Visiting Hunter Valley: Wine Tourism Adventure of a Non-Wine Tourist

A few weeks ago when my elder brother called me from Australia, he sounded unusually thrilled. He was on his debut trip to the continent country and had planned a day’s visit to the Hunter Valley with a set of friends.

A seasoned traveller, my brother is the kinds who prefer quality travel over visiting thousand odd places in a few days – an attitude that exhibited in his choice of wineries as well. Avoiding the big names, their trail started with Scarborough.

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Attracting the visitor or engaging with them online,Scarborough seems active on both fronts

As the first stop, the winery greeted the bunch of wine-curious tourists with a friendly smile and a sit down tasting of 6 wines from their repertoire, accompanied by a platter of mouth-watering cheeses. The scene was a typical textbook illustration of gleaming stemware with people exchanging nuances of their glass’s contents, and a twinkle in their eyes suggestive of the frolic associated with wines.

For their next halt, the group drove towards Peterson House, the winery renowned for its array of sparkling wines across different styles. A first time for many in the group, the sparkling red wine left many in awe.

Camaraderie is a virtue hard to come by in competitive businesses. As wineries fight for shelf space in retail and attract you with their points and awards in big font sizes, there are some who also suggest you to try others’ wines too. The young lady at Peterson House was one such person. When asked for recommendations on other wineries to visit, she happily obliged by suggesting Pepper Tree wines. Speaking of camaraderie, there’s lot that the Indian wine companies can learn from their Australian peers. From practically a non-existent identity in the wine world to becoming a leader in the so called “New World”, Australian vignerons couldn’t have won those accolades if it wasn’t for the joint efforts and mutual respect for each other’s products.

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If not for the wines,I would just go here for the lushness all around!

The yuppies now on their third visit, could anticipate what awaited them- a warm welcome, mouthful portions of fresh, local produce and a long flight of wines for tasting. After holding themselves back all this while, they finally gave in to the temptation and bought a few bottles that could be taken back home. So much did my brother like the Pepper Tree Limited Release Shiraz, he bought a few bottles of the same. What made him chose this over others is something that only he can tell but it’ll make for an interesting case study for wine tourism and what triggers impulsive cellar door buying amongst visiting tourists. One look at this label and the money I believe is well spent. As for the wine’s critique, the bottle still lies unopened in my cellar.

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Some beautiful looking Moscato anyone?

The last destination on this short trip was Audrey Wilkinson, perhaps the bigger of the boutique wineries so far. As the group soaked in the serene surroundings and strolled around the neatly manicured alleys of vines whilst inspecting the hanging berries and inhaling some of the cleanest air on planet, they were taken to a casual, bar-like setup with high stools where they were offered a multitude of wines to taste. Sniff, swirl, spit and photography were the orders of the day and I think my brother completed the job with satisfying results. Not only does this make me proud but also a bit jealous! I wish to write the same experience in first person very soon. Sigh.

After a fine day of visiting those wineries and checking off another destination on the trip, the group returned home to reflect over their travels so far and raised a toast to the good times ahead!

A two hour drive from Sydney, it is estimated that Hunter Valley is visited by 2.8 million tourists every year. For the year ending June 2012, UK, New Zealand & Germany led the pack of countries with most international tourists. These visitors are not just wine journalists and geeks scribbling down the tiniest of viticultural details in their notebooks but regular tourists who wish to experience the tranquil country and a refreshing style of tourism.

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Yours Truly Ventures Into Print Media

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As evident from the activity on my blog,regular posting hasn’t been a norm here. Irrespective of the number, I still try and ensure the content here is worth the read (at least once). For all the right reasons this time, I’ve been away from the virtual world and busy contributing to a leading alcobev magazine in India (besides attending a wine dinner and dancing to Bollywood songs at a close friend’s wedding :D).
As I don the writer’s hat, I put together my thoughts and opinions,buttressed with first hand experiences,on why the Indian hospitality industry hasn’t fully embraced wines. Hotels and restaurants are such crucial interfaces for wine evangelism in the country that I couldn’t think of a better issue to address in my debut work.
Unfortunately,the complete article is available only in the print version or through subscription to the e-magazine. But you can click on the following link for a synopsis of the story
http://spiritz.in/why-is-the-indian-hospitality-afraid-of-wines/
Share your feedback,refute what I’ve written or simply comment below saying nice things to show your support if you’ve already read the story.

Cheers!

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Beaujolais Nouveau: Celebrate It, Hate It Not

 

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Image Courtesy: wineireland.com

Beaujolais Nouveau is good. Many a wine lovers and critics would frown and stop reading any further upon my slightest praise for this wine or gimmick, as some like to put it. I still maintain that Beaujolais Nouveau is good.

Okay, so now you have your wine critic cap on and want to punch me in the face. Please go ahead. But let me talk to you as a fellow wine lover who has sniffed his way through a decent number of wines (modesty you see is no more a virtue these days); and I shall reiterate until you’ve heard me enough and understood where my view is coming from.

As some of us would already know, Nouveau made inroads into Lyon during the 19th century but not exactly in its present form. With the stabilising of the conditions post World War 2, it started travelling beyond Lyon and had earned a fine reputation in various Parisian bars by mid 20th century. What really clicked for it is still unclear but in my opinion, its success can be attributed to the ‘celebration’ factor, something that I feel that the wine epitomises in a mystical way and even after so many years, its arrival makes it an event followed by many in anticipation.

With time, the release of this young, fruity (mostly red) wine on the 3rd Thursday of November, has evolved into a big marketing exercise, believed to be pioneered by Georges Duboeuf, who almost single-handedly made it what it is today. Other producers followed suit and were rightly awarded, even in far-fetched territories.

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Image Courtesy: toquemag.com

My support for such an event comes from the fact that it is a great platform for a region that has either lived under the shadows of haloed Burgundy, or has long been rubbished as an inferior, wine producing land. So in such a pitiable state, what else do you expect those winemakers to do? Perhaps you’ll suggest draining down their wines along the canals or distilling it into alcohol! It is here that Beaujolais Nouveau comes to their rescue.

From another perspective, if someone had to make wine entertaining on a big scale, especially in the “Old World”, it is Beaujolais Nouveau that has led the way. Why do we forget that a large audience still enjoys such a wine? It’s affordable, its fun and its French! When was the last time you found all these three elements so harmoniously integrated into a bottle?

From a marketing & communications angle, there aren’t many wines (or wine regions) that speak directly to an ordinary consumer and entice them to drink their wines the way Beaujolais Nouveau does. With their ever so creative campaigns, the anticipation levels only get higher every year.

Defending Nouveau’s palatability, I feel it is a great starting point to determine what a novice drinker likes or dislikes and what they should avoid in the future. Agreed, not all Nouveau is pleasant. For that matter, any other 3 month old wine produced anywhere else in the world, would have its set of inconsistencies. Some will actually be unbearable. So why hate only a Beaujolais Nouveau? Even in wine markets currently in their infancy, there seem to be takers for a wine like the Nouveau. Here in India, a great wine hotel such as The Imperial still celebrates this wine’s arrival, year after year, maybe for a reason? It is perhaps following the footsteps of a Japan, now somewhat mature, which embraced the concept in the 80s.

Last but not least, would Beaujolais have ever got such attention if it was not for this event? Only when you get bored and bothered by Nouveau and its yearly hullabaloo, will you appreciate the beauty of Gamay and its colourful tones across the 10 crus of Beaujolais, each with its individual, characteristic style.

Like it or not, I feel that Beaujolais Nouveau is here to stay. It’ll only spread further as new geographies get exposed to wines and when all they want is a good time with a glass of wine in their hands. After all, who minds celebrating for no reason? Condemn it if you want, but don’t take away the fun of welcoming the Beaujolais Nouveau next year. Enjoy it while stocks last! 

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An Evening to Savour: Chilean Wine & Food Festival 2012

Hola readers, greetings from Chile! To your disappointment, I am not writing this from Latin America but the living room of my house, with the help of my ageing notebook. It’s about my recent Chilean wine encounter in the national capital.

The third edition of the Chilean Wine and Food Festival was held in a glittering setup at one of the five star hotels in the heart of the city. Organized by ProChile, the event was open to trade professionals and wine lovers alike and saw an enthusiastic bunch of food and beverage professionals, senior diplomats and wine geeks turning up in healthy numbers but still less against my expectation.

Along with my peers from the wine importing and distribution community, I was present at the festival exhibiting wines from our company. With about 40 wines to taste, it was probably the most expansive list of Chilean wines one can expect in India, in one place. Equally prominent was the showcase of another important Chilean export item: food, where Salmon, Pork and Turkey were the highlights. The guests had a busy time feasting on delicacies such as salmon ceviche with lavash, fried pork cubes with red onion pickles, risotto & turkey lemon jus and a live carving station of steamed whole salmon with ginger soya dip & pineapple salsa. The menu had many more options but all that can’t be accommodated here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking of Chilean wines, star wines from Montes, Anakena and Tarapaca were available for one to savour and get impressed with. Besides the quality wines our establishment has been importing for a long time, wines such as Miguel Torres Cordillera Chardonnay , Hemisferio Sauvignon Blanc  and Tarapaca “La Isla” exhibited this country’s ability to produce varied yet wonderful whites. I wish I had more time to try the reds besides Anakena Ona Pinot Noir, Montes Merlot and Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon but I am content with the thought (and with the feedback from attendees), that I had tried some of the best stuff that Chile has to offer.

Many of the above wines are available in the retail market and a wine like the Montes Alpha Cab Sauv can set you back by about Rs 2500 (50 USD) in Delhi. This isn’t cheap by any means but that’s what excessive duties and tariffs can do. Even then, Chilean wines are some of the more affordable options available in India. These wines also have an image for offering value for money and seem to have struck the right chord with the Indian wine drinkers’ palate.

A well organized event with food and wine options galore, complemented by the efficient service and support from the hotel, a lot of credit goes to ProChile for conducting this event successfully year after year. Their team is a dynamic one with Nestor Riveros as a leader who is surely steering the Chilean wines’ boat in the right direction. Not only does such an event create the required buzz for Chilean wines, it also consolidates the country’s position further as a producer of high quality wines at reasonable prices.

The Mumbai edition of this festival would happen on 21st November and am certain that people there are in for a delightful evening! I hope to be present there and complete my checklist for the remaining wines. Please come by and say hello if you are around!

Cheers!

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Can Travel Trigger India’s Wine Scene?

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India’s growth story has been talked about enough in media and many are aware of the country’s untapped potential. Even the recent scams and scandals of unimaginable scale haven’t halted the country’s rapid development. This is leading to trends earlier unheard of, especially in the urban landscape. Incredible real estate development within a few years, malls and premium shopping spaces providing an experience that can make an old chap also salivate, and more hotels and entertainment avenues are mushrooming in cities and suburbs; all point towards modern India’s willingness to spend.

Before establishing its connection with wine, let me tell you about this travel fair I recently attended. A business to consumer event, HT Destinations facilitated communication between suppliers and consumers of travel services in an informal setup. Although smaller in scale than I expected, the event saw participation from prominent members of the trade such as Cox & Kings and SOTC. Also present were a few luxury travel providers who are attracting a niche audience with some exotic destinations on offer.

Growing tourism, especially outbound, is an encouraging development in the urban setup and is another addition to the big trends, mentioned at the beginning of this post. According to the provisional statistics of the Indian government, more than 14 million Indian nationals travelled abroad in the year 2011, an increase of roughly 10% from previous year. These figures must convince anyone in the travel business to capitalise on the rising aspirations & travel needs of the spending populace. The two day event seemed to have done just that.

From a winelover’s perspective doing his bit to introduce more Indians to wine, it was encouraging for me to visit this fair. Destinations such as Australia, New Zealand and major wine producing European countries featured high in the popularity list, which means that it isn’t easy to neglect wines in one’s itinerary while visiting some of these countries. We’ll see more and more people getting interested in wines, albeit slowly, as tourism to these places grows.                                                                                                                                                     Indians are good adaptors especially when it comes to western habits, a phenomenon evident in the large English speaking, Hollywood inspired, Denims wearing urban audience. Such travellers upon their return would look to repeat their experience in India and can thus create a wine culture even if it begins at a considerably small level.

There is an increasing audience demanding wine tastings and tours in their plan, one travel firm owner told me.                                                                                                                          According to him, they would normally include Yarra Valley if someone’s visiting Melbourne or Hunter Valley for Sydney bound tourists, to include special requests in their itineraries.

Allways Travels, a marketing and travel services firm focusing on luxury, offers specialised wine tours to Tuscany, was also present at the event. They might add more such destinations in the near future, based on the feedback from clients.

Where wine tourism within the country is concerned, Sula leads by example. They’ve shown how a well established wine brand can further strengthen its hold in the market through wine tourism. Regular wine tours/tastings within the beautifully built premises, suit all requirements from leisure to learning about wines. In addition to complementing its business activities further, Sula is also helping build an interest around wines through such endeavours. One can expect more wine companies to follow suit soon.

Coming back to the fair, it concluded last Sunday and I feel that we need more of such platforms regularly. Initially,wine might not be a core proposition at such events but it’ll encourage an exchange between the players involved with wine, directly or indirectly, and the end consumer. If you are a travel professional based in India reading this, please think of including wine related activities in your offering the next time you exhibit at such an event. How else do you expect the ‘aam aadmi’ to get hooked on to this mystical beverage?

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India Gets a taste of Fine Bordeaux Wines: Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux Visits India

As the hype surrounding the Bordeaux ‘11 en-primeur settles down & life is back to normal, the Asian wine events’ calendar has been abuzz recently. India’s addition to this calendar comes across as a refreshing development.

From Hospice de Beaune wine tasting a few months ago to special winemakers’ dinners in the recent past, India seems to be finally catching up on the wine scene. And while people experience scorching heat here with the onset of summers, the wine environment last month also got a few degrees hotter. The Union de Grand Crus de Bordeaux with a delegation of 33 leading chateaus, for the first time conducted an exhibition & tasting last month, in Mumbai and Delhi, arguably the leading markets for wines in India (Bangalore was given a miss). The wines in question were from the 2009 vintage. The Bordelais after proving their dominance in Hong Kong and mainland China now seem focused on the Indian subcontinent. Organised by Group Ritu, the event had an impressive turnout of members from the hospitality industry, wine importing firms, journalists and wine educators and enthusiasts.

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Although the exhibiting chateaus represented a small part of the total UGCB membership, the event featured prominent names such as Chateau Figeac from St Emilion, Chateau Lascombes from Margaux and Chateau Gazin of Pomerol while Chateau Doisy Daene represented Barsac (one of the five communes of Sauternes). The Chateux owners, many of whom were on their maiden visit, were enthused by the response received over the two days of interactions and tastings. “India with its aware consumers and a rising population that can afford a lifestyle that features wines such as ours, is potentially a very interesting market for us”, said Christophe de Bailliencourt of Chateau Gazin, who is already present in India. The fast increasing wine consumption and production is a positive trend, de Baillencourt added.

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Christophe de Bailliencourt of Chateau Gazin

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Jean-Emmanuel Danjoy of Chateau Clerc Milon

Given the natural inclination of the Indian palate towards sweeter things, more Sauternes participation could have been interesting. As Jean-Jacques Dubourdieu of Chateau Daisy Daene pointed out, “it was interesting to see that the Indian palate likes sweeter wines even more than China and Japan, our leading Asian markets.”

Tip for foreign winemakers: promote your sweet wines, if any, and it could be a good strategy for entering the Indian market.

But does such an event help the cause of Bordeaux wines in a relatively small market such as India? Where popularity is concerned, Bordeaux wines are already held in high regard among the wealthy Indian individuals particularly for investment purposes. The image of French wines in general, is also quite positive and names such as Champagne, Burgundy and Bordeaux are not unknown. Thus, spreading further awareness and making patrons shouldn’t be too hard for these leading chateaux owners, something that they have already done in neighbouring China. Moreover, the enterprising Bordelais with their wide network of merchants and marketing capabilities, have ensured visibility of their wines here albeit in small numbers.

The initiative by the dynamic UGCB (they went to Brazil in March besides travelling worldwide every year), is a step in the right direction at the right time. It could well provide a first mover advantage in an emerging market such as India. Following in UGCB’s footsteps, one may expect similar bodies from other countries & regions, to test waters here in the near future. At the same time, they would also be hoping for relaxation in taxes from the Indian (and state level) government and ease of operating in the administratively complex market that India poses to be. In this regard, the India-EU Free trade Agreement negotitations are being closely looked at by professionals worldwide. If the proposal of a massive duty reduction on fine wines goes through, we might experience a gold rush of sorts here soon.

Whether or not the rule is passed, the Bordelais remain undeterred, and would like to return again, said Sylvie Cazes, President of UGCB. She thought it was a worthwhile effort and would come back with intentions to further strengthen the market for Bordeaux wines in India.


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Another Business Fair…Not Quite!

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As I geared up for this year’s edition of Prowein, the annual wines and spirits trade event held in Dusseldorf, Germany, I stopped to think- Are there other industry exhibitions in the world that could generate as much thrill as those related to wines?

Commercial fairs, exhibitions and events for public have been around for as long as trade has existed in its modern form.  But these trade events have evolved over time and become important business avenues, either for interacting with the end consumer or the business fraternity exclusively. Trade fairs per se, have gained prominence only in the last 4 or 5 decades.

Nowadays, it’s not hard to find industry specific trade fairs during the year, happening in some part of the world. From air shows to sophisticated technology used in heavy industries to innovation in packaging, all businesses now have an opportunity or two in this global village to expand beyond their domestic boundaries.

In many B2B fairs, a typical protocol would be: visitors meet exhibitors, business cards are exchanged, a detailed explanation from the supplier/manufacturer regarding what’s better about his/her product than the competitor, a demonstration (if feasible) and then follow-ups.

This is where the ‘excitement’ factor of a professional wine fair lies. The ambience in my opinion, is more engaging and vibrant, but the essence is still business. I am already thrilled with a child-like anticipation as I write this.

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As you approach each stand and talk to the craftsmen/scientist, aka winemaker, you would already be sniffing, swirling and spitting repeatedly in no time, whilst virtually travelling in a beautiful wine country. So in five minutes, not only do you know how the wine is made, but also how it tastes and the geeky philosophy behind it. What follows is the crucial decision, whether or not you would like to buy, import and distribute this wine in your representative market. Even if you don’t happen to procure the wines, chances are that you have unknowingly connected with that memorable wine and its source, and already planning a trip there!

You are unlikely to experience this rush in a regular exhibition. Here, I might sound oblivious to many fairs where great products and services can be found but given my bias towards wine and other beverages, I choose to be oblivious, at least in this post! 🙂

For me, probably an event like the NAMM Show or a Detroit Motor Show can generate that spark and interest, but that’s because music and cars are my other favourite pursuits.As a non-wine business professional, can you think of fairs that have aroused similar interest and pulled you into attending them?

While you ponder, it’s time to pen down the experiences of three wonderful days of business, exploration and discovery!

A bientot!

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