Pune-based Good Earth Winery recently introduced Chennai to three of its four brands

A global wine brand that comes out of India: that's the ambitious goal of Pune-based Good Earth Winery, says Navin Sankaranarayanan, the company's CCO. He was recently in the city for the brand's soft-launch, at a special dinner hosted by the Courtyard by Marriot, for members of Terroir, Chennai's wine club, and other guests.

Chennai is only the fourth Indian city where the wines have been launched. This could be an indication of how seriously the market is taking Chennai's growing interest in the grape. As Karan Berry, General Manager, Courtyard by Marriott, adds: “Perhaps the most interesting development, in addition to wine replacing beer as Chennai's favourite beverage, is that red wine has outpaced white wine.”

Founded by Mumbai-born, New York-based Girish Mhatre, Good Earth Winery is a new entrant into India's wine manufacturing market, commercially operational only since December 2009. Sankaranarayanan, who has a decade-worth of experience in India's alcohol-beverage business, explains that Good Earth uses contract farming and rented wine-making facilities, all under highly controlled circumstances. It is a “virtual” wine company, or, somewhat more poetically, follows in the tradition of the French négociant.

Sankaranarayanan points out that the route to market — or the supply chain to the final consumer — is a long, expensive process in India. The decision was therefore taken to follow a backward integration business model: build the brand first, then invest in the company's own vineyards.

On offer during the Chennai dinner were three of its four brands: Arohi (made of Sauvignon Blanc grapes) opened the meal, followed by Basso (made with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes), and finally Antara, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with 25 per cent Shiraz matured in French oak barrels. The guests tasted the winery's debut vintage — 2008 — which did taste rather young with hints of vegetal notes.

Focus on quality

But, looking ahead, the company seeks to do things “right” — from hiring Rajesh Rasal, India's first PhD in oenology from an Indian university, to not making the mistake of over-cropping, which reduces quality. Good Earth Winery works at 3.5 tonnes per acre on reds, and 4 tonnes per acre on whites.

This is a company focussed on marketing. “We believe 40 per cent lies in the quality product and 60 per cent in everything else around it to build the brand, from proper labels to expensive manpower,” says Sankaranarayanan. “We are looking to create aspirational brands.” The wines are purposefully priced higher than other Indian wines of the same category; so their Sauvignon Blanc is at Rs.725 compared to a market average of Rs.695, for example.

Berry, for one, would also like to see India hold its own among the best global wine brands: “According to Vinexpo statistics, India has become the 10th largest growing nation for wine consumption, in value and volume terms, for the period 2009-13. According to the grape board, by the year 2020, India has the potential to become a world player in wine.”