By: Nanda Kasabe
On its way to selling a million cases this year, Sula Wines is also undergoing a major transformational change. Having expanded its footprint in Karnataka, the company has decided to keep the identity of wines made in Karnataka distinct from those made in Nashik. While wines made by company in Nashik will come under the Sula brand, wines that are under production in Karnataka will get a new identity, separate from Sula. Four new labels will be brought out from the new facility in Karnataka in October or sometime around Diwali this year. Sula now becomes the second wine company in India to have a production base in both Maharashtra and Karnataka.
Global winemaker Kerry Damskey from California, who is the master winemaker at Sula, is working at a fast pace in Karnataka to oversee the change. Sula recently acquired Heritage Winery, a producer of fortified wines and big name in wine tourism in Karnataka, and plans to use this facility to drive its plans for the new wines out of Karnataka. The outright purchase of Heritage Winery includes lock, stock and barrel including all the labels. Heritage has been a major market leader with an annual sale of 160,000-200,000 cases of wine, most of which is fortified and quite popular in Karnataka.
“Nashik has its own unique identity and we are planning to develop a new brand for Karnakata as well. Wines from Karnataka will be made from grapes grown here with a different aroma and taste. Work is in progress on four labels which includes 2 Reds as well..The wines are Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Temperneill and Rose and work on the labels is in progress,” he said, declining to give out details. “These are going to be mid-market wines, not too expensive and a well known designer from South Africa has been brought on board to plan the new look. “The labels will look Indian and classy with a different profile,” he said.
Damesky who met Sula CEO Rajeev Samant some 20 years ago came to India and had then brought out the first production of Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc and that was the start of Sula. He has since then made over 75 trips to India and says his journey with Sula has been incredible. According to him, wines in India need to be more fruit-driven and not oak-driven. The Indian market is evolving and is a relatively new entrant into the world wine market, he said.
Cecilia Oldne, global brand ambassador for Sula Wines and vice president-marketing says that the company has entered the Russian market. Sula has over 65% market share in India and exports to over 25 countries across Asia, Europe, the US and Canada.
Sula has partnered with Marine Express, one of Russia’s leading importers and distributors of wine and liquors, to foray into the Russian market. “Russia does not produce wines and therefore it is natural for Sula to look at this market,” Oldne said.
The UK is biggest market for Sula followed by Germany, Japan and the United States. “We are always on the lookout for new markets and it is heartening to see Indian wines being accepted so well in overseas markets,” she said.
“Sula Wines are available in Marks and Spencer and our sparkling wines are becoming popular here, Sula Dindori Reserve Shiraz made it to the annual ‘The Enthusiast 100 list two years in a row,” she added.
Currently, 60% of Sula’s retail comprises its own wine and brandy production, and the remaining comprises imports. “Sula selections, which is the company’s import arm, currently has around 35 labels, and we have a lot of launches lined up this year. It is one of our focus areas. Last year, imports shot up by 70%,” Oldne said, adding that vodka will be a new addition to the range that already offers rum and tequila alongside wine.
A new Vodka, a Spanish wine are on the anvil soon. Within India, Maharashtra is the biggest market for the company followed by Karnataka and Delhi, Goa. The wine market in India would be around 1.5 million cases from the current 1 million. This goes from wines that are priced at `200 and champagnes worth `10,000 a bottle. Imports to India are around 200,000 cases.