South Africa pushes its fruity presses in Indian wine mart

New Delhi, June 7 (IANS) Amid the melee caused by the explosion of wines from the new world on the Indian beverage menu, a leading South African brand is on an overdrive to push its selection of red and white wines in the country by vouching for their mature flavours balanced between the "old and the new world produce".

"We are the oldest of the new world wines. Our wines have a fresh, fruity and upfront flavour that you find in the wines from the new world and yet a natural ripeness that the balanced weather of South Africa renders it," Cape Town-based wine maker Wim Truter told IANS in the capital.

The history of brewing wine in South Africa dates back to 1659, when the first white settlers brought the Chenin Blanc white wine grape (known as Pineau de la Loire) to the country, which was a maritime and trading outpost, Truter said.

"The settlers wanted to make wine to serve to the sailors who docked their vessels," the wine-maker said.

History records that on Feb 2, 1659, the founder of Cape Town and Dutch colonial administrator Jan Van Riebeeck produced the first wine in South Africa and the first-ever vineyard Constantia was set up in 1685. Most of the production now is still centred on Cape Town, the vineyards being an hour's drive away from the city, the wine-maker said.

Truter makes white wines for Distell, one of the South Africa's leading spirit manufacturing company, under the brand name Nederburg. It is marketed in India by Aspri Spirits.

An authority on the "influence of viticulture and winemaking on wine style and quality", Truter has been in the capital introducing three popular Distell wines to foodies and chefs in a series of tastings and dinner interactions.

Truter used a combination of three wines - the Nederburg Wine Master's Reserve Pinotage which is a red wine with plum and cherry fruitness; a Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, a white wine with grassy and gooseberry aromas, and Le Domaine, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and white muscadel with a tropical flavour.

The easy flavours of the South African Chardonnay and Sauvignon wines pair well with Indian curries, light fish dishes and seafood, the winemaker said.

According to Arun Kumar of Aspri Spirits, the growing Indian market is like a magnet for foreign vitiers from developing and developed nations to promote their products. A rough estimate says India consumes 300,000 cases of imported wine annually, Kumar said.

Pointing to the consumption trend, Jan Du Bruyn of Distell (Asia-Pacific) added that when "Distell started marketing its wine in India three years ago (through Aspri), the preference was red wine".

But the "gap between the consumption of red and white wine is slowly evening out," he said. A bottle of Distell wine costs Rs.900 and above in India. The brand sells through retail stores and five-star hotels.

The change in wine palette with the growing acceptance of white wine is complemented by a changing business model, Kumar said.

"Women now constitute a bulk of the consumers' segment because wine is associated with class, refinement and culture. Sale-wise, India still remains an enigma. First everyone concentrated on the metros because of urbanisation but now the tier-2 centres have emerged as potential business centres evincing keen interest in wine," Kumar told IANS.

The brand has moved to tier-2 cities like Guwahati, Shillong, Chandigarh, Pune and to states like Arunachal Pradesh faced with competition from countries like Hungary, Italy, Australia New Zealand, Croatia, Latvia and Slovenia, the new world producers.

"It is a slow business. If you invest now, the results will show 2-3 years later," Kumar said.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)

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