Home truths from an Indian oenophile

wineshop.jpgThere is no spectacular Indian wine, comments Stanley Pinto. A few are good enough for casual quaffing, but consistency is an issue even with these. For example, a notable ‘Reserve’ produced in Bangalore, once not half bad, has degenerated into something that’s barely potable to discerning oenophiles. Pictured is a wine shop of a time gone by

Too many of our wines would seem to be made by table grape farmers scrambling up the value chain as quickly as they can with meagre or no professional input to take advantage of a growing awareness of wine-drinking as a contemporary lifestyle thing. Or so their wines quite clearly “tell” us.
The main reason for this problem with Indian wines is the ridiculous level and plethora of taxes imposed on the industry. The resulting high prices to consumers on their own make the industry near unviable and hamper investment in the costly research and professional consultancies that are required to take Indian wines to the next level.
Until our benighted authorities understand how adversely their blinkered policies are impacting sales, and until they enact sensible and sensitive legislation to provide the updraft the industry needs, none of our wines, even those that have reached a certain tenuous level of acceptability, are likely to go anywhere further. This is one wheel we cannot re-invent. You cannot dissemble a bottle of wine and reverse engineer it.
The automotive industry is analogous. We produced laughable cars for decades, until the government corrected its myopia. Foreign technology became feasible and the cars on offer improved. Simultaneously, banks were permitted to offer car loans to consumers. Demand immediately spiked. That made the market more attractive for foreign players, which further grew the market as well as the quality of cars produced, and so the wondrous cycle continues.
In the case of the wine industry, if the tax regimen were to be rationalised and wines made more affordable, consumer numbers and consumption would leap, international know-how would become viable, and so would investments in the business. This would improve quality which in turn would encourage increases in consumption – and you have that wondrous cycle again.
The problem is that none of the State governments responsible for imposing mindless tax regimes on the Wine industry are showing any sign of reversing their legislation. Short-term gains, including in their own pockets, appear to be all that matters to them.
In what has been heralded as a dramatic change of heart (which it most certainly is) the Karnataka Government has recently announced a plan to help the State’s grape farmers grow their businesses by slashing the prices of wine licenses to bars and taverns dramatically. It’s an excellent move, except that the back-handed bribe that is allegedly sought for the license totally muddies the waters. One applicant that I am personally acquainted with has been asked for Rs 25 lakhs (Rs 250,000) in addition to the Rs 1,000 license. He’s been waiting for two months for that change of heart to kick in. He’s likely to have to wait a long time.
We do have the potential to make our presence felt in international markets, even with our relatively tiny production level. We just have to do it right. Until then, the world’s wine drinkers have little need to humour us by purchasing what we produce.

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