Bangalore: On a hot March afternoon, 50 employees of marketing communication agency Euro RSCG Advertsing Pvt. Ltd were huddled in a conference room busy uncorking bottles, swirling wine in glasses, nosing their Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, and taking notes.

They were at a wine drinking workshop—a new institutional marketing initiative by wine companies.

The one at Euro RSCG was organized by Four Seasons Wines Ltd, the wine division of India’s largest spirits firm United Spirits Ltd.

Saloni Singh, 25, was among the 50 participants. She says wine is often a conversation starter with foreign clients. “I meet corporate clients and visitors from overseas on a daily basis. Knowing about wine is a good way of breaking the ice. Wine is often a topic of discussion at the (restaurant) table."

And apart from learning to match red wine with spicy food, Singh was glad for a break from the daily grind.

Mandala Valley Vineyards Pvt. Ltd, John Distilleries Ltd, the maker of Big Banyan wines, and Vinsura Vineyards Pvt. Ltd, too, are approaching other companies to teach senior managers the intricacies of wine and wine drinking, often at no charge.

These 90-minute sessions, mostly held inside company premises, include basics on the different types of wines, wine-making, tasting wine, serving wine, and pairing wine with Indian food.

These sessions, the wine companies hope, will educate more people on wines, make the drink less elitist and, thereby, widen the nascent market in India.

Globally, for every 1 litre of spirit sold, 1.4 litres of wine is sold, says Abhay Kewadkar, business head, wines, and chief wine maker, Four Seasons Wines. “By those standards, in India, for the 250 million spirit cases sold, we should be selling 400 million cases of wines." One case of wine holds 12 bottles of 750ml each.

The Indian wine market is pegged at a mere 1.5 million cases a year but industry experts see a 20-25% growth with Indians trotting the world, women taking to wine, urbanization and a population of 522 million above the legal drinking age.

“There is a value of intimidation attached to wine, which comes into the way of it being a consumer friendly drink. There is a perception that wine is an elitist drink," said Kewadkar, looking to remove such obstacles.

Four Seasons Wines has so far held workshops for 1,200 employees in 50 companies.

“Most people in India know only two (varieties)—red and white," says Ramesh Rao, managing director at Bangalore-based Mandala Valley, which makes wines of the same name. He talks of how host companies are left speechless when overseas visitors, when taken to a restaurant, ask for a recommendation of an Indian wine. Being a nation of whisky drinkers, Indians have little knowledge of wines.

Mandala Valley has held wine workshops for half a dozen companies including pharma company Strides Arcolab Ltd in Bangalore and Pune’s Parag Milk and Milk Products Ltd, the maker of Gowardhan cheese.

Awareness apart, the wine sessions throw up immediate business as well.

Sridhar Pongur, director at Bangalore-based John Distilleries, says at least 25-30% of senior management at a wine workshop come back and buy Big Banyan wines.

Four Seasons Wines too claims 20% of its workshop participants purchase its wines on the spot.

John Distilleries has done wine workshops for eight companies so far, none of which wanted their names revealed as drinking alcohol is still considered taboo in conventional Indian society. Despite that, many companies are open to the idea of wine workshops.

Mohit Nischol, area manager at Tulleeho Portals Pvt. Ltd, which conducts Four Seasons Wines’ workshops, says they have requests from firms to repeat the sessions for new batches. “Corporates see this as an employee engagement program. It is in strong contrast to the usual team building exercises like outings."