Women are an increasingly important market segment of the wine industry, making wider lifestyle choices with a propensity to spend marginally more than men on a bottle of wine, says Sonal Holland, India’s first and only Master of Wine (MW), one of the most prestigious titles in the world of wines with a count of 370 Masters across 30 countries.
“What I have observed is that women represent an increasingly important market segment for the wine industry. As successful leaders breaking gender barriers, women are increasingly making wider lifestyle choices as do their global peers.
“They view wine as a classy, empowering, healthy beverage and are experiencing fewer cultural inhibitions when drinking wine in the presence of their family members or the society at large. Ladies are purchasing wine as often as men across all occasions with a propensity to spend marginally more than men on a bottle of wine,” Mumbai-based Holland, who on Saturday night released the India Wine Insider 2018 report, told IANS in an email interview.
“The female wine drinkers in India are on par with male drinkers, on consumption frequency, propensity to spend on a bottle and attitudes towards wine drinking, drawing allegiance to the growing popularity of wine among female drinkers in India,” says the report, prepared by Holland in collaboration with London-based Wine Intelligence, a global consumer research leader.
According to WHO, per capita alcohol consumption in India has increased from 2.4 litres in 2005 to 5.7 litres in 2016 with 4.2 litres being consumed by men and 1.5 litres by women.
Noting that “in this bucket, wine, though now a mainstay drink, is minuscule”, Holland said: “Wine is popular with women and men and the young and old alike. People drink wine whether at home or at restaurants, over a myriad of occasions and for reasons so unique to wine, indicating its acceptance as a sophisticated, nuanced beverage. But compared to whisky consumption in India, wine has a long way to go.”
Last year, while working on the first edition of the “India Wine Insider”, the first comprehensive survey of the urban Indian wine consumer, “we discovered that the Indian drinker’s understanding of wine is limited. But, as awareness grows, so does consumption. Other than colour, there is very little awareness about other wine styles — names of regions and grape varieties remain under-developed cues”, Holland explained.
For Holland, it’s been a long and arduous journey to become a Master of Wine, one that has been “infinitely rewarding”.
“Gaining this title seriously tries your patience, demanding commitment and sacrifice at every stage; but, in turn, it rewards you with a tremendous sense of gratification, pride, credibility and confidence.
“As an Indian on the programme, I was perceived to be at a disadvantage, given the limited availability of wines and tasting opportunities in India. To gain first-hand global knowledge of wines required a significant capital outlay on my part, as well as time and a great deal of self-motivation.
“I was on the move constantly, meeting viticulturists and winemakers, attending international wine trade shows and fairs, taking every opportunity to taste wines blind and practicing writing accurate tasting notes after every tasting,” Holland explained.
“I spent so much time travelling, being away from my home and family for prolonged periods. As a woman and as a mother, this sacrifice weighed a lot on my mind, but it also strengthened my resolve to become a MW, to justify the sacrifices,” she added.
The MW exam process is no doddle either: There are five three-hour theory papers. These cover viticulture, vinification and pre-bottling procedures, the handling of wine, the business of wine and contemporary issues in the industry.
The practical sessions include three sessions of blind wine tastings where you try 12 wines each. They last for two-and-a-quarter-hour, in which wines must be assessed for variety, origin, wine-making, quality and style.
Finally, you must present an in-depth 10,000-word research paper which must be “a rigorous interpretation” of a specific wine subject of your choosing. (Holland’s was on Awareness, Attitude and Usage of Wine among Sec A Urban Indian Wine Consumers.)
“But, here I am. I am proud to represent India as the country’s first and only Master of Wine. It has been a fantastic experience. I’ve made friends across the globe and have had the opportunity to visit some of the world’s best wineries and estates. I hope to bring all the knowledge I’ve gained to the wine industry in India, while helping develop the country’s wine culture through various initiatives,” Holland said.
Another exciting initiative, she said, is the partnership entered into earlier this year with Wine Intelligence to launch Vinitrac India, a survey of Indian wine consumers that monitors and tracks the attitudes, behaviour and consumer relationships with wine in the country.
“This will give stakeholders an in-depth insight into the psyche of the wine drinker, a first-of-its-kind effort for the Indian wine industry,” she said.
Holland is also involved in a host of other initiatives.
“Through The Sonal Holland Wine Academy we focus on wine education and also offer a 360-degree suite of services to wine- and spirit-focused professionals, institutions and connoisseurs of wine. On the consumer side, my endeavour is to develop a culture of enjoying wine through the SoHo Wine Club, a subscription-based platform for oenophiles.
(Vishnu Makhijani can be contacted at [email protected])