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Sham Chougule: The wine maker

Alok Chandra | April 09, 2005

In all the stuff written on wine these past few months, I've not done justice to the company and the man who really first started making wine (as understood internationally) in India: Indage and Sham Chougule, whom I first met in 1995 when scouting for a tie-up to produce Cinzano vermouths for International Distillers & Vintners in India.

Sham Chougule got into engineering and construction in 1967, and built this up into a successful business.

His work took him overseas quite frequently, and during one of these visits in 1980 he conceived of a project to make sparkling wine using the méthode champenoise -- legend has it over a dinner with some French engineers when the latter derided the concept of "wine in India".

Those were the days of the licence-permit Raj, and the only way to get a licence (required to import the necessary technology and machinery) was to start a 100 per cent "export-oriented unit" -- so Champagne India Ltd was set up in 1982 in technical collaboration with Piper Heidsieck (the French champagne house).

This resulted in the setting-up of vineyards and a winery at Narayangaon (on the Pune-Nashik road) and the launch of Omar Khayyam sparkling wine for export in 1986.

Interestingly, since the rules for EOUs did not permit the company to sell any part of the wines produced in India (like for non-alcoholic products), Chougule started another company (Indage India Pvt Ltd) in 1985 and launched the first "Indian champagne" Marquise de Pompadour in India in 1988.

Riviera red and white wines followed in 1989, Chantilli varietals in 1995, the first "Bottled in India" imported wine (Wente, from California) in 1998, and the Grand Cuvee de Millennium Brut Rose (which retailed for an astronomical Rs 1,500 per 1.5 litre bottle) in time for the millennium in end-1999.

A new range of top-end blended and varietal wines under the IVY banner priced at over Rs 400 were introduced in 2002.

Today, Champagne Indage Ltd (as the company is called after restructuring) is the market leader in wines in India with a total production of about 100,000 cases and a turnover of about Rs 300 million.

Its wines portfolio includes Figuera (Rs 140; port style) and Vin Ballet (about Rs 200), both made from table grapes, and a range of BII wines all priced between Rs 440-500: Morande from Chile, Cranswick from Australia, Taillan from Bordeaux, Rhine Pride Riesling from Germany and Nelson Zulu from South Africa.

Sham's son Ranjit pioneered the Wine Festival concept in India -- every year, in January/February, when the grapes are a-ripening on the vine, a select list of people are taken down from Mumbai to the winery at Narayangaon and treated to an old-fashioned wine-stomping (the photo-ops include long-legged beauties), gourmet food, and all the (Indage) wines they care to drink. Of late, the Wine Festival has also been done in Mumbai, and been extended to Bangalore.

A related activity is wine lounges: the trend-setting wine bar Athena in Colaba, Mumbai, was hugely successful when it started in 2001 -- it's managed by the other son Vikrant, and is currently undergoing renovation; another wine bar-come-lounge (with the same name) opening shortly at the Leela Palace hotel in Bangalore.

Of the wines from the IVY range, I particularly like the Ivy Shiraz 2003 (deep red, minty nose, fruity and peppery) and the Ivy Semillion Chardonnay 2003 (crisp, aromatic and fruity), both as yet only available in Mumbai and priced at Rs 500-550. Enjoy!

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