The Wine Society of India
Their big draw is the Four Seasons Wine Discoveries programme that makes members eligible for six of the best wines from around the world, four times a year, at the best price that they can get. “Essentially, we educate people about the wine world,” says David Banford, founder of The Wine Society of India.
Born in India, brought up in the UK and having worked in the US, life came a full circle for Banford when he returned to India in 2006, and started the society. He had worked around the same model with The Wine Society of America, which he set up in 1984. He sold that business and roped in Steven Spurrier, one of the world’s leading wine authorities, along with leading Indian wine importers such as Sanjay Menon, and created the society here.
“The business model is based on the many wine clubs that exist in different parts of the world,” he says. Events and meets take place once every few months at hotels in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore.
The wines for the Discoveries programme are chosen by an independent board of wine advisers, chaired by London-based Spurrier. Spurrier, who comes to India at least thrice a year for meetings, says they are not just a tasting club. “Our main purpose is to sell wine,” he says. Once the wine list is finalized, members drop by at Banford’s Nariman Point office, try the wines and tick their favourite and not-so-favourite choices on the list, and the popular ones are finally bought. Prices are negotiated with the producer and the wines are delivered in temperature-controlled packaging.
The Wine Society of India is planning a tie-up with Decanter magazine. (Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint)
It’s not enough to just enjoy wine. You have to love the “wine lifestyle”. While Vijay Mallya holds a 49% stake in the club, Monica Vazirali, Gautam Singhania and Sabira Merchant are some of the “high net worth individuals” the club wants as members. “We don’t want to attract wine snobs. We have taken a very intellectual approach,” says Spurrier.
Rajeev Samant, managing director, Sula Wines, who joined the society nine months ago, says that the Four Seasons programme is the best thing about the club. “I have received a few great wines that I didn’t even know existed. But, 24 bottles a year can get expensive,” he says.
There are no formal guidelines for entry into this two-year-old society. About 250 people have signed up for the programme and Banford’s target is to get 1,000 members by the end of the year. But Samant thinks the initial hiccups will have to be fixed first. “The few meetings that they’ve had have been a little chaotic.” he says. Banford’s up for the challenge.
Chaine des Rotisseurs Bailliage of India
Love of food is not enough here; membership to this worldwide culinary society requires strict adherence to a list of rules and the etiquette of “good table culture”. After a formal induction, a member is knighted and only then can he or she be a part of the club.
Founded in 1950 in France, the Confrerie de la Chaine des Rotisseurs traces its origins to the year 1610; and now, the international society is established in 70 countries, with more than 25,000 members. Anja Matysik-Kroll, 42, and her husband, Manfred Gunter Matysik, 74, established the Indian head office in Mysore in 2006—it will have its first induction meeting today. While her husband has been a member of the club for 30 years, she worked at the society’s Portugal chapter from 2002 to 2006.
Together, the couple has more than 60 years of experience in the five-star hotel industry worldwide, a few of which Matysik-Kroll spent in Mysore. The president of the club asked her to start the India chapter and she relocated here: “Since we already have contacts in this part of the country, we decided to start with Bangalore. The culinary sector in Mumbai definitely has more potential and we will be coming there and to Delhi soon,” says Matysik-Kroll.
The members meet at least four times a year, and every meeting is an opportunity for the hotel chef to show off his talent and imagination. Meals are served in courses and the chef addresses the guests before each course, while a wine expert discusses the pairing. “Regardless of international involvement, the meal always incorporates elements of Indian cuisine,” she says. Black truffle dosa on the menu for their last meeting proved that fusion works best.
Wherever a Chaine des Rotisseurs exists, members can attend meetings of this “worldwide brotherhood” of gastronomes.
“The concept of bringing together hospitality industry professionals and connoisseur gourmets is a unique characteristic of this society,” Matysik-Kroll says. But just the right “top class” credentials are required. General managers and executive chefs of five-star hotels and restaurateurs form 50% of the membership and, on their recommendation, the other “non-professional” half is interviewed. The admission fee is Rs9,000; the annual membership fee is Rs6,000. “Members also pay for the meal, but the chef at the hotel makes sure it’s just the cost price,” she says.
The club’s first meeting today at Bangalore’s Taj West End will have the new members inducted (knighted) to “Chevalier de la Chaine” or “Dame de La Chaine”, which are the basic titles, by a high ranking officer from their Paris headquarters. The 25 chosen members will receive the Chaine Ribbon with a gold medallion and their diploma. “We want very select members. By the end of this year we’re aiming for 50 people,” she says.
A few international members of Chaine des Rotisseurs will also be attending the group’s event.
P.K. Mohan Kumar, general manager, Taj West End, had hosted two such dinners during his posting with the Taj in Colombo. “It’s a hallowed association for those in the hospitality industry. Now, people coming to our hotels will know we are members of the Rotisseurs and at parwith top hotels worldwide,” he says. The theme of the dinner is “a page out of history” and, along with his executive chef, he is preparing a six-course menu, a banquet fit for president.
“Ours is a very formal club,” says Matysik-Kroll. Kumar calls it “pedigree banqueting”—the dress code has to match the aristocratic atmosphere. So, it’s black tie and black jacket for men and formal evening wear for women; mobile phones and smoking are not allowed during meals; speeches are banned.
Delhi Cigar Company
All it took was the creation of a community on Facebook and this club, “started on a lark” by a group of 10 friends in May 2007, had about 55 people for its third meeting two months later. Now, less than a year later, the membership count has increased to more than 100. Even Sharik Currimbhoy, the founder president, had no idea so many people in the Capital would be interested in cigars.
As membership grew, the club became professional—it now has a treasurer, a public relations in-charge, a vice-president and an events director. But Currimbhoy, vice-president, Shahnaz Husain Group of Companies, sponsors the cigars. “It’s great for those whose spouses don’t allow them to smoke at home,” he laughs.
Currimbhoy (with white tie) will not start any other chapter of the Cigar Company in India. (Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint)
One of his friends is already running the London chapter and a Dubai chapter is on the cards, but that’s where Currimbhoy wants to stop. “I want to be able to have control over the club,” he says.
Anyone who likes cigars or wants to learn about them can join in the party. They may have started out with only male members, but now around 30% of their members are women. “We’re looking for people who can add value to the club,” says Currimbhoy. The treasurer, Ram Agarwal, chooses a venue and negotiates a deal. Invites are then sent out on Facebook, and they have their party for as little as Rs1,000, which is what it cost per person at their last meeting at Delhi’s hot spot, Tabula Rasa.
Once you’ve got in the only rule is that there are no rules. Viraj Mohan, 28, partner at the lifestyle retail store August, is among the founding members of the club who saw the number of members leap from 10 to a chaotic 100. “It’s a forum for cigar lovers. We don’t want people who are here just for a party. Now, aspiring new members have to fill up questionnaires,” he says.
There are no guidelines about what to wear, which cigar to light up or what to talk about in the meetings. “Some members are very serious about their cigars, but for many others, it’s a chance to meet friends and have a smoke, and I think that’s equally important,” says Currimbhoy. Over puffs of a Cohiba or Davidoff, discussions can veer from cigars to work, politics to personal lives.