Food

When water costs more than the meal

Water sommelier Ganesh Iyer explains why the most abundant liquid on the planet can also be a bottled luxury

With $60,000 (₹41,37, 990 at the time of writing), you could buy a Mercedes Benz CLA, an iPhone Xs and a fancy dinner from the poshest hotel in town. Or you could instead purchase 750 ml of Acqua di Cristallo Tributo a Modigliani — basically, a bottle of water; specifically, the most expensive bottle of water. It is a hand-made 24-carat gold bottle, inspired by the work of the Italian artist Amedeo Clemente Modigliani.

The Modigliani bottle, at least, is made of gold. But the same quantity of water in ordinary glass bottles, in several affluent parts of the world, is sold for 20-plus dollars. A bottle of Veen’s Finland-sourced water, for instance, is $23. The Finnish company is big in India. The country is its biggest market, accounting for half its sales of two million bottles in 2017. There are 300 outlets in India that serve Veen.

Veen’s water sommelier, Ganesh Iyer, reckons the existence of a luxury water brand in a country, which has the highest number of people in the world (163+ million) without access to safe drinking water, is not as ridiculous as it might sound. “Water as necessity and water as luxury can coexist,” he says, “For a common man, who struggles to make ends meet, even a plastic mineral water bottle might seem luxurious. But an affluent person would go for the experiential nuances in natural mineral water.”

What is natural mineral water though and why is it exorbitantly priced?

Natural mineral water, according to Ganesh, is bottled directly from the source — usually places with very little or no human presence (One of Veen’s sources is the Eastern Himalayas in Bhutan). He says that no two natural mineral waters are alike. This difference in composition gives the water a unique, subtle flavour that earns the appreciation of water connoisseurs. And, the cost of logistics in finding and acquiring the water plus the import duty reflects on its selling price.

“For water sourced in Finland, for example, we pay about 45% import duty. And, you need to get to remote places with extreme conditions to get these waters. Source is the USP of the product in this case,” says Ganesh.

Bottled water, over the last two decades, has become the fastest growing drinks market in the world. With the global market value expected to reach $280 billion next year, water experts like Ganesh will surely be in demand. With over two decades of experience, he has been a part of teams that have launched six brands of natural mineral and sparkling waters in India – Veen is his seventh. “I am the only water sommelier in the country now. But I see more coming up in the near future,” he says.

It is not easy to be a water sommelier, though, going by Ganesh’s account of his certification programme at Doemens Academy in Gräfelfing, Germany. “I had to go through an extensive 80 sessions of training spread across 18 days. They will train you to detect, recognise and differentiate between various types of natural waters based on their many natural characteristics – like minerality, carbonation, hardness, orientation [which lend the water its taste],” he says.

When asked whether water sommeliers have special tools to gauge the aforementioned parameters, Ganesh laughs, “Yes, the tongue is the tool.”

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Printable version | Jul 14, 2020 5:04:36 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/water-sommelier-ganesh-iyer-explains-how-water-can-be-a-bottled-luxury/article28856013.ece

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