"Once the idea of stepping across the road and picking up a bottle of wine, like you would a pack of ice-cream, gets accepted by the people, the numbers will start climbing."

Vinod Mathew

Mumbai, Nov. 20

MAHARASHTRA could soon have an answer to the pubs of the UK or even those of Bangalore.

Come 2006, one could well see at least some tipplers shift their allegiance from hard liquor and even beer to wine in Mumbai and other parts of the State. With the State vying to woo IT companies such as Infosys from Bangalore to Pune, it may also be betting that the geeks take to drinking wine made of grapes grown in Maharashtra.

The State Government, that mooted its wine bar policy in January 2002 to supplement its positioning of grape-growing centres such as Nashik as the Napa valley of India, has been waiting for the last four years to witness a wine bar revolution sweep the State.

Single-window: The long wait may be over as Champagne Indage Ltd, currently the largest indigenous wine maker in the country, is in the process of bunching together applications being made out by at least 50 potential wine bar licensees in the State. The State Government has offered a single-window clearance to such applications in less than a month.

Talking to Business Line, Mr Ranjit Chougule, Managing Director, Champagne Indage, said, "The first lot of 50 applications, sourced through us, will come up before the respective district collectors by November-end. We are providing the entrepreneurs with `Norcool' chillers that cost about Rs 1 lakh free-of-cost for storing our wine. Once the idea of stepping across the road and picking up a bottle of wine, like you would a pack of ice-cream, gets accepted by the people, the numbers will start climbing."

Bar licence fee: As per the Maharashtra policy guideline on `vendor licence for sale of wine', wine bar licences will be available at rates between Rs 5,000 and Rs 37,500 a year depending on the location. Thus, a wine bar licence in Mumbai city will cost the maximum while it will go down as one moves to smaller towns in the State.

According to Mr P.V. Mishra, Joint Commissioner, Excise Department, Maharashtra, district collectors could now clear these licences in less than a month's time. There were only four wine bars in Mumbai till date, though anyone with a liquor bar licence could also sell wine, he said.

Wine bars, till now a vague concept rather than a concrete reality for people here, may become as common as the neighbourhood retail outlet for ice-cream, if some of the domestic wine makers have their way.

With the likes of Foster's and Seagram (Groupe Pernod Ricard) and even the UB Group making clear their intentions of taking a sip from India's maturing wine market, entrenched players in the sector may need to look real nippy if they are to stay ahead.

Imports may be cut: With the number of wine manufacturers in the State touching 30 and likely to go up on the back of a policy that allows a 10-year excise duty holiday for those manufacturing wine in the State using homegrown grapes, it is now time to clamp down on wine import, feels the State Government.

"We have made it mandatory for the bottlers to write `from grape grown in Maharashtra' to avail themselves of the excise duty break. Also, the State will soon raise special import fee charged on imported wine from Rs 100 to Rs 200 a litre in a bid to promote local wine," Mr Mishra said.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated November 21, 2005)
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