I have seen countless horror photos of malnourished children and adults with arms the diameter of a broomstick, but never before have I stood face to face with them.
Because my group is so small — only eight students — our course coordinators opted to send us from Aurangabad to Nashik via train. The above was the sight we encountered in the train station that morning, just barely before 5am. Dozens of people buried under all of their belongings, trying to keep warm from India’s unseasonably cool weather.
I have only experienced a train once before, but that was last year in Italy. It was my favorite mode of transportation thus far, as we were able to see the geography and changing terrain of a large stretch of Western India. We passed mountains, cotton fields, fields with advanced irrigation, and fields whose crop was unidentifiable due to lack of water.
After an exhilarating, well-strategized jump from the train — sixty seconds with 15 people and 16 suitcases — we strolled out of the train station. From the bus, we saw more of this extreme poverty and high population density, as people begged for money, and children ran barefoot through knee-deep trash and waste on the side of the road.
We arrived at our destination after traveling by bus: Sula Vineyards. I could easily argue that the juxtaposition of these two scenarios from the day is about as close to culture shock as it could possibly get within one big city: Sula Vineyards has the best grapes in the region, and is one of the best wineries in India.
Sula Vineyards is one of 36 wineries in the state of Nashik, and one of 72 in the entire country; it has the best quality grapes in the region, at the highest quantity. They grow 13 varieties of wine grapes, and produce four different categories of wines.
The vineyard has one harvest of their crop every year as an alternative to two, increasing their yield. Harvest takes place from the months of January to March, though at this time cool temperatures have pushed harvest back.
According to our tour guide, an expert in public relations and marketing for the company, the most important aspect of the business is the relationship they have with their farmers. For example, Sula provides an incentive for farmers who are able to get their product transported earlier in the day; harvest occurs early in the morning, and the lower the amount of time sitting in transportation, the better the quality of the grape.
As a result of the company’s positive interaction with their producers, farmers throughout the region are seeking out business partnerships; however, at the moment, demand is being met. Until demand increases, Sula does not have the capacity to work with more farmers.
Because labor in India is cheap, and farm-workers are well versed in grape harvesting, India’s grape industry has not yet mechanized harvest. Of course, post-harvest processes have become increasingly mechanized.
Domestically, the market size for wine has been steadily growing, where it currently sits at only 1%. As a whole, the country consumes a lot of alcohol, though a palate for good wine is slowly developing. Sula Vineyards sees this as an opportunity for slow but secure growth.
Internationally, Sula Vineyards is currently exporting to 17 countries; this is expected to grow to 20 in 2013. Interestingly enough, the Army is currently their biggest clientele.
As my classmate Ido pointed out, Israel’s market for wine grapes and wine has increased dramatically, but was at the current stage of India approximately twenty years ago. Unlike Israel, however, India obviously has the population to drive this growing industry, as a palate is slowly but surely developed.