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Interview: TOP of CHILE

In non-veg (that unique Indian expression!), I have found that Viognier is especially appropriate to Butter Chicken, that

Carménère goes well with a dish like Kakori Kebab and mutton more generally, and that one can particularly enjoy Fish Curry with Gewurztraminer.

What is your opinion on the future of wine in Asia?

Some people are sceptical about it, but China and India have been drinking wine for many centuries now. China produced and sold wine to Persia since 1 st century B.C. In India, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, European travellers to the courts of the kings like Akbar, Jehangir and Shahjahan, reported to have tasted wines originating from royal vineyards. Likewise in this period wines were imported from the High Valleys of the Indus and of Afghanistan. In the nineteenth century, vineyards were established in Kashmir and Maharashtra. In 1890 phylloxera destroyed these vineyards. And let me tell you a little story: Chile had just started promoting its wines in Asia in the mid-nineties, when the so-called “Asian crisis” hit in 1997. Many

Chilean exporters thought this would mean their sales would come to an abrupt end, but not only did that not happen, but in countries like Thailand, Korea and Taiwan, Chilean wine sales actually went up. The reason? Consumers switched from expensive European wines to the more affordable Chilean ones.By then, they had already found out that wine goes a lot better with meals than Scotch or Cognac, which is what people in many East Asian and South East Asian countries used to have until the early nineties. In the last four years, Asia has shot up from 6% of our total exports to 12%--we are now exporting more to Asia than to Latin America, which as recently as 1990 received more than a third of our exports, and is now down to 8%.

How do you see the Indian wine industry?

Sula Vineyards, Grover Vineyards and the Chateau Indage Group are doing well, and there is obviously quite an upsurge of interest in everything related to wine, which I have been able to personally appreciate since my arrival in 2003. I am especially fond of Grover Reserve, a very smooth and drinkable red. In a country like this one, where food is such an important part of the culture, being able to combine it with the right drink is significant, and few would doubt that one of the best and healthiest to go with it is wine.

As the income level rises, consumers become more sophisticated and there is a concomitant increase in wine consumption, there should be

I have found that Viognier is especially appropriate to Butter Chicken, Carménère goes well with a Kakori Kebab and mutton in general, and one can enjoy Fish Curry with Gewurztraminer.

quite a future for wine in India.

What progress has been made in the Preferential Trade Agreement(PTA) Chile is negotiating with India?

Three rounds have been held so far, two in Santiago and one in Delhi. The fourth will be held in Delhi in late November. We hope to be able to finalize it before the end of the year, and thus give an added impetus to bilateral trade.

If you were to transpose the Chilean wine model to India what would be your recommendations to make and sell more wine?

The first thing to do is to stop looking at wine as a product for the elite. Likewise, wine should be appreciated for its beneficial effects for human health.; it actually increases your life expectancy. Red wine is especially recommended to fight cardiovascular ailments, which are so widespread in India. Wine should be treated like food , made available in supermarkets and the high taxes imposed on it should be cut. What we are seeing in Maharashtra is a step in the right direction, although we think it should be applied to all wines and not just local wines. Otherwise it is highly discriminatory.

Chile had just started promoting its wines in Asia in the mid-nineties, when the “Asian crisis” hit in 1997. Many Chilean exporters thought this was the end, but sales actually went up. European wines to the more affordable Chilean ones.

The internal market is very important in the initiation of the local production, but one cannot develop a local industry on the basis of pure protectionism, following the approaches of the fifties, half a century ago. The real challenge is to develop a culture of wine drinking and wine appreciation in India. This huge country offers plenty of opportunity both for local and foreign wine producers, and we can work together to make it happen Nor is it sensible to think of taking on foreign markets when you are just beginning , especially in today's highly competitive environment. As Madame de Rothschild put it: “It is easy to make a wine when one knows; it is only difficult for the first 200 years”.

Sula has been importing bulk red wine from Santa Rita. Haven't there been any more business relationships in this area? Do you think it is feasible?

The business between Santa Rita and Sula Vineyards was going fine, but , sadly, it may have come to an end. In Maharashtra,which comprises 40% of the Indian wine market an additional excise tax of 100 rupees per litre on imported bulk wine was established last March. Recently they have increased it further to 200 rupees per litre That makes any further continuation of such deals unfeasible.

This approach assumes that the expansion of the Indian wine market is a zero-sum game, from which foreign producers should be excluded. In fact, conditions for a win-win situation, in which all wine producers can benefit, are very much there.

Countries like Australia and Argentina are seriously considering export of bulk wines and even wine grapes whereas one does not hear of Chile entering into fresh deals. Does it mean they did not have a happy and profitable experience with India so far?

With these additional excise taxes on imported bulk wine any such business propositions have become untenable.

What is Top Chile Wine Fest 2006 all about?

This is an event to promote higher end Chilean wines in India. As I mention earlier in the interview Chile has been moving higher in the

Sula Vineyards, Grover Vineyards and the Chateau Indage Group are doing well , I am especially fond of Grover Reserve, a very smooth and drinkable red.

quality chain. We make plenty of varietals but there is also an emphasis on improving the quality. Montes Alpha M, Almaviva, Don Melchor, Caballo Loco are Casa Lapostolle are some of the top end wines selling in India, which can compete with the best of wines globally.

Therefore, we evolved this unique initiative of the Indian Wine Academy called Top Chile to bring to the attention of consumers that Chile was already producing top quality wines too.

What in short is the concept of Top Chile:

The concept in its initial form was to invite all importers in India importing Chilean wines to present their top-end wines, which we feel is justified to be in the final list. These wines would be tasted blind in the Tasting Room of Hyatt Regency Hotel which has agreed to be a part of this event. A panel of 12 experts has been formed in conjunction with the Indian Wine Academy, of which I have been given the privilege of chairman. All the wines offered would be tasted blind randomly under the independent charge of Hyatt. The top three brands would be announced to a select gathering at my residence and the invitees would get an opportunity to taste most of these wines.

We modified the concept to where we would not rank the wines as earlier planned. But the judges would taste these wines without and with Indian food snacks to be prepared by the Aangan Restaurant of Hyatt. Would you believe they have offered 30 snacks?!

We will release the ‘Tasting Notes' at my residence and of course the invitees including the guests from the F & B industry would get to taste some top Chilean wines, anyway.

Why did you change the concept?

As Madame de Rothschild put it: “It is easy to make a wine when one knows; it is only difficult for the first 200 years”

While the concept was excellent in that it would give the hotels, restaurants and consumers a definite choice of the top Chilean wines, some importers had the apprehension that the results might not be fair to them, especially the range selected was too wide in terms of price; which is because we still do not have the fantastic range of our top end wines being imported into India. The other reason was non availability of same vintages for the contest. It would be incorrect to compare an excellent label of a lesser 2003 with the random sample of a better and higher quality 2004.

Moreover, such a wide interest has been created by this event that many importers wanted to entered their lower end wines with the hope that they would score some goodwill with the F & B industry. That would have been unfair to the other contestants since as I have said, no price band has been considered for different wines.

This interview has been carried out through a questionnaire prepared by me and several personal meetings over many sessions. This has been exhaustive and exhausting interview: in fact, a great resource material for Chilean wines. We are grateful to the Ambassador for spending so much of his time with me for this interview. Subhash Arora

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