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A Love of Wine Grows in India

Visitors learn about wine at the tasting room of Sula Vineyards in Nashik, Maharashtra, India. (Anjana Pasricha for VOA)

Visitors learn about wine at the tasting room of Sula Vineyards in Nashik, Maharashtra, India. (Anjana Pasricha for VOA)

Indians who like alcohol usually choose whiskey as their drink. But, slowly, wine is growing more popular in the country. India's first vineyard, a farm where grapes used to make wine are grown, is named Sula. It began operations 15 years ago.

Sula vineyards is in Nashik in northwestern Maharashtra state. Software engineer Nagesh Kamble and his wife Snehal have come to the hilly vineyard from Pune, about two hundred kilometers south. The young couple wanted to learn how wine is made. They began drinking wine at a special event two years ago.

“It was in Pune when there was a wine tasting festival going on."

Snehal Kamble tells why the couple chose this time to come to Sula.

“…it is our anniversary this week, so we are kind of celebrating.”

Sula Vineyards is India's largest Indian wine-maker. Ten years ago it opened a tasting room to create a wine culture among people like the Kambles. About 200,000 people visit every year. It is especially busy on weekends.

Visitors explore the vineyards. Then, they learn how to taste wine to best enjoy the blend of flavors.

Indian tradition has not been approving of alcoholic drinks. And until now, whiskey is the kind of alcohol that the general public has accepted.

Neeraj Agarwal is vice president of Sula Vineyards. He has seen the change that has taken place since the company struggled to sell its first several thousand bottles of wine in 2000. Last year Sula sold more than seven million bottles. Mr. Agarwal believes that wine is helping change opinion about alcohol.

“In five years, the scenario has completely changed. Earlier talking about alcohol in the open and seeing a woman having a glass of wine in hand was a taboo. Now, it’s wonderful, families coming, sitting together and enjoying.”

Visitors to Sula Vineyards agree. Information technology professional Akshay Rajguru is getting some wine for his friends.

“It is for good times, that’s it…in India people treat liquor as bad thing, but it’s not that bad, I would say it is in the mind actually.”

Young professionals are the main supports of the growth in India’s wine market. The market is expanding at about 13 percent a year. Over the last 10 years, 90 wineries have opened across Karnataka and Maharashtra states, where the climate is favorable for growing wine grapes.

Indian women still represent a very small number of the wine drinkers in the country. About three percent of women in India have at least one drink a year. But their numbers are growing more than twice as fast as men.

There are several reasons for this. One is that more women have joined the workforce in the last ten years and have independent incomes. In big cities like Delhi and Mumbai, women buying wine or having a drink is no longer considered unacceptable.

Once a week or so, 32-year-old Pallavi Kohli heads out for a drink at a restaurant or a pub.

“I love unwinding with a glass of wine over the weekends, especially when there is no movie to watch, and going out with my friends.”

Subhash Arora found the Delhi Wine Club in 2002. He says now 40 percent of its members are women.

“It is basically a lifestyle drink anyway. So when they go out to parties or outings, now they say ‘OK, a glass of wine is fine.’”

However, the wine culture is still restricted to the country’s main cities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. Wine companies are now targeting the smaller towns.

Mr. Agarwal of Sula Vineyards says the alcohol industry is not permitted to advertise. But he says they reach out to the public through wine festivals, fashion shows and music festivals.

The wine industry hopes that the market will continue to grow as incomes increase and life styles change in India.

I’m Caty Weaver.

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