Review: Vitiquette, Good Earth Winery

What does it take to sell a successful red wine brand? Conventional wine producers believe it is the careful tending of grapes that grow in your own vineyards, utmost elevage techniques at the winery, and estate-bottled wines—always in demand and commanding a premium price.

Girish Mhatre, the Mumbai born, New York-based promoter of Good Earth Winery, seems to be breaking that mould by operating a virtual winery. Much like the négociants of Burgundy and other wine regions in France, Good Earth Winery buys the grapes from various vineyards. These are then made into wine at a third-party winery that lends its unutilized or excess production capacity for winemaking by other brands. One advantage is that it saves the initial investment in land, winemaking and ageing equipment, licences and labour.

But an even greater advantage is that it allows the company to concentrate on branding and intelligently marketing its wines, and getting to know the customer and catering to his wine needs. Vitiquette, a private wine party programme offered by Good Earth Winery, epitomizes this. It promises to deliver a complete wine-drinking experience within the comfort of your home. A great promise, so I decided to experience it first-hand.

I called a few friends over one Friday evening and that was pretty much all I had to do. The Vitiquette team arrived an hour before the party with Good Earth wines, glassware, decanters, ice buckets and some delicious finger food. Great, I thought, for someone who does not wish to go through the hassle of choosing and buying wine or does not own the paraphernalia and equipment to host a wine party at home.

As the party began, wine was served from decanters at the right temperature. Service temperatures can make all the difference to wine enjoyment—the correct temperature lets the wine show off its variety of flavours and nuances. Whites must be served cold (8-10 degrees Celsius) and reds cool (15-18 degrees Celsius). Serve it too chilled and all the complex fruit flavours get masked and numbed; serve it too warm, and the wine tastes insipid. The glasses, too, were just right—not the small sizes one sees at five-star hotel banquets. They were of generously proportioned, well-shaped Bordeaux and Burgundy styles.

Server:Vitiquette takes care of the paraphernalia, but the wine menu is limited to Good Earth brands. Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

Basso 2008, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, was an attractive ruby colour dry red with generous black fruit and sweet spice aromas. The biggest positive was that unlike most other Indian Cabernet Sauvignons, this one did not taste as unripe and green and although big on fruit flavours, it was not jammy or over-ripe. However, for the price of Rs1,450 and a maturing period of one year in oak barrels, followed by four months of bottle ageing, the wine seemed young and relatively unevolved. Perhaps a bit of further ageing in bottle was necessary to bring out the complexity and harmony in flavours. But otherwise a well-made wine, with all the ingredients of acidity, soft tannins, alcohol and fruit in correct proportion.

The last wine we tried was Brio 2008—100% Shiraz. They say this wine is their best-seller, and I wanted to find out why. A deep ruby colour, surprisingly medium bodied and a restrained red fruit character with a hint of spice made this wine look attractive and taste elegant. It is almost made in an Old World Syrah style. I was slightly disturbed by the bitter finish coming from the green yet soft tannins, but when paired with olives the red fruit bursts on the palate, making the wine taste slightly sweeter.

Overall, I was pleased with the prompt service of the wines with labels being presented for someone who wishes to read the information on the back label. As far as possible, the finger food had been selected keeping in mind the food and wine pairing aspect. By now I was wondering if this end-to-end service would cost a bomb. The answer is that it need not.

If you wish to learn about winemaking, they will even arrange for the winemaker himself to attend. Finger food is optional and is arranged mostly from good restaurants. So the programme seems to be perfectly customizable; the cost could vary from Rs500 (for just wine) to Rs3,000 per person depending on the frills. But the wine is unlimited, so one can drink away.

Several of Mumbai’s party folk enjoy entertaining at home, but few among us are confident wine hosts. This programme aims to bridge that gap. However, its success will depend on how effectively it can access people who prefer to serve only wine at their parties.

My only crib: The programme is designed just to promote wines from Good Earth Winery. The formula for hosting a successful wine party is trying several different wines in one evening. Selling a Vitiquette-serviced party to a wine lover will be a challenge.

Sonal Holland is a Mumbai-based wine educator and consultant.

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