Nashik has become the home of Indian wine, and Sula is its most famous and high-end brand. It’s intrigued me since I first tasted a glass of unexpectedly bone dry Sula Sauvignon last year that it is produced so near to the marital home of my (now late) Aunt. When my cousin Winky asked to come and visit India and my mum, that she is so immersed in the world of wine through her vintner husband (I’m sorry. That makes her sound like a chicken casserole) seemed like an opportunity to embrace.
Today, then, we visited the Sula winery for a tour and tasting. Set up by an Indian graduate of Stanford University, it’s run along Californian winery lines.
You’ve got to admire the long term planning and marketing strategy and tactics of the Sula brand:
- Take advantage of the rising numbers of possibly overseas-educated, well-travelled, middle class young people with relatively high incomes and increasingly cosmopolitan and international focus.
- Build a trendy brand image for a product almost unknown in India.
- Capitalise the taboo around alcohol, especially for women drinkers, and exploit the latent, yet hugely controlled, aspirational rebellion of these young people with high disposable incomes. You’re selling them a lifestyle product of which their parents disapprove with the help of modern, fresh branding.
- Run gigs for rising music artists that attract said rich, rebellious young people.
- Import a French chef and expose these people to modern European food in both a full restaurant setting and a wine bar on a balcony overlooking a vineyard. Here you can have cheese on toast with an Asian twist or properly-cooked European food.
- Set your price point at an aspirational premium level, yet make it (just about) affordable for those who want to buy into this premium lifestyle.
- Build boutique accommodation that can be accessed only by the select few. (It’s booked for months, years to come.)
- Provide a boutique health spa for beauty treatments using by-products of said winery such as its grapeseed oil in your pampering products.
- Educate the market on the health benefits of wine…
- Sell witty, branded merchandise only available from the winery.
- Gradually educate the Indian palate away from sugary, syrupy wines and towards a more sophisticated and mature Western wine palate.
- Export your Western-style wines to Europe. Enter competitions and win favourable mentions in the western wine press that you can use for your promotion in the home market.
- Then, when the Indian palate matures to accept dryer wines, and you’re the leading aspirational provider, clean up.
Well thought through.
You can already buy Sula Sauvignon in Marks and Spencer in the UK. I think it’s reassuringly expensive and not promoted as a cheap New World wine. It’s probably not the best white wine you’ve ever tasted but, for India, it’s nothing short of miraculous.