Some 6,500 people paid Rs 300 per head to visit the Bangalore International Wine Festival on March 2-4 at the Palace Grounds to sip wine at stalls of the 20 companies participating — and to do grape-stomping and face painting, groove to rock bands, go “Ooh!” at the fire displays, and generally chill out on the venue lawns with a nice bottle of wine.
Organised by the Karnataka Wine Board and the State Ministry of Horticulture, this three-day event had double the number of participants (20) but half the visitors (7,500) of last year — not in itself a bad thing, as the entry fees filtered out freeloaders while giving space to people really interested in wine.
The largest stalls were taken by Sula and Nine Hills/Jacob’s Creek, although Four Seasons, Big Banyan, Grover and newbie Alpine Wineries all had decent setups. Other participants included Luca, Reveilo, Heritage, Elite, Kinvah, Black Buck, Seasons, Rico, Suloco and (both importers) Nisarga and Magpie & Aspri.
“I’ve never heard of most of these wineries,” you might exclaim, and you’d be quite right: the 2008 Karnataka Wine Policy catalysed a number of startup units, and almost all of them are still selling only within the state (or only in South India).
What is terrific is that the Karnataka state government is providing a positive environment for wine. Not only is getting a winery licence easier and cheaper, the KTK Wine Policy also allows issue of new licences for “wine taverns” and “wine boutiques” for wider availability and demand. So there are over 30 wine taverns and 50 wine boutiques in Bangalore dispensing only wine — a great start, and a welcome alternative to the tyranny of the liquor licence!
The inaugural ceremony was inaugurated by Minister for Horticulture S A Ravindrantha, while the Minister for Excise Renukacharya, for Large and Medium Industries Murugesh R Nirani, and Agriculture Umesh V Katti attended the function. Heavy hitting indeed! True to form, they announced a slew of subsidies and concessions for the industry. When did you last see any politicians supporting the production or consumption of alcoholic beverages? Thank god this state is now differentiating between spirits and wine —let’s hope this trend continues.
So what did this wine festival achieve? For one, it gave 7,500 consumers an opportunity to sample a variety of wines (albeit mostly domestic) without having to pay an arm and a leg for the privilege. The big-selling wines were Big Banyan, Sula (of course) and Nine Hills, but all the participants benefited, with exotic brands like the Luca Lychee wine and She Rosé Sparkling wine drawing huge interest and sampling.
For another, this festival gave the local industry an opportunity to bond and network. There is a “Karnataka Wine Producer’s Association” on the cards — they even made a representation, to the powers that be, for further subsidies! — and getting together is always a good thing for any new industry.
Last (but not least) the festival proves to all stakeholders that there is a lively and growing demand for wine in India, and that given half a chance and decent prices people will lap up the stuff as fast as producers can dish it out. That’s surely heartening for an industry that’s been beleaguered by losses and closures these past few years.
Wines I’ve been drinking: All the wines from all the participants at the festival. I loved the Black Buck Viognier from the little-known Krishnamurga Vineyard from Madhugiri (130 km from Bangalore) - it’s a steal at Rs 482 a bottle. I also found the Rico Cabernet Shiraz from Bijapur (Rs 389) very interesting — who says that startup wineries cannot make good wines?
Alok Chandra is a Bangalore-based wine consultant