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Raise a glass to art

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Paresh Maity's faces, Rekha Rodwittiya's female figure, French glass, Australian stickers - Indian vintners are going all out to make the packaging of wine bottles attractive to customers.

Every year the Nittardi vineyard in Florence asks a well-known artist to paint the label and wrapping paper for the limited edition of the Casanuova di Nittardi wine. So far the collection, started in 1981, has featured artists such as Corneille, Guenter Grass, Hundertwasser, Yoko Ono and Dario Fo. But, then this was a winery which once belonged to Michelangelo.

The Indian wine industry too is now looking to woo customers with exclusive and elegant packaging. Though these are still early days for Indian wine, the stakes are pretty high. The London-based market researcher, IWSR, has predicted that wine consumption in India will touch 2. 4 million (nine-litre ) cases by 2020. Wine now accounts for 30 per cent of all sales in the organised liquor retail segment in India, up from 22-25 per cent just a year ago.

"In a country where most home-grown wines are competitively priced, packaging at times is what distinguishes one wine from another, especially when a lot of customers are novices, " says Magandeep Singh, a sommelier. A study published in the US-based Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice says that consumers who value design base their price expectations on how a wine bottle is packaged.

That's why a Chateau Mouton Rothschild wine with labels designed by artists like Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso can be priced as high as $200, 000.

Bangalore-based Grover Vineyards was the first to dress up its wine bottles. Says Karan Grover, managing director of the firm: "I saw wine labels painted by by famous artists at the Christie's auction in London. It was then that the idea struck me that we should also do something of the sort. Wine is not a product, it's a lifestyle, and we are trying to bring these two together. "

The artists who've painted the Gorver label include several big names. Paresh Maity's faces, with their myriad expressions, adorn the body of a Viognier bottle. Rekha Rodwittiya has interpreted the female figure on Shiraz Rose label and Rini Dhumal has painted a contemporary piece for a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.

Zampa did the same with their wines in end-2011. It has a spiral label which wraps itself around the bottle much like a sari. Sumit Jaiswal, senior manager, marketing, at Grover Zampa Vineyards (the two labels merged in 2012) explains how the company took two months to manufacture a special label machine for this particular wine. "Unlike other labels, this one is made by combining two units. The top medallion is made on an expensive metallic paper and is embossed to give a raised effect, " says Jaiswal.

Another winemaker who wants to highlight the "Indianess" of his wine is Krsma's Krishna Prasad. "Krsma" is an anagram of the first names of Prasad and his wife and co-owner, Uma Chigurupati, and "could also be a teaser for Krishna of Mahabharata".

Prasad, the promoter and MD of the Rs 600-crore Hyderabad-based Granules India Ltd, says that he exports most of his wine as a product "from the historic city of Hampi. " He pays special attention to his bottles. When he first started out, Prasad used to import his bottles from China. Unhappy with their quality, he started sourcing them from Saver Glass in France. The labels for his bottles are made by Supa Stik Labels, Australia. All in all, the packaging for Krsma costs him around Rs 150 per bottle, Prasad says.

Zampa's One Tree Hill collection is another label which is bound to catch the eye in any liquor store. The somewhat lower-end wine is named after the lone mango tree on top of a hill visible from the winery. Targeted at "adventurous people", each bottle has a unique number and a tag line. "The label is made up of many layers. The first five labels are printed on a clear film, and then we use colour printing to make the film opaque, " Jaiswal explains. The label on Sula Madera, another reasonably priced wine, is inspired by Warli, a tribal art form from Maharashtra.

Fratelli, a relatively new player in the Indian wine scene, has tapped into the high-end market. One can buy a bottle of its Sette with a personalised packaging option that has your name, or anything that you wish to have scrawled, on it. The only hitch is that you have to order at least 100 bottles for this privilege. But then, again, there's nothing more flattering to the ego than going up the luxury ladder with your own personal wine bottle.

Maybe 10 years ago, the idea of drinking Indian wine would draw sniggers and the odd 'vinegar in a bottle' dig, but today, the industry has grown manifold. As Magandeep puts it, "Even if attractive packaging can draw a small percentage of customers, it becomes worth it for winemakers to make the effort."

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