By Sourish Bhattacharyya
JUST A couple of days back, Sameer Sain, Managing Partner of the Indian and South-East Asian private equity fund, Everstone Capital, was quoted by The Times of India waxing ecstatic about Sula Vineyards Founder-CEO, Rajeev Samant, after exiting Nashik Vintners, the wine brand's parent company, with Rs 114 crore on an investment of Rs 37 crore made in August 2007.
"Nashik Vintners and brand Sula under Rajeev Samant's leadership has seen unprecedented success over the last several years," Sain said. Sula's revenue vaulted by more than 500 per cent over the last few years, even as the company maintained healthy operating profits. Sain also reminded the newspapers readers that Sula's distribution footprint now covers over 400 cities spanning across 23 states in the country.
Add Britain's top retailer, Marks & Spencer, to this formidable footprint and Samant has a good reason to pop open a bubbly. M&S has decided to sell Sula's three Jewel of Nasik wines -- Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel Rose and Tempranillo Shiraz -- priced at £6.99 a bottle and sporting a colourful label at 250 stores across the UK. It's a significant milestone for the company, which straddles 70 per cent of the country's wine market and exports its products to 25 countries, and for the country, because it gives Indian wine an enviable international platform that can only lift its reputation across the world. The UK, incidentally, is Sula's biggest market outside India.
Interestingly, the Marks & Spencer announcement came days after Samant presented a candid assessment of the country's wine market, balancing the opportunities with the Himalayan challenges, at the Eighth International Symposium organised by the Institute of Masters of Wine in Florence on May 15-18.
And of course, it's raining good news for Samant, with the Nashik Vintners now being valued at Rs 700 crore, after the Belgian family office Verlinvest, Anil Ambani's Reliance Capital and VisVires India Wineries have jointly acquired Rs 275 crore stake in the company. According to The Times of India, Reliance Capital and VisVires India Wineries -- the latter owned by Singapore- based Ravi Vishwanatan -- will now hold a 29 per cent stake in the company. Verlinvest, a Belgian family office belonging to the founders of beer giant Anheuser Busch InBev, will increase its stake to 23 per cent.
Commenting on the Marks & Spencer decision, Samant could not hide his excitement. “It is a proud day for us and for Indian wines and reflects the broader surge in the acceptance of our wines in this most competitive market," he said in a media statement. "Nasik, the region that we founded, is on its way to becoming a world-renowned wine region," he added.
Emma Dawson, Marks & Spencer’s Wine Buyer, joined the celebrations by stating: "We are very excited about offering customers our very first Indian wines. We’ve created these wines to be suitable to drink as an aperitif or in styles that match well with Indian food." Well, it's time for all Indian wine lovers to raise a toast to the country's wine leader.