by big names in the wine world like Steven Spurrier, Jeannie Cho Lee, Andrew Jefford and Gerard Basset MW, the awards have the clout to propel winning wines into the major league.
That makes it the first major award of its calibre to an Indian wine company. At DAWA 2014, Grover Zampa also went on to pick up 8 other awards, including a silver for the newly-launched Vijay Amritraj Reserve Collection white, a barrel-fermented Viognier, and another silver for its Grand Reserve wine, Chêne, a Tempranillo-Syrah blend. (The Art Collection, a range of 6 wines, features paintings by noted Indian artists on the labels à la Chateau Mouton Rothschild. Artists here include Paresh Maity, Rekha Roddwitya and Sanjay Bhattacharya). In its corner too, is a longstanding association with famous flying winemaker Michel Rolland, and now a serious presence in both India’s top wine producing regions. This year, there were 22 Indian wines competing at DAWA, while China entered 28..
In a telephonic interview with Grover Zampa CEO, Sumedh Singh Mandla, my first question was on the impact of this accolade. “Being a pioneer in the Indian wine industry, we (Grover Zampa) are aware of the need to constantly produce quality wines. These awards go to indicate we are working in the right direction,” he said. While the impact would certainly be felt in the domestic market, he anticipates a greater one in the international market; the company exports to over 20 countries. “It’s good, too, for the Indian wine industry,” he added, “Indian wines have not been considered as serious competitors on quality, reading about this will certainly have a positive effect on the Indian wine consumer.”
Barely had the dust settled from Grover Zampa’s launch of Indian’s first celebrity wine – the Vijay Amritraj Reserve Collection, recently launched with much fanfare, then they have scooped a silver for one. “It’s an achievement, being its very first vintage,” agreed Mandla, “The market response right from the onset was very positive. It is being quickly picked up by premium restaurants and hotels, and wine lovers are ordering cases.” Now, the Decanter award is an added bonus – no small one.
Since the merger, Grover Zampa has focused sharply on developing its premium segment wines, those in the Rs 600 to Rs 1800 category. “The merger certainly opened up the playing field to experimentation, since we now have a presence in both the wine regions of Karnataka and Maharashtra,” Mandla agreed. Which is why they quickly moved on to develop blends like the Grand Reserve Chêne, even if meant producing smaller quantities (5000 bottles) at first. Tempranillo is a relative newbie grape to Karnataka consumers, and the wine has been extremely well received. Considering this new found popularity of the grape, is there a 100% Tempranillo in the pipeline? I ask him. “We don’t have enough right now, but are looking to grow more Tempranillo in our newer vineyards. Results so far have been very good.”
Right now the company is busy with the new packaging for their sparkling wines, the Soirée Brut, India’s only vintage sparkling wine made via the methode traditionelle. Hitherto produced only in Nashik, the sparkling will roll out of the Karnataka winery from the next fiscal year, said Mandla. The Diwali season saw very good sales for this good-value sparkling, and the company hopes to take this surge in sales right through the year end festive season.
In a nutshell, the good news is that the whole thing is coming together for Indian wine. Indian consumers are very quickly learning about wine and how to recognize the quality stuff, said Mandla. “They’re on the lookout for good wine, and are now discovering that Indian wines at this price range (under Rs 1800) are far superior than most imported wines in the same range. While the numbers of these wine-savvy consumers aren’t very big yet, they are growing in numbers. We see people buying wine by the case, building cellars. And when they see Indian wines of a certain calibre, they feel good about it and want to support it. A lot has changed in the last 4-5 years.”
And awards like the ones won at these Decanter Asia Wine Awards propels Indian companies like Grover Zampa to the top of mind when it comes to associating quality with Indian wine. And that makes for a win-win situation.