Winemakers bet on wine tourism as new revenue stream; still a long way to go
Winemakers have opened up a new revenue stream by throwing open their vineyards and wineries to tourists.
If Nashik has over the years made a mark as the wine capital of India, it’s now beginning to — to use some jargon from India Inc — integrate forward into wine tourism. And it’s not just one Sula that’s setting the trend but a clutch of winemakers, including international names like Moët Hennessy and local majors like Grover Zampa, that have hit the tourism trail.
“Wine tourism is still underdeveloped in India with a mismatch between those who own vineyards and entrepreneurs who have been exposed to global trends and could develop wine trails and tourism in keeping with global standards,” says Rajeev Samant, founder and CEO of India’s largest wine brand Sula and pioneer of the concept, having set up a tasting room nestled amidst 200 acres of vineyards back in 2005.
Samant is building on that base by expanding the hospitality business by adding vineyard restaurants to the two existing ones — Little Italy and Soma — and creating more facilities and rooms at Beyond, Sula’s 32-room getaway resort located just a few kilometres from the winery.
The tasting room and resort receive between 500 and 1,000 visitors every weekend. Samant now doesn’t look at winemaking as a separate business, but has built an integrated business model around wine that includes tourism. “We are capitalizing on the fact that our winery is just a few kilometres away from Nashik and a three-hour drive from Mumbai,” he adds.
Besides being a standalone revenue stream, wine tourism serves as a brand-building exercise; and visits to the vineyards inevitably result in them becoming another point of sale. Sula, which is looking to sell 8 million bottles of wine this year, earns about 10% of its revenues from its hospitality operations.
Wine tourism in the Nashik region is all set to receive a further boost with Moet Hennessy launching its Chandon brand of sparkling wines in India using locally produced grapes sourced from Dindori near Nashik. “We have traditionally been a pioneer in developing sparkling wine in new locations around the world and India is the latest example,” Jean-Guillaume Prats, CEO and president of Moet Hennessy Estates and Wines, told ET Magazine.
He acknowledges that Nashik is the winemaking heartland of India and offers a terroir that is conducive to creating world-class sparkling wines. Prats says the site of the winery will be the “brand home” for Chandon in India, complete with a state-of-the-art manufacturing and bottling plant.
And a visitor centre completes the tourism bit of the business. “Wine tourism is burgeoning across the world and India is no exception. We hope to open the doors to our brand home later this year, facilitating direct engagement and conversation with the consumer. The Indian consumer is receptive to imbibing new lifestyle choices. And via wine tourism, we hope to educate them not only about Chandon but also about the best ways to enjoy wines with friends and family,” adds Prats.
Smaller local players too are eyeing a piece of the tourism action. York Winery, a small family-owned winery just a kilometre away from Sula, for instance, is riding on the increasing number of wine tourists in the Nashik region to showcase their facilities and brands. “We offer a tasting of seven wines and a guided tour of the vineyard and winery at a charge of Rs 150. The tour and tasting has certainly improved sales and is the best way to introduce the brand to the consumer,” says Kailash Gurnani, winemaker at York who studied oenology (winemaking) at the University of Adelaide Wine School.
About 45 minutes away from this region, just a little off the Mumbai-Nashik NH3 in Sanjegaon village, is Grover Zampa’s 40-acre vineyard, which is also opening up to wine tourism. After the merger of Grover Vineyards with Nashik-based Vallee de Vin, Grover Zampa is set to achieve the second slot among Indian winemakers after Sula, claims CEO Sumedh Singh Mandla. The company recently organized an event — the Great Grover Stomp — at the Nashik vineyards.
“We are looking at tying up with a hospitality partner to build a luxury spa resort at our vineyard. It will be finalised by the end of this fiscal year. We already feature on packages of different hospitality groups. Day trips to our tasting room and cellar are becoming very popular on the itinerary of guests at the Taj Gateway hotel in Nashik,” says Mandla. While the vineyard gets an average of 150 visitors per week, corporate events and parties are also held at the winery. “At least 60% of the visitors who join the tasting sessions at our winery buy bottles of wine to carry back. We offer our products to visitors at attractive discounted rates,” he adds.
Meantime, a Grover family scion, 29-yearold Karishma, has joined the business after cutting her teeth in the wine business during a harvest season in Napa Valley. A graduate of the University of California, Davis, with specializations in viticulture and oenology, Karishma sees a big opportunity for wine tourism not just in the Nashik region but also in other pockets in India. “Our vineyards and tasting rooms in Bangalore too are attracting visitors and enjoy the advantage of being a short drive away from the city,” she says.
Wine on Travel Itineraries
Besides the wine majors promoting it, wine tourism in the Western Ghats is making its way to the itineraries of travel companies as well. “Attracting visitors to wineries calls for suitable hospitality partners and investments to create the opportunities. Countries such as France and Germany, with well-developed wine tourism facilities, have been able to balance the development of the regional infrastructure with facilities of international standards in the midst of beautiful vineyards,” says Nilesh Kale who runs a boutique travel agency Black Grape Holidays in Pune to promote wine tourism.
He sees a big opportunity emerging for volunteer tourism in the vineyards which welcome guests to help during grape harvest. “We still need many elements of the infrastructure to be in place before it can become a regular business; these include good road connectivity, meeting facilities and quality manpower,” adds Kale.
The vineyards of the boutique winery enjoy the picturesque backdrop of the backwaters of the nearby Mukane dam and now get increasing requests for overnight stays. “We have received very positive response from day visitors to our tasting room and cellar. These have greatly helped in brand-building. Now we are considering setting up luxury cottages and rooms overlooking the lake where visitors can soak in the peaceful ambience at our winery,” adds Pai.
Away from Nashik, a smaller wine tourism region has also come up in Akluj, 170 km from Pune, led by Fratelli Wines. “Our tasting room located amidst 240 acres of vineyards has been attracting a growing stream of visitors from Pune, Mumbai, Delhi and other cities. And it’s not just day trippers, we also have expats, diplomats and serious wine lovers visiting us,” says Alessio Secci, director of Fratelli and a winemaker from Italy.
Fratelli has now opened up its vineyard residency facilities offering ‘rent a vineyard’ for one night and two days, whereby visitors can stay overnight and soak in the various activities around grape picking and winemaking. “We are offering a modern apartment set in the lap of nature. It’s a different kind of holiday for visitors and provides a win-win branding deal for our wines,” adds Secci.
Despite the enthusiasm around wine tourism, a section of experts sounds a note of caution. “While the trend has already started in India, wine tourism still has a long way to go,” says Arun Kumar, co-founder of Aspri Spirits, a leading alco-beverages importer. It does, however, promise to be a win-win proposition, allowing winemakers to hedge their main business and build their brands, and at the same time offering consumers a fresh tourism alternative.
(The writer was hosted by Sula Vineyards & Grover Zampa Vineyards at their wineries)