After keeping a low profile for a couple of years, Bangalore based Big Banyan Wines owned by John Distilleries Ltd has launched two new varietals Zinfandel Rosé Rosa Rossa and the Muscat based dessert wine Bellissima, along with the announcement that Shiraz Reserve 2008 undergoing barrel aging since last year, will also be released soon.
These wines will add to the existing portfolio of five staple wines- Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. Bellissima (very beautiful in Italian) is perhaps inspired by the Italian winemaker Lucio Matricardi who has been involved with the project from the very beginning and is a regular visitor to the winery. This is the first Indian dessert wine made using Moscato Late Harvest grape whereas producers like Sula have been using Chenin Blanc which takes well to late harvest-giving higher levels of sugar and consequently, the sweet wine.
The wine label Big Banyan was launched in 2007 by Paul John, Chairman of John Distilleries which owns the winery, under the direct guidance and supervision of Luca Toninato, a viticulturist associated with the University of Milan and Lucio who, besides being also involved with the university is a winemaker of the big co-operative Mezzacorona in the northeastern city of Trento in the province of Trentino.
Big Banyan Wines has the winery in Goa with a 200,000 liter capacity next to its distillery. It uses well known Italian equipment including crushers, press, pumps etc. After watching the new wine policy for Karnataka for a year, the company seems to have finally decided to start processing there by 2011, to take advantage of the excise duty and other benefits. Grapes are currently sourced from Ramnagaram and Nashik in Maharashtra from contracted farmers.
After initially making splash with a limited production of premium wines, the company seemed to have gone low-key for the nest couple of years with the sales not being commensurate with their plans and the recession hitting in its rather early stages of gestation. It has also been the victim of heavy licensing costs of lucrative markets like Delhi where it did invest in the license cost but with no sales and has not applied for the license this year though it claims it plans to explore various markets in North, North-East and Maharashtra.
It also lacks a cheaper label which seems to have become a market driven strategy already adopted by companies like Sula, Indage, Grover and the Four Seasons winery from UB. It may also lack from the availability of fresh stocks since the wines from the previous vintages are still not fully exhausted. But it seems to be on tracks this year and is hopeful that not only will it exhaust all its previous stocks but with the new portfolio, it will be better positioned to penetrate the market this year on.
Despite deep pockets due to a highly profitable liquor business owned by the parent company- John Distilleries which is the 5th largest liquor company in India in volume with the flagship brand Original Choice being a leading brand in South India with a 10 million cases annual market, the company may find it hard to focus on the wine business, which is traditionally a long term business and required patience and passion to nurture. Even, big liquor companies like Diageo have been far from successful in India and overseas in the wine business.
For the moment, it looks like the parent company has strategized to support and expand the wine operations and the new launches might help to dispel any doubts. As Lucio says, ‘Paul John and I have had detailed discussions and decided that we will develop wines,
giving immense respect to what best grape varietals can be grown in India with the help of world class viticulture practices that we can bring. We respect the evolution of the Indian wine consumers and aim to give them a world class wine.’
Incidentally, the new labels were launched officially on 7th of July, 2010 at The Paul, Bangalore. The strategically located business hotel is owned by John Paul along with another top-end Kumarakom Resort in the back waters of Kerala.