jueves, 24 de octubre de 2013

Interview of Subhash Arora, President of the Indian Wine Academy

If you can get excited with good wine and food you have to listen and transmit it. There are many ways to describe a person, but undoubtedly what best defines is their hard work so I raise my glass and toast to Subhash Arora, India and its people that so much culture and teachings give us.

Subhash Arora
CS:    How did your passion for wine start?
SA:    Honestly, I started drinking wine as a least of the ‘evils’. I had always been a teetotaler, even during my university days in the USA and thereafter. I was in an export business involving travel and meeting people outside. My partner who loved whisky insisted I have some alcoholic drinks as it was embarrassing otherwise. First time I had tried beer, it had put me off. I tried a few liquors but the high alcohol put me off. I remember drinking a German off-dry fruity wine. I liked it and the love affair started.
Subhash Arora

CS:    Which is the reason for wine to be so appreciated in your country?
SA:    I have spent the last 12 years promoting wine culture in India through education and creating awareness. It is a new drink that started out as a fad and at best a ladies’ drink. However, we have been able to change that attitude somewhat. International trade, foreign visits by Indians, people studying abroad have made it the rising star with women and younger people taking a liking to the beverage. Another reason is the lifestyle aspect and health factor. The timing has been right for the studies to show the health benefits of wines, making many to drink wine. It is still considered fashionable to hold a glass of wine.
Subhash Arora
CS:    Do you think that wines duties in India are a barrier to reach more consumers?
SA:    Absolutely. Duties of up to 300% or more make imported wines extremely expensive. But, please don’t forget that most hotels get wines at zero customs duty-they have to pay excise duty only. That’s over 50% of the market. But our hotels keep the prices too high. But that is not the only factor. There are several other latent costs and procedural barriers since wine is still categorized as liquor. The Indian Constitution is anti-alcohol and exhorts the States to introduce prohibition and gives them the power to form independent policies. It’s like dealing with 28 different countries, each with its own complex policies.
Subhash Arora
CS:    The Indian wine is having a revival in international markets, how are wine producers living it after so many years of interdiction?
SA:    We are at a very early stage in terms of revival. We started practically from scratch about 20 years ago and are still in the formative years. The producers were initially trying to meet local demand. During the last 5 years we have seen more intensive efforts towards exports and are seeing some results. With the recent devaluation of currency, we should see substantial growth in exports.
Subhash Arora
CS:    The rise of the middle class and the resurgence of vine plantations make the Indian market one of the most interesting for the development of new consumers, what is it been doing about?
SA:    Middle classes that number about 300 million are an important part of any commercial milieu in India-including wine. About 20-30 million are estimated as the potential drinkers. We have been growing for eating and making raisins for decades. According to the OIV figures a couple of years ago, India was the 9th biggest nation producing grapes. So we have the history supporting the growth factor. Many of these growers have now shifted towards wine grapes.

Subhash Arora
CS:    Very few people know that India has an ancient tradition of vine, can you tell us a little bit of History about it?
 SA:    Historically wines were being over 3000 years ago. There is evidence of our Gods and old Hindu kings regularly drinking a beverage that resembled wine. But the Moghul kings who ruled India before the British, are known to have been wine connoisseurs and there is record of wines imported from Persia for them and the nobilities. The Brits also encouraged wine production for their consumption from Maharashtra to Kashmir but phylloxera destroyed all the vines in 1890s. No new vines were planted till about 30 years ago.
Subhash Arora
CS:    You are the visible face of Indian wine, how do you feel with such a big responsibility?
SA:    I feel slightly embarrassed because I am an outsider. I am an engineer by qualification and even went to the US where I did my MS (Master of Science and not Master Sommelier which did not even exist at that time!) in Industrial Engineering and MBA and was a teetotaller. I caught the bug in India decades ago and started learning about wine with vengeance and no baggage. Since I am committed to the cause of wine, I find it easy to promote it. I am a freelancer in the true sense and really bold and objective in my writing. The biggest responsibility is to project the right image of the wines and the market as well as get people to start drinking and loving wines as their lifestyle product of choice. I am enjoying the journey.
Subhash Arora
CS:    You have spent many years of your life to make visible the wine in India, how do you develop such a passion?
SA:    As I said, initially it was simply least of the ‘evils’ for me as I have been an anti-alcohol person all my life-perhaps that’s why I am a great proponent of wines with lower alcohol and always keep asking winemakers and viticulturists what they are doing to keep the levels low with global warming looking us in the face. I had gone to an international medical conference in Napa Valley where I met and heard several doctors speak about studies showing that wine in moderation was good for heart. Coupled with the fact that it is a lifestyle product, I felt committed to it. It was also a motivation that if people could switch from liquor to wine, the problems due to alcoholism could be reduced. What fueled the passion was the fact that it was really a food product and the huge spectrum of flavors from the same grapes in different countries. It was also an excellent way of meeting people and learning about geography and different cultures.
Subhash Arora
CS:    How did you get that wine environment listened you and thanked you your efforts?
SA:    I don’t really know the answer to that. I have focused on dissemination of information through my newsletter delWine that goes to 28,000 people in 43 countries. People respect my insights, passion and objectivity. I have never approached anyone for a reward. I guess the relentless passion, independent view point and objectivity has increased my credibility. My real reward is from several of my readers who feel I have helped them and the cause of wine without any personal agenda.
Subhash Arora
CS:    You have been awarded with some wonderful prices(*), it must be an incentive for you, isn’t it?
SA:    The awards are a way of recognition and I enjoy and appreciate them. It’s also scary feeling that the wine world is watching me and my performance. It is also a great feeling that there are groups of people who recognize my efforts, though individually I am regularly being thanked and congratulated by producers, wine experts and lovers for my contribution to the introduction of wine culture in India. I cherish in particular, the knighthood by Italy and the OIV Award of Merit, besides my website being recognized as the best by Grandi Cru d’Italia.
Subhash Arora
CS:    Do you remember what your first experience with wine?
SA:    Not particularly, except it was at a friend’s house and I liked the first glass and we finished the whole bottle.
Subhash Arora
CS:    What memories do you keep about this moment?
SA:    There was no romance involved so I guess I don’t remember much about it, honestly-even though it sounds so dull.
Subhash Arora
CS:    Which wine has marked you or which vine has attracted more you attention?
SA:    I have been enamored by Italian wines a lot. An Italian friend working in the embassy offered to buy me wine from the commissary, despite my initial reluctance. Then I told him to get me a case every time with at least 6 different Italian labels. I was also a frequent visitor to his house and we drank different Italian wines every time. The list of my favorite wines is long- I like Barbaresco, Chianti Classico, Super Tuscans, Amarone, Gavi, Verdicchio, Etna whites. Of course, I love French, Austrian, German, Californian, Chilean and NZ wines too. They are all like children to me and I always find difficult to single out.
Subhash Arora
CS:    Please, tell to me about the Indian Wine Academy and what its next projects are.
SA:    Indian Wine Academy is a private consultancy firm that imparts education in informal settings and through the written articles. We organize wine dinners and corporate tastings; we have done over 250 of these all over India. We help foreign producers with information about India and to come. We help the Indian producers by publishing news about them including tastings. We organize wine trips, wine appreciation evenings for corporate and various groups. We help various international delegations with realistic information about the industry in India. The biggest job is through our free weekly eNewsletter delWine that goes to 28,000 subscribers. It gives the correct picture of the Indian market and in general, about global markets to some extent. We keep our readers abreast on the wine and health studies. We are working on an interesting project but I’d rather not disclose until our plans fructify.
Subhash Arora
CS:    Which is your opinion about world wine market? What do you think it could be improvable?
SA:    The world is moving towards drinking less but better quality wines. That’s why there is a pressure on demand. The emerging markets like China, India, brazil and Russia and the newly opened Central European markets are the hope for more consumption. There has also been an increase in alcohol levels due to global warming. The winemakers and viticulturists have to come to a solution to keep the levels in check without affecting the balance. Although there is already a trend in reduced usage of oak, it needs to keep in that direction. Organic and biodynamic farming has to be encouraged to sustain the soil. I would like to see the consumers ask for wines produced in such environment.
Subhash Arora
CS:    In your opinion, what must be done for wine producers to get introduced into Indian market?
SA:    Continued presence, unique distinguishable feature whether in terms of branding, varietal, origin, or factors like prices. They need to make regular visits, first scouting for the right partner and then nurturing the market through visits and support. A loose partnership approach is a lot better than supplying at competitive prices and then hands-off approach. They should be in love with India and have an emotional connect. It’s a highly competitive market with a good scope in the long term. Joint collaborations will have a better chance of survival.
Subhash Arora
CS:    Internet and social networks are a revolution in consumers and costumers life, how do you see this relationship with wine market?
SA:    It is getting to be a very important factor. Online sales are still not possible in India but use of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc is increasing and is indispensable no-especially since advertising of any kind is not allowed in India.
Subhash Arora
CS:    India and European Union, have they get a commercial approach?
SA:    I suppose you are talking about the Foreign Trade Agreement for which talks have been going on. The issues are very complex and wine is not the only issue- this has been more or less resolved. It’s a pity that it has not materialized so far. I had predicted that unless the FTA was signed before June, 2013 we would have to wait till our national elections were over in 2014. I am told by sources in EU that they have now resigned to that and the talks have gone to the back burner. I still hope I am proved wrong-it would be good for the consumer and imported wine market.
Subhash Arora
CS:    Under your point of view, which are the measures to adopt to agree?
SA:    As I said, there are many areas that are to be agreed upon by both sides. We have to be careful in that we do not kill the budding Indian wine industry which needs the support as well as a healthy competition from imported wines to improve quality. I think there should be minimal duties on expensive wines, say 20-30% for wines costing over €10-15. Wines costing under €2-3 should not see a duty reduction. That doesn’t seem to be happening now.
Subhash Arora
CS:    Do you want to send a specific message to western wine cellars? What do you think they should do to get more Indian market share?
SA    As I have said already, the partnership approach with a long term stance and finding right partner are key factors. India is a tough market and too much dependent of the whims of the government. But the market is expanding. They should also consider partnership in terms of equity, technology transfer, barter deals on wine for sustained business.
Debra Meiburg - Subhash Arora
CS:    And last, but not least, do you want to tell us anything about your recent journey to Hong Kong and you meeting with Debra Meiburg?
SA:    I have known Debra Meiburg MW for several years. She is truly the American wine queen of Hong Kong (with due apologies to Jeannie Chow Lee who is the Asian wine queen of HK. I have been privileged to be invited to all the five editions of the Cathay pacific HKIWSC of which she is a co-Director. I was also invited by Decanter Asia Wine Awards at the inaugural last year and again this year. So, I went to Hong Kong twice in October, judging at both the competitions. To me, they are exciting and are not only about doing my best as a judge but there is an immense opportunity to learn from these experts and other judges. I don’t like to lose a moment in digging as deep as I can to learn more, every time.

Mr. Subhash thank you very much for giving me the interview. In vino veritas, longae vitae!))

(*)Mr. Arora’s awards:
•    Voted as the best Wine Journalist in India by Wine Business International 2007
•    Delhi Wine Club was voted the Best Wine Club in India in 2007
•    Knighted by the Italian President in 2009 as a Cavaliere for promoting wine culture in India and helping Italian companies in their endeavour to enter Indian market.
•    His website www.indianwineacademy.com was elected as the 'Best Website' 2011 by Comitato Grandi Cru d'Italia at Vinitaly 2011
•    Awarded Mérite de l’OIV in 2011 by Paris-based OIV for exceptional service to wine industry
•    Was nominated for the 'Best Foreign Wine Journalist' award by Grandi Cru d'Italia in 2010, 2011, 2012 and again in 2013

                                             Website: http://www.indianwineacademy.com/ 

Yegas Naidoo Says:
I have admired Cav. Subhash Arora from afar for many years and self-imposed an introduction by inviting him to judge wines in South Africa on behalf of SAA without regret. He is a walking Dictionary of wine speak and I have great respect for his independent viewpoints that are cogent, precise and relevant. May he continue to inform, educate and entertain us for many years to come.

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