By Sourish Bhattacharyya
|Rajeev Samant, Founder-CEO,|
Sula Vineyards, is in the enviable
position of steering a brand that
is in demand internationally
CHINESE products may be flooding the Indian market, but there's one Indian brand that has just planted the Tricolour on Chinese soil. Earlier in the week, the first shipment of Sula wines reached Guangzhou (the city formerly known as Shanghai), marking the entry of the country's top-selling wine brand into the world's largest red wine-consuming market.
Sula's distributor in China is Justwine, which is also the country's biggest buyer of Chateau Lafite, the Bordeaux First Growth wine owned by members of the Rothschild family since the 19th century. Interestingly, Justwine's COO is an Indian, Vikas Gupta, who referred to Sula in glowing terms in a press statement issued in May.
"Chinese customers and local wine critics loved the Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz immensely," Gupta had said, "and they could not believe that Sula is just a 13-year-old winery with such brilliant quality. We are proud to introduce Sula Vineyards to this market and are certain that a unique brand will be appreciated." Justwine's portfolio has more than 1,000 top international labels.
Outlining Sula's international forays, Cecilia Oldine, Global Brand Ambassador and Head of International Sales, Sula Vineyards, said in an interview with me in New Delhi that there's been a sudden burst of interest in the brand in the international market. "We used to sell 3,000 cases a year to Germany," Oldine said, "but now we export 1,000 cases a month. We get an inquiry or an order almost daily."
Oldine shared that the world's largest luxury travel retail operator, DFS, has added Sula to its wine and spirits lineup at its store located in the departure lounge of the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai. "We share counter space with Dom," Oldine proudly said, adding, without elaborating, that Sula wines were very close to being served on the flights of a leading international airline. That would clearly be a first for an Indian wine.
Sula is expected to complete this financial year with a production figure of 650,000 nine-litre cases (or 7.8 million bottles) of wine daily, a rising percentage of which is being exported to more than 20 countries. Since 2013, Sula has sold 400 cases each of its Nasika Sauvignon Blanc, which is fast turning out to be its most popular wine internationally, and Zinfandel in the UK market through Direct Wines, the world's largest direct-to-customers wine sales website. Amazon UK is another international sales platform for Sula's expanding portfolio.
Sri Lanka is another market Sula is betting on. Oldine attributes Sula's rising sales to the growing interest of international tourists visiting the island nation. "World travellers invariably wish to have a local wine when they are on a vacation," she said. "And India is the wine-producing country that is closest to Sri Lanka." If geographical proximity helps Sula in Sri Lanka, in the Middle East, it's the support the brand gets from Indian F&B decision-makers, who, unlike their counterparts back home, are big backers of wines from their mother country.
Oldine said consistent quality has been responsible for driving Sula's sales up north, which explains why the company, in recent years, has been ramping up its capacity by one million litres a year. Wine tastings (1,600 of them in 2013-14) and winery tours (Sula has hosted 170,000 visitors in this financial year) have also ensured Sula's pole position, besides making wine tourism one of the company's key business verticals. "Each person who visits our winery or attends a tasting becomes our informal brand ambassador," says Oldine. Unsurprisingly, Sula's problem is that of plenty, which is an enviable position to be in.