In vino veritas . But even without the wine, if truth be told, I am not sure I’d be comfortable cracking open a can of some sophisticated vino . “Would you?” I had asked Kapil Sekhri, the late CEO of Fratelli wines ( who passed away last Saturday ) that is launching what it says are well-made but easy to drink wines in cans this autumn. “If it is a $50-$80 wine, I would not. I would want the whole drama of the bottle being uncorked, the romance of it,” Sekhri had said. “But there is no scientific reason why cans and good wine cannot go together.”
Tilt — to “tilt your perspective” — that Fratelli has launched in four variants (apart from a spritzer under its Noi label) is wine in a can for the young, for those new to wine, but also led by occasion. (The red, white, rosé and bubbly cans, all 250 ml, are priced at a pocket-friendly ₹180 to ₹200.) So, while the romance of say a Chablis or Amarone — two of my favourites during the pandemic-induced social hibernation — may be missing, there could be place for more casual, less passionate encounters with wine too.
Let’s talk convenience
The ‘beerification’ of wine has been in the works for more than a decade and a half. In 2003, The Family Coppola launched Sofia Blanc de Blanc in a small 187 ml can, sold with a straw. The wine, named after American screenwriter-actress Sofia Coppola, gained a lot of attention. But it was only a decade later that wine in a can got a fillip in the US with the likes of Oregon’s Union Wine Company launching various lines. Since the last two years, the category has been registering an astounding growth in the US — up 69% in June last year over 2018, in retail, and totalling $79.3 million sales, according to a Nielsen report.
In India, as the pandemic pushes us to new ways of consuming food and beverage at home, retail sales for wine have been growing phenomenally in the last two months (they are back to 2019 levels, as per various industry estimates) making up for losses through restaurants and institutional sales. In such a scenario, wine in a can is a new category where Indian wine makers are hoping to grow consumption.
- Restaurant closures and restrictions on alcohol sales during lockdown played havoc with the Indian wine industry. “Very few wineries have deep pockets and they are treading water,” says Samant. The silver lining is that some states like Maharashtra have allowed home deliveries through retail. “We can take the order and reach out to consumers directly through our social media, though it gets delivered through the nearest retail shop,” says Ravi Gurnani, director, York Winery. He adds that directly reaching consumers helps because “customer stickiness is greater. If people love a wine, they will contact the winery directly”.
While Fratelli had been planning this launch for the last two years, and rushed to finish the project once the pandemic started, market leader Sula had debuted the category in India even before Covid-19 struck. The canned version of its long-standing brand, Dia, has been launched in two sparkling categories, red and white (priced at ₹180 for a 330 ml can), with a relatively low alcohol content at 8% ABV. In the next few months, a more premium still wine in a can will be launched, says Rajeev Samant, CEO of Sula Vineyards. “The image that it is only cheap or inferior wine in a can is being challenged in the US. Cans are more eco-friendly, recyclable, easier to transport and store, and more convenient for consumers,” he points out, adding that he is betting on premium wines across Sula’s portfolio in the new normal, when people have been choosing better quality wines for drinking at home. “I am not going to do wines below ₹500. My focus now is wines in the ₹1,000-₹2,000 bracket,” he says.
Case for gender fluid
The world over, the pandemic has turned premiumisation as an alco-bev trend on its head. Economic distress has meant that people have reduced spending and the sales of premium alcohol have been hit. In India, however, the reverse seems to be happening for wine. “When the lockdown opened, all my top labels like Gaja and Cakebread sold out that month itself. It may be that people had exhausted the wine they’d picked up while travelling abroad, but a new trend is also more men tasting high quality wines,” says Madhulika Dhall, owner of La Cave, a chain of wine stores in Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. The demand for certain premium Indian labels like Sette and Bengaluru-based Krsma has also gone up in some markets, she says.
- Exports are hardly likely to weigh in when it comes to sales. While some new world wines have benefited from the global drift towards cheaper labels, Gurnani points out that Indian wine (sold primarily in Indian restaurants in markets like the UK) is generally more expensive. “Internationally, you can get better South American and new world wines at the same price because the cost of our grapes and production is high, with import-dependency on premium packaging adding to the price,” he says.
In traditional whisky-dominated markets such as Delhi and Gurugram, a new trend is the sprouting of informal ‘boys clubs’ where six-10 enthusiasts gather at home, bringing their own pricey labels of wine, and tasting these over gourmet meals. While some of this may have to do with the inherent snobbery that comes with drinking pricey alcohol, the fact is that more men in their late 30s and 40s may be switching over to quality wine, hitherto considered a woman’s drink. Sekhri echoed this sense of a changing drinking culture when he pitched his canned wines with low ABV and varying levels of sweetness (from 20 g/l sugar for the spritzer to the dry-ish 10 g/l for the sparkling) as “gender fluid, age fluid”.