Starting from the era of Adam & Eve right up till Armageddon cometh, we mortals pay for all we consume. I remember a time from a previous life when people were happy drinking whatever was classified as intoxicant; and if it could power some medieval form of transport, all the better!
Lately the scene has changed. More people are asking what exactly is in there glass; will it kill them or send them flying, and all this at what cost? It started with the more common whiskey and beer and gradually drained into wine. So much that even fellow Indians everywhere are up in arms and happy hours, inquiring apropos their evening elbow-exercise.
Popularity of all drinks waxes and wanes; more beer sells in summers while it’s mostly whiskey and cognac in winters. Amongst all, one drink which is topping the tipple charts and continuing to gain popularity irrespective of season, price, colour… is wine.
Not too long back I recall walking into a restaurant and being knocked flat dead by the toxic fumes of whiskey and harder spirits suspended in the atmosphere. It was as if liquor was on the house. Everyone had a glass in front of them, an ice bucket and soda carafe besides. Not that I miss this scenario but I must say that I haven’t seen the same since and now walking into a restaurant is more about bell-pepper notes from the Cabernet on the table to your left clashing with the complex fleshy Syrah wafting in from the far end. So I’m stretching it a bit, but dramatics work for me!
But seriously there is more than a marginal rise in wine consumption and I myself have spent many an evening under cover, ordering bottle after bottle, observing consumer behaviour in fancy dining outlets. It was tough to keep a tab on how much wine actually got consumed but it was enough to give rise to the question: why are Indians taking to wine so much, so well, and so fast?
So I went forth and I questioned many people about this phenomenon with a sincerity that is normally reserved for programmes on the National Geographic. This is what I have to share.
Two criteria were cited most commonly – health, and social status. A lot of people feel, and, to some extent, so do I, that the new-age Indian city slicker is very health-conscious. That is already apparent from the number of fitness centres and how people are enrolling there (although few actually turn up regularly!) Desk jobs piling up and rich cuisines at home or when entertaining have decree a constant rise in the sector labelled ‘diseases of affluence’. Increasing masses are showing up at hospitals to get their ol’ ticker back in shape; or atleast get the batteries replaced!
The French paradox which statistically proved that thanks to wine, the French (Southern mainly) were able to consume the richest, greasiest of repas and most potent of drinks and still outlive most species easily. That was enough to get most of US hooked on the stuff. Not too long after, we Indians too, after routinely watching the entire cast of ‘Friends’ banter over a glass of wine, consequently followed suite.
Another reason for increased wine-sipping is not what wine does to our physical but to our social strength. If Mr. Chaddha served wine at his son’s wedding, it is only natural that Mr. Singh out-do him by serving some right from the engagement. From corporate gifting to casual house-warming, wine seems to be just that perfect gift – not too expensive, and perceivably way classy. Even Diwali gifts which regularly threw up all sorts of nuts in boxes of myriad hues changed when I received wine bottles last year! (Was it just me?) Although drinking wine to reinstate your social status is as silly as fighting for peace, it still fuels wine circulation and that is always good.
Another reason, which few cited, is that there is money to be spent. A lot of kids are coming back with Ivy-league degrees and USD bank balances. This sharp increase in the young, medium-management work-force has meant good money at an early age, with plenty of foreign travel thrown in. They have experienced enough fine wine and cheese soirées and can’t kick the habit. The result, more wine moving everywhere. And it is this very group that will shape the drinking pattern for India: the young and willing-to-spend. All the wine dinners and events in the city where glitterati are invited to come and pig out and gulp down for free are useless; too used to being pampered in this manner, these people rarely buy outside this free regime. Don’t believe me; next wine event ask these people to shell out and they will be as fidgety as if it were charity!
Local initiatives such as on behalf of the government of Maharashtra are all very good for the winemakers but little has been put in place to protect the consumer. We don’t have a system for determining the exact geographical origin of a wine not its making process and several other factors which are strictly controlled in other wine-producing countries go relatively unchecked in India. Individual winemakers may conduct their tests to determine sugar and acid levels, but we still have no idea how much chemicals being sprayed on the grapes (I know it’s a lot) are making their way into our wine. Insecticide in cola and we retaliate but what about wine?
All in all, people are drinking wine. If you ask me, they aren’t completely enlightened about what they are drinking (origin, characteristics, producer, vintage, and faults, if any) but that’s OK. With time they will establish what they like and stick with it. Wine consumption is growing fast but sporadically. There is all reason to be optimistic but I would do anything to see formal systems in place to control this growth rather than hear a swooshing sound each time it passes by!