Ashwin Deo is no stranger to the wine world. He joined the UB Group in 1994 and moved to Moet Hennessy in 2000 before taking up a stint with Tiger Beer in 2008. Deo has finally been bitten by the entrepreneurship bug and has launched his own label of wines called, quite aptly for a man of his experience, Turning Point Wines registered under his company Trinity Vintners Pvt Ltd.
I meet Deo at an upscale rooftop restaurant in Mumbai. After exchanging greetings, Deo orders a Shiraz from the bar while telling me about his journey in the liquor industry. He says that beer has become a rage among youngsters today and he wants to change that thought. “People think wine is upscale and classy but I want to make wines nice, approachable and easygoing for youngsters,” he announces as the Shiraz arrives. The bottle cover almost winks in unison with Deo’s statement with its funky design and three words written on it – Spice, Smooth and Sublime.
“I have written three words that describe my wine for each of my product offerings. I don’t want complicated literature. Rather, if a consumer likes what he or she reads about the bottle, they should be able to pick it up,” he says before telling me that selling wines is not easy in India. We do not have a culture of highlighting our produce and pairing wine with it like wine-drinking countries do. In fact, wine pairing with food is an alien concept outside the big metros.
Deo is not losing hope though. He says that his wines are trying to bridge a gap that nobody is looking at. Indeed, with Turning Point’s new-age designed bottles and full-bodied flavours in them, Deo’s proposition might just work. However, turning consumers’ tastes is an entirely different ball game. “Which is why we are focussing on wine and mood rather than wine and food,” he says.
Up his sleeve is another alcohol beverage that he can lay claim to entirely – bottled sangria bottles! If you haven’t heard of sangria yet, we suggest you go out and have one right away. Don’t worry, we’ll wait. This Spanish drink is making a splash all over the world but its take-off in India has been relatively slow because it is more of a drink to make rather than open and consume.
With bottled sangria Deo is hoping to catch the young and aware population of the country. There are two bottles available currently – the red wine version with orange and cranberry flavours is called Metropolitan while Nashik Mule is the white wine version with orange and ginger ale flavours.
Deo says that women prefer the Metropolitan over Nashik Mule and that they probably understand wine a little more too as men generally go for beer and vodka in India. “That isn’t saying that guys don’t drink wine though!” he clarifies. A Rose wine appears to keep the conversation going.
The sangria bottles cost about Rs 135 minus taxes and are competitively priced with premium beer brands. They were launched last year and are available only in Maharashtra currently but Deo says he will expand distribution to other states soon.
This brings us to the unsavoury topic of government regulations. Deo agrees that getting permissions and licenses can be a pain but says it’s all a part of the learning curve. “Getting permission for the 330 ml sangria bottle took a year because it’s an unusual size,” he begins before listing more woes like market access and label registration that state governments try to poke into. He also has to look at the competition to keep a leg up in the market. “I am betting on my hunches here because nobody really knows when the market will mature,” he says.
We finally come full circle and talk about entrepreneurship in India. Deo says that he had to unlearn everything he knew from his corporate days when he began Turning Point Wines but insists that if you have an idea, you must try it out. “70 percent of the times you will make mistakes – in life as well as in business. But there is so much scope to learn too. Everybody is your boss when you’re an entrepreneur. My only advice for budding entrepreneurs is for them to know that they won’t be their own bosses. It just doesn’t happen,” he signs off.