Oct 26: Indian wine industry may be in financial quagmire due to Covid but the Bordi–based Maharashtra fruit wine producer Hill Zill Winery is expecting an astronomical increase in sales this year with a revamp of their production and sales and marketing plans by the new investor and Director, Deepak Bhatnagar (DB) who plans a national footprint with starfruit, pineapple, mango, strawberry, chikoo and orange fruit wines and honey mead, writes Subhash Arora who visited the resort winery last year and feels there is a great potential for their low alcohol fruit wines and wine tourism.
During my growing up years we used to love eating chaat made from star-fruit- a sweet and sour tropical fruit with a star shape of the cross-section when cut. The very thought with sprinkled chat-masala makes me salivate even today. But one could not have imagined that one day there would be wine made from this fruit. Hill Zill Winery in Bordi has harnessed this fruit growing organically in the wild in Maharashtra and has recently added starfruit wine to their existing list of pineapple, mango, strawberry, chikoo and orange fruit wines (to be released next year) and a variety of honey meads.
When I visited the Hill Zill Winery Resort last November, the winery established in 2016 by the husband-wife team of Priyanka Save and Nagesh Pai, had been already making wine from another of my favourite fruits-Chikoo (Sapota). They are pioneers and perhaps the first in the world to do so-after a lot of experimentation and taking help from the well-known Canadian fruit winemaker consultant Dominic Rivard.
Hill Zill Winery claims to be the only winery in the business, producing 100% fruit-based, vegan, and gluten-free Fruzzante wines catering to diverse tastes-all with low alcohol of 6%. They make an excellent mead (honey wine) labelled as ARKA that has 10% alcohol and are ready to launch the Rose variant. The plans are on to introduce Jamun dessert wine- blending the antioxidant local fruit with honey made from bee-hives, by the local tribals. This will be another first to their list of achievements. In fact, the winery needs to be commended for giving job opportunities to several local tribals, a truly ‘Make in India’ concept.
Induction of DB from Sula
Earlier this year, Hill Zill managed to rope in Deepak Bhatnagar, fondly known as DB in Sula where he is currently working as Director Sales & Marketing. DB has known for many years Priyanka’s father, Shrikant Save who built a resort in 1991, where the winery is also located. Shrikant persuaded DB to come on board as an investor and a Director after his retirement at Sula, to help take the business to another level.
Besides investment DB brings in decades of management experience-especially Sales and Management at Sula which he helped make a leading wine brand in India after joining in 2002. Though he is still an Advisor, he has immersed himself in revamping the marketing and sales and also has expansion plans for production to support the sales with new labels being introduced.
DB has already expanded the distribution network in Maharashtra to 22 distributors. The sales are planned also in Goa, Pondicherry, Punjab, Telangana and Karnataka, with 20 cities selling their wines. The winery claims to already have 50% share of the fruit wine business in Maharashtra. In fact, the sales this year in Thane, Pune, Aurangabad, Nashik, Nagpur and Kolhapur besides Mumbai have already crossed last year’s sales despite Covid and a fresh target of 10,000 cases (indicating a growth of 800%!) is now planned for this fiscal year.
Barely 150 kms from Mumbai, the beautiful winery Resort in a rural setting has several features including a swimming pool and a park with games and sports for kids and a beach nearby. A big conference room with facilities including a restaurant offering excellent regional cuisine, a full-fledged resort at reasonable prices, and several interesting areas to visit around the winery, make it ideal for promoting wine tourism and sales at the cellar door.
Wines are made purely from fruits procured from farmers in the Konkan belt of Maharashtra, and with a low alcohol level of 6%. The winery claims to be the only brand producing gluten-free and vegan alcoholic beverages without adding any flavours or colours, and has adopted the Farm to Bottle concept. Every label has bubbles induced through carbonation, making it a sparkling alcohol beverage with low alcohol content. This includes chikoo which is a native fruit of Dahanu where the winery is located and which also has a registered Geographical Indication (GI). All wines are matured for the right amount of time to ensure the finest aromas, quality, and flavours.
The 330 mL bottles are priced reasonably between Rs. 170-200 a bottle. The ARKA range of mead at Rs. 1050 might appear expensive for 375 mL but is worth every drop. The price is due to the high cost of procuring pure honey and the yield is very low; the winemaking process is also intricate. It compares with the best of dessert wines overseas selling for 2-6 times the price.
It perplexes me why Hill Zill Winery would categorize Fruzzante fruit wines as Sparkling Alcoholic Beverage. But Priyanka Save has an explanation: ‘the basic understanding of wine is that it’s made from grapes with a minimum 11% alcohol and cider is made from apples with 6 to 8% alcohol. So we have left it open-ended for the consumer as some choose to call it cider while others prefer them as fruit wines. This seems to have worked well for us as we have been able to target a larger audience’.
With hard Seltzers (spiked flavoured sparkling waters) being the current fad in the west-especially US where the Millennials and Z Generation are totally sold on these 5% alcohol based beverages, their presence is bound to be felt soon in the Indian market too. Fruit wines made with the purity and flavour of 100% fruits and 6% alcohol from FRUZZANTE offering an increasingly diverse range, will surely hit the sensitivity and sensibility of this growing percentage of new, young willing-to experiment consumers of alcoholic beverages-and with several health benefits and competitive prices.
Also Read: Shimla to Shillong Seeking Fruit Wines
You will increasingly hear about Fruzzante and their increasing range of fruit wines and mead they have categorized as Sparkling Alcoholic Beverage.