PATRICIA ANN ALVARES / Team Café Wine, like its long matured vintage from the Portuguese era when ‘vinho do Porto’ was first introduced to Goa, has been an intrinsic part of Goa’s culinary ethos. Local wine companies carried the tradition forward, while Goans continued to brew their own brand of homemade wines preserved in ‘garrafaos’ for special occasions. However, over the last decade or so, with a deluge of wine companies laying stake to the market in the state and an influx of imported wines, the status of this much cherished drink is being redefined. So while the race is on to make Goa a wine hub, the pertinent question is, has the wine culture caught on in Goa? According to industry insiders, the general consensus is ‘yes’, despite the growth rate remaining at a dismal 10-15 per cent. “The families of old Goan lineage know their wines. A wine culture already existed. The new culture has developed from the tourists and foreigners who visit Goa or settle here. Now the market is very vibrant and moving fast. Also, today people are also more aware and educated about wines,” says Augusta Monte da Silva, Proprietor, Monte da Silva and Co, Margao, explaining the evolution of the wine etiquette in Goa. “Historically, India is no stranger to wines,” affirms Prahlad Sukhtankar, sommelier and owner, Black Sheep Bistro, Panjim. “However, the modern wine culture which began centuries ago and was made popular by the early monks in the West, only recently found its way to India when the economy here started to flourish,” he informs. Endorsing the increasing trend in wine consumption thereby prompting a growing wine culture, Sovna Puri, Head-Tastings and Training and General Manager (Sales and Marketing), Nashik Vintners Pvt Ltd, (Sula Vineyards) affirms that with every passing year, the company, which has a large presence in Goa, witnesses a substantial increase in wine consumption. The heartening news for wine makers, as vintner Anslem Mascarenhas, Santanse Wines, Parra, points out, is that wine connoisseurs and drinkers have increased by 20 per cent. “Wine today is considered a lifestyle drink and even ladies from out of Goa have developed a taste for wine,” says Mascarenhas, who has been brewing homemade wines for the past thirty years. The increase in consumption is apparently attributable to four major factors. On the one hand, an affluent lifestyle and frequent travel abroad by Goans and on the other, an influx of people from big metropolitans and foreigners who have settled in the state and the Goans returning from abroad, who have a higher developed taste and knowledge of wines. “An increasing number of Indians today identify wine as part of a more affluent lifestyle. People, especially the young, travel more often now as compared to ten years ago. All this exposure and affluence has had an impact on our lifestyle. Another reason for wine catching on with Indians and Goans, is that it is more conducive to our weather compared to say, whisky or brandy, which causes the body to warm-up quickly,” explains Sukhtankar. The ripple effect in Goa from the surge of people coming in has inadvertently influenced the Goan wine market, points out a Branch Manager of a well-established brand which set up shop a few years ago in Goa. “People who come into Goa, from say Bangalore or Mumbai, have already acquired a taste and have knowledge of various wines as compared to the local population. So their choice of a Sula or Fratelli brand of wine or an imported Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc or Zinfandel, is a conscious and educated one.” The disheartening part, he points out, is that there is no clear demarcation of the wine segments in Goa. “The preference is for sweeter wines which are in the range of Rs 350 to Rs 500. Not many opt for wines beyond this range as they are not accustomed to or knowledgeable about it,” he opines. Consumption styles indicate that the most popular wines tend to be grape varietals like chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, among others. But to develop a well-rounded palate, Suktankhar recommends that people try new varietals. “A lot of people also tend to go with the wine brand as opposed to the grape varietal. This is not such a good thing because a lesser known company could be producing an exceptional wine from a grape varietal whilst producing a mediocre wine with other grape varietals. In such situations, people should seek the opinion of a Sommelier if there is one available,” he says, while of the belief that the average Indian with a complex palate for food can easily decipher wines if they are trained to do so. To this end, big wine players like Sula Vineyards have been conducting workshops to educate the consumer. “One of the many objectives of the tasting is to educate and inform people about the different nuances of wine and to help them understand their own preferences. Once this is established, each individual is geared to go out and order their own wine confidently. It was very well received and greatly appreciated,” says Sovna Puri. The wine culture is indeed here to stay.