John Pierpont Morgan, the legendary US banker and co-founder of jPMorgan Chase, who used his luence to stabilise the US financial markets during the crisis of 1907, would have been horrified to hear Ajay Shetty, CEO, Myra Vineyards, saying that he left the cushy job at Merrill Lynch to start his own winery. “I found banking too mundane,” was Shetty’s explanation.
At the same time, Pierpont would have admired Shetty’s chutzpah too. “Well, no jobs are cushy,” Shetty had asserted. “I would say so, because every job needs commitment, dedication and focus and I had given that fully to my banking job as well. And, during my banking days, I had travelled to several countries, which exposed me to different cultures, people and cuisines and, not to miss, wines too. I wanted to do something more gratifying – something in the area of agri-business – and wine was a good option, given my passion, as also the gastronomical metamorphosis our country is going through. My love for food and wine gave me the confidence to enter this industry.”
However, Shetty’s Merrill Lynch background did give him an understanding of India’s consumer base, especially regarding the new set of wine consumers. According to Euromonitor International, the Indian wine industry is looking bright and has been growing at 25
per cent. The present wine consumption in the country is confined to key markets such as Mumbai (37 per cent), New Delhi (25 per cent), Goa and Bangalore (9 per cent each), with the total volume consumed annually touching 21 million litres.
What is adding to the volume growth of wine in India are the companies and wine boards in Karnataka and Maharashtra, which have been taking various measures to promote the wine drinking culture, with tasting sessions, courses, accessories and tours, which eventually helped increase awareness and push wine sales.
So, Shetty took a gamble, investing ?6 crore from his own finances to set up a winery at Sriramapura, Bangalore, where the wines are made, bottled and distributed within Maharashtra. He also set up another winery in Bijapur, Karnataka, where a total of 20-25 people are involved at different stages from making wines to bottling to packaging. Working with four farmers – two from Maharashtra and two from Karnataka – to ensure that the company supplies the best quality wines to the respective states, Myra Wines is currently working on 100 acres of land and has a capacity to produce about 100,000 litres from these two states. “I don’t want to lie by saying I was not
worried or afraid to start my own business,” says Shetty. “But I sensed a great growth in the coming years, considering that new domestic and international brands are now being launched.”
With four brands – Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc (white), Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon (red) – in three categories (high-end super premium, premium and entry level), Shetty is planning to introduce a couple more brands in the next financial year. Myra launched two categories this year – Reserve in the super-premium segment and two-headed bird at the entry level segment.
While Shetty intends to continue to work with the farmers in Maharashtra more for logistics and taxation policy reasons within the state, his long-term aim is to build Karnataka as a wine tourism destination, a la Yarra Valley, Australia, which indulges in life’s great pleasures – food, wine, scenery and inspiring arts – and imparts a lifetime of experience. Shetty would like to bring in a similar concept to his vineyards too.
What has caught his attention is that the country is witnessing a boom in wine tourism, as travelling to a vineyard is the best experience one could have. “Maharastra and Karnataka are the two states that have maximum vineyards, which promote India as a wine tourism destination,” says Shetty. “My intention is to bring a similar concept to my vineyards also, matching the international standards that could give our consumers an unforgettable and lifetime wine tour experience.”
Now this 18-month-old company, which expanded rapidly in Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune and Goa, will extend to New Delhi and Pondicherry too, by end of this financial year. It has plans to export wine to South East Asia in the near future.
“It is indeed challenging to market wine brands, in a non-wine-drink- ing country like India, with complicated tax policies in every state,” says Shetty. “And, for me, things just do not stop here.”
♦ ROBIN ABREU robin.abreu&businessindiagroup.com