“Indians have no preconceived notions about wines”

Vishal Kadakia B.jpg
A wine importer and director in the family owned company, Kadakia Plastics & Chemicals Pvt Ltd, Vishal Kadakia (pictured, left) has a Master of Science degree in Polymers from the University of Massachusetts. After graduation, Kadakia worked in Boston for a few years. On his return to Mumbai in 2005, he started Wine Park to import boutique wines to India. Having expanded to the rest of the country, Kadakia currently imports over 100 wines from 35 wineries in ten countries and 26 sub-regions. He shares with Sommelier India his views of the wine scene in India.

How did you set up Wine Park?
I started Wine Park in December 2006 by importing one wine from Spain! It was a small project aimed at bringing handcrafted boutique wines to India. Initially it was tough, but we acquired direction along the way and picked up momentum. My business was not just about importing wines to India but bringing in interesting wines of different styles from lesser known grape varieties produced by passion driven winemakers.
Among the different wines we have brought to India are Grüner Veltliner white wine from Austria; Blanc de Pinot, a white Pinot Noir from Oregon; and blended wines such as Boekenhoutskloof and The Wolf Trap white wine from South Africa which is a blend of Chenin Blanc, Grenache Blanc and Viognier. Over the years, all these unconventional wines have been appreciated by our clients, customers and wine connoisseurs.
What is the role of a wine importer in India?
An importer has a huge responsibility to bring good quality, interesting wines to India at good price points. There are many wineries that produce iconic, value-driven wines that are different yet their philosophy is the same. So it is the importer’s responsibility to constantly look for fantastic value-for-money wines from lesser-known varietals and
offer diversity.
We research the wines we are interested in and meet with wineries and winemakers before importing them. When foreign wineries approach hotels and restaurants in India they are invariably asked if they are working with an importer. Hence importers play an important role. We also believe that training and tastings are integral to our business. That’s why we make a lot of effort to tell our clients – hotels and restaurants – about the grape variety, the winemaker, winery and terroir, as well as the stories behind the wines. I feel this makes all the difference.
What are the challenges you face?
There is no beginning or end to the challenges faced by importers! Right from the time of importing wines, storing them at a warehouse, distributing them, having them listed in restaurants and hotels, and then convincing people to try them out, there are challenges all along the way! The latest FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) regulations stipulate specific requirements for wine labels. This means that in the future, foreign wineries will have to print labels according to these guidelines if they want to export wines to India, which translates into additional effort and cost for the importer.
Do you think there is scope for imported wines in India?
Yes, there is plenty of scope for imported wines in our country. With burgeoning hospitality and tourism sectors and an increase in wine consumption, imported
wines will continue to find space on Indian tables. There are so many kinds of grapes grown in the world and it is important that the Indian consumer is exposed to them. One hardly comes across wines from Portugal in India, for example, although there is a historical connection between the two countries. As the Indian wine industry grows there will be a natural inclination to try out foreign wines. It is heartening to see that different grapes such as Tempranillo, Grillo and Sangiovese are being grown in India, which will expose wine lovers to different types of wine.
What kind of demand is there for wine in India?
In today’s India the demand is all about value-driven wines. Indians, especially the younger generation, enjoy New World wines, which are easy to drink, fruit-forward, pocket-friendly and have labels that are comprehensible. Italian wines, of course, are popular because there are so many Italian restaurants in India.
Is the Indian wine consumer conservative?
Indians are a clean slate where wine is concerned. They don’t have any preconceived notions about wine. They don’t mind if a wine bottle has a screwcap or a cork closure. They are open to trying different types of wines like a Pinotage which is unique to South Africa, for example. But I would like to emphasise that Indian wine drinkers need to broaden their choices. If you like Chardonnay, try Chardonnays from different countries. Then move on to other white wines and
reds. Wine is all about experimenting.
Are foreign wineries keen on India?
Oh yes! They are very optimistic about the Indian market, so much so that it is almost scary. They hear reports of the booming economy and think about the “one billion population” they can target. What they don’t realise is that a large section of this population cannot afford to buy wine, but they are keen to mark their presence here. They want to be here before the reduction in import duties takes place so that they can take advantage of it as soon as it happens. Till now, I have not come across a foreign winery that has told me that they don’t want to export wines to India!
— From Sommelier India WINE Magazine, August/September 2014

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