From the grape’w’ine

From the grape’w’ine

Consumer Retail

Ajay Shetty, left his investment banking job abroad to launch Myra Vineyards, with the single-minded vision of growing the overall market for wine consumption in the country

Yes, India has changed a lot in the last 10 years. The well travelled global Indian and their expectations have led to many businesses sprouting in the country. For investment banker turned entrepreneur, Ajay Shetty, the timing couldn’t be perfect to start a business in a sector he is extremely passionate about – food and beverages. During his professional stint, he was associated with an agri-fund and wanted to start a business that would tie his interest to the F&B world. “I was keen on creating an agri-fund that could give returns on an agri-based product and one of the most natural opportunities to explore was the wine industry,” recalls Shetty. And when the 2008 crisis created madness in the financial world, it made it very easy for him to decide on wanting to do something more tangible in a sector that he was passionate about. But his aha! moment came in 2011, when he decided to move back home and start meeting the right people instead of looking at things from outside. “And in next 3 months I found my wine maker which made me 100 per cent sure that I wanted to be here,” recollects he.

He started Myra Vineyards in March 2013 and works with contract farmers in Maharashtra and Karnataka to produce wine. “Our goal was not to produce in mass but to build according to need,” states Shetty.  But, his vision was not to just enter the business of wines but to be associated with every product that has a good crop value and by-product to it. The company is looking at a lot of cash crop areas going forward, coffee being one of it.

The starting point is, however, wine.

In the next five years, Shetty wants to expand into other areas by which time he wants to make Myra wines a national brand. Over the next five years, my goal is to get the different elements of the wine business working – the vineyards, winery complete with wine tasting and a resort,” he says.

Shetty has so far bootstrapped the company and it is likely to look for funds to help with its expansion.

Educating the kind!

During its market research process, Myra realized that there was no US $5 wine in the market and decided to introduce it to fill that gap. “One also needs to price it right so that a consumer in the age group of 18 to 30 should not feel bad to buy a bottle of wine,” says Shetty. As a result, Myra introduced its brand called Two-Headed Bird at a entry level price point of Rs. 330 for a 750 ml bottle. Both Shiraz (red) and Sauvignon Blanc (white) varieties are available.

The founder also felt that the Indian consumers were not getting the right type of wine. “There were wines available but they were always blend and not a single variety,” shares he. He explains. A vodka drinker can differentiate between a Smirnoff and Grey Goose. But that’s not the case in wine as you are used to getting poor quality Rs. 300 wine. And when you shift to Rs. 500 variety wine you will not know the difference as one is used to blend wines. “Our goal was to create a Sauvignon market for Rs. 300 and create a Sauvignon at Rs. 600 so that people know the difference,” says he. Apart from its US $5 wine (Rs. 330), Myra has created regular wines at Rs. 660 rupees and at Rs. 800 (US $ 10 and US $15).

Moreover, the fact remains that there is very limited knowledge about wine in the country. For example, the most important aspect to wine drinking is temperature. “Lot of people drink white and red wine off the shelf. Unfortunately, wine goes through a lot of shock. If you take out the wine from a winery, it goes through ideal temperature to temperature of 40 degree or 45 degree. Then kept in a shop at 30 degree to 45 degree and then goes to your home and not kept in the right place. Consumer does not understand that he/she has to chill it and get the right temperature here,” opines Shetty.

“If you look at it, there are not more than 2 million people who drink wine based on the consumption pattern out of which less than 200,000 people will actually know about wine,” explains Shetty. And the fact is, everyone who is making wine in this country is catering to the same small pie. “If you keep catering to this pie, how do you expect to grow the market,” question he. As consumers are traveling wide and are exposed to wide variety of wine and food, not giving them choice of Wine at a good price is like restricting your market. So, he aims to create simple uncomplicated good quality wine with the right price points and which is value for money.

Understanding its operations

With a team size of around 30 people, Myra is in its third year of operation. It has done about 5000 cases in its first year of operation and in its second year, after it introduced Two Headed Bird brand variant, it did roughly between 12,000 to 14,000 cases. This year, the company is looking at consolidation and building on it and increase its production by another 50 per cent. The Myra team includes Chief Advisor and Wine Consultant, Nikhil Agarwal- a veteran sommelier with over a decade’s worth of international experience in the industry, and Winemaker, Rajesh Rasal, who has ten years of experience in winemaking as an art form. The company’s portfolio currently includes Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and the Shiraz.

As far as the marketing goes, wine is still classified under liquor and there are restrictions on how the company markets its product. Despite the restrictions the company has won awards in several competitions it has participated in. For instance, Myra’s Sauvignon Blanc won a bronze at the Indian Consumers Choice Awards, which was held in January 2014. In the past, Myra’s Shiraz won the gold medal at the Indian Wine Consumer’s Choice Awards (IWCCA) 2012 for being the favourite premium wine in the non-reserve Shiraz category. As a part of its promotional strategy, the company uses social media like Facebook and twitter and is now trying to expand to other areas like Instagram and even Youtube videos.

The market ahead

With an aim of being a boutique winery, Myra is planning to add more markets like New Delhi and Pondicherry this year and aims to be across the country. Through its four offerings, both in red and white category, it already has a presence in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Goa. “We have strong tie ups with five star hotels and would also like to enter the Chennai market soon,” says Shetty. The company currently has about three wineries that it works with and uses their facilities to procure grapes. “We find farmers predominantly close to wineries we work with and get the grapes from there,” says Shetty.

However, its biggest advantage is that it has its own land (around 100 acres) off Bengaluru which it is aggregating now which is where it plans to implement its expansion into the hospitality sector.  “This 100 acres will not be sufficient for all our entire supply which is why the partnership with other vineyards will continue,” says he. Talking about why they plan to have their own winery, Shetty says, “It is not only to improve level of quality but also to offer more products. When you work within this area, you can experiment a lot more. Even farmers will grow grape which will be sold more and will not grow something which is offbeat,” opines he.

In fact, very soon this food and beverage enthusiast plans to launch a new premium white wine. At Myra, Shetty is all set to make his brand more accessible and fun at the same time, offer quality and in the process, grow the overall market for wine.


Snapshot 

Myra Vineyards 

Year of Incorporation: 2013

City: Bengaluru

Number of employees : 30

Company Profile: Myra Vineyards was founded by ex-banker, food and beverage enthusiast, Ajay Shetty. Myra has created wines that are at once sophisticated and accessible wines that appeal to the connoisseur.  The company has a presence in Maharashtra, Karnataka and goa and plans to extend its market to Pondicherry and New Delhi soon.

Poornima Kavlekar has been associated with The Smart CEO since the time of launch and is the Consulting Editor of the magazine. She has been writing for almost 20 years on a cross section of topics including stocks and personal finance and now, on entrepreneurship and growth enterprises. She is a trained Yoga Teacher, an avid endurance Cyclist and a Veena player.

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