By Invite: Ajay Shetty, Managing Director, Myra Vineyards
Wine in recent times has grown in popularity and has in many ways become the drink of choice in many circles. The number of people travelling abroad is at an all time high and with it has come immense lifestyle exposure and awareness.
This is a fallout of greater disposable incomes and has led to a younger India adapting to wine drinking while following their counterparts in the West. Keeping the current scenario in mind and the fact that consumers today need to know the source of their products, India is primed for the next big logical step – wine tourism.
Wine or enotourism is a form of tourism that involves the tasting, consumption or purchase of wine at source and that isn’t a passive indulgence. It usually consists of visits to wineries, tasting wines, vineyard walks or even taking an active part in the harvest. India needs to take a serious look at investing in the positive wine sentiment to develop and promote the country’s wines mainly because a few regional Indian vineyards work in isolation in this area.
Over a short period of time, this promotion has seen popularity growing rapidly for tours and tasting rooms which help wine enthusiasts closely explore wines first hand and is often completed with the experience of staying over at vineyards. While Nashik, around four hours northeast of Mumbai in Maharashtra has been garnering attention, there are also some reputable wineries scattered chiefly in Karnataka and a few in other parts of the country as well that needs to be supported and encouraged.
The world over, wine tourism though relatively new, has exhibited a focused approach that has borne fruit. In places such as the Napa Valley, it saw heavy growth once a concerted marketing effort was implemented in 1975 while other regions such as Catalonia, Spain have only started marketing enotourism in the mid-2000s, primarily focusing on how it is an alternative form of tourism to the beach for which Spain is overall known. In the United States 27 million travellers, or 17% of American leisure travellers, engaged in culinary or wine-related activities. In Italy the figure stands at approximately five million travellers, generating 2.5 billion euros in revenue. Cellar visits are heavily promoted in countries such as Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Spain, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy and Portugal. In North America, the first Wine Tourism Day was established for May 11, 2013 with events scheduled throughout the continent.
In the Indian context, while Maharashtra has taken the lead in this aspect over the years, wine tourism could become a big tourist draw in the south and Bengaluru in particular if tapped wisely. Nashik, at 600 metres above sea level, makes it India’s northernmost region where wine grapes can be grown easily. Plus, the Maharashtra Government has rolled out a conducive wine policy to simplify wine regulations, and make it easy for wine producers to focus on quality winemaking. As a wine tourism market, there is similar if not greater potential in Bengaluru for several reasons. First and foremost is Bengaluru’s pleasant climate through the year that is conducive for grape cultivation. Located on the Deccan Plateau at a height of over 900 m (3,000 ft) above sea level, its elevation is the highest among the major cities in the country. Currently, over a dozen vineyards dot our landscape making the region a perfect getaway for wine buffs. The Nandi Hills, Kaveri Valley and Krishna Valley are just a few key wine producing regions that are making wine producers and tourists alike take note of Karnataka’s huge potential.
Bengaluru, the most cosmopolitan of South Indian cities, is blessed with benevolent climate and vies with Mumbai for the nation's most progressive city. Known chiefly for its booming IT industry, Bengaluru is also a burgeoning wining, dining and shopping hub. The city today is a cultural melting pot and with this has come an appetite for experimentation. Be it with food and drink or general lifestyle choices. Therefore, by positioning Bengaluru and Karnataka as a wine tourism market would in-turn make the State an international travel destination that one must visit and not just the business destination that it is today.
In the last decade, the Karnataka Government had promoted investment in wine production by establishing a number of integrated wine parks as an economic development tool and made offers of incentives for new units like a 100 per cent exemption from excise duty for 10 years, relief in sales tax levels and subsidies for production duties. While wine parks provide basic infrastructure facilities and endorse viticulture as an economic development tool, a lot more has to be done in the area of tourism. The industry needs to be promoted the way it is promoted internationally to ensure more international travellers visit India thereby benefitting both the government and industry.
While the more promoted vineyards and wineries in India like Sula, Zampa, Fratelli, York, Chateau d’Ori and Charosa are mostly scattered around Nashik in Maharashtra, some of the sought-after wine tours in and around Bengaluru in my opinion are Grover Vineyards on Devanahalli Road, Alpine Winery in Holesalu and Soma Vineyards at the foothills of Maakli Hills.
A visit to any of these wineries set amongst natural beauty affords you the experience of some of the finest Indian wines right at the source, while learning the intricacies of wine making. Each of these wineries with its distinct characteristics has accentuated the face of wine tourism in Karnataka, however, the experience can only evolve from here on.
Positioning Bengaluru as a wine destination is something that’s very unique and close to my heart. Personally, I have been inspired by the Yarra Valley as it indulges life’s great pleasure of food, wine and scenery.
As producers, I feel we must embrace and learn from international vineyards where if we follow similar standards then that could give our consumers an unforgettable wine tour experience.
This is something that cannot be done alone. Only by the coming together of all those involved in the domestic wine market in Karnataka can a ‘Destination India’ on the global wine map become a reality.