Merchants of Taste

“We help people learn about wine. We offer a basic education on what a customer is drinking, how to choose and appreciate wines.” With 16 years experience marketing spirits in a largely self-propelled Indian market, Madhuloka’s K. S. Lokesh was quick to recognize that wine consumption was going to follow a very different growth path that would need active support at the retail level. A year ago, he decided to launch Enoteca, a platform for wine lovers that would allow easy access to essential information on tasting, appreciating and purchasing wine, as well as more advanced courses for those seeking to upgrade and refine their knowledge of wine.

Housed in a first-floor studio space on Bengaluru’s busy Sarjapur Road, styled along the lines of a wine cellar, Enoteca is located adjacent to a Madhuloka retail outlet. One can choose from a range of experiences that offers the maximum flexibility here: walk-in tasting sessions to corporate and private group events that could be customized around specific, light menus or full scale dinners; exploring region specific wines; winery tours and tastings; tutoring in how to negotiate a restaurant wine list, or simply help in selecting a few bottles of wine from the retail outlet next door. The basic philosophy of Enoteca is very simple –to make the purchase and drinking of wine approachable, without which, the industry that presently sees 20-25% annual growth (including the fortified section) in Karnataka is unlikely to evolve.

Currently, two to three events per month are hosted at the studio, including the introductory and very reasonably priced Wine Wednesdays that are structured around exploring types and styles of wine, and the fundamentals of tasting. In addition to these overviews, Enoteca offers three levels of WSET certificate programmes conducted by professionals. Sonav Puri of Sula Vineyards, who is guiding a group through a session as we walk in on a Saturday morning observes that, Bengaluru’s initial response is quite similar to Mumbai, Nasik, Pune and Goa, where the interest came from F&B professionals, and a scattering of wine enthusiasts, and then gradually gave way to more and more wine lovers coming in to expand their knowledge, and educate themselves on what they were drinking.

Enoteca has gone one step further in creating its own wine education programme, endorsed by the Karnataka Wine Board, specifically for the Indian market. Gaurav Thapar, a New Zealand trained sommelier who leads the WEAT (Wine Education, Appreciation and Tasting) Programme that is offered twice a month, explains that it is a course aimed at both professionals and amateurs, which explores history, viticulture, regions, tasting, storage and serving, and sensory evaluation all at a very reasonable fee, tailored to attract wine lovers with modest budgets. The whole idea is to demystify the world of wine, and demonstrate that learning about wine, and enjoying a pleasurable drinking experience need not be intimidating or prohibitively expensive. In fact, the demand for wine education from professionals in the F&B industry has K. S. Lokesh considering creating a set of programmes exclusively for them.

With Indian wines still dominating 75% of the share of sales, and price sensitive customers, the Enoteca experience offers choices guided by wine professionals: budgets, numbers, special requirements are all taken into account and events are tailor made, accordingly. Although these are early days, there are useful insights into what wines people are drinking, and how they prefer to use their budgets. By offering overviews of the fundamentals of wine making and wine in a relaxed environment, customized tasting platforms, and opportunities for wine enthusiasts to enhance their tasting abilities and knowledge as part of purchasing a bottle of wine, Enoteca is building a new retail experience and simultaneously mapping the emerging wine market.

This article appeared in Volume10, Issue 4, August-September 2015, Sommelier India Magazine.

Image Credits: Enoteca Madhuloka

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