Villa Maria Estate from New Zealand is now ranked among the top Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noirstyled wines across the globe. Known for its varietal characters that come with a heady mix, Villa Maria Estate is today the most admired brand in New Zealand. The winery, founded in 1960s, has won an award for the fourth year in a row and has consistently built a brand presence in about 50 countries. Gagan Sharma chats up with the company’s Export Manager Michele Lam and understands its brand journey, particularly with regard to India.
What are your first impressions of the Indian market?
It’s a very exciting time to be in the growing Indian market. Despite the restrictions and regulations, there is ample scope for growth and experimentation here. And it can be enhanced further through innovations and right investments in education.
What attracts Villa Maria to India?
India is opening up to new wines and the consumers are toying with global brands. We see promise and scope for New Zealand wines as well. Our wines are distinct and go well with food. So given the Indian passion for food, it could be a good marriage.
New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Noirs have become a brand in themselves. Is that a good thing for your business, or does it pose a challenge?
It definitely works well for the business. It puts us on the world map as serious winemakers and creates an identity for our winemaking philosophy. It also opens doors to new markets through which we can showcase our other varietals, styles, and brands.
What other varietals from New Zealand do you see holding great promise?
There’s a ton of potential in Hawkes Bay’s French-styled Bordeaux Blends (Cabernet Sauvignon + Merlot). Their 2013 & 2014 vintages have been exceptional. New Zealand also produces outstanding Syrah, Malbec, Gewürztraminer, and Rieslings.Apart from these, we also have a self-owned nursery homing various varietals that we are experimenting with. These include Arneis, Verdelho, Albarino, Grenache, Viognier, Semillon, Pinot Gris, and more.
India is a price-sensitive market and New Zealand has amongst the highest per-litre wine prices in the world. So how does that play out for you?
It definitely is a challenge. It also means that we have a responsibility to educate the consumers on the value that they get. So we create awareness regarding the brand heritage and the fact that our wines
are still hand-made, which is a rarity. Villa Maria is also New Zealand’s top ranked brand in terms of both value and volume in the biggest wine market – the UK. What we have realized is that even in a price sensitive market like Asia,consumers are willing to pay a marginal premium for what they perceive as the brand value.
What kind of support are you seeking from the Indian market and the New Zealand High Commission as far as promoting your produce is concerned?
We would like it to be a two-way promotional journey. Much like our relationships in cricket and tourism, we must develop a trade relation for our wines too. Through education, trade events, tasting sessions and the imperative support of the New Zealand High Commission and the New Zealand Winegrowers Association, we would like to create ambassadors for our wines and produce.
How do you see the future of wines in India?
It’s good to see the local industry grow. Once consumers move closer to wines, they will be open to trying international brands and styles. New Zealand wines, being fresh and easy, are amicable and approachable. Eventually we expect India and New Zealand to become partners in promoting the cause of quality wine consumption.
This is your first visit to India. How has your overall experience been? Any myths busted?
It’s amazing to see a census for trees in the capital and the regard with which commuters treat the many animals on the roads. Delhi is actually unlike what I expected it to be. There are beautiful buildings, malls, streets, and infrastructure and there are so many social groups coexisting amicably.
It is a great mix.