As Vijay Amritraj, one of India’s earliest international tennis stars, launched his own fine wine collection with Indian wine producer Grover Zampa Vineyards, it was only fitting that Wimbledon provided the background.

Amritraj unveiled the Vijay Amritraj Reserve Collection — a white and a red wine from Grover Zampa vineyards — at a celebrity-packed Wimbledon themed party at St James’ Court, a Taj Hotel in London, during the Wimbledon fortnight in July.

“I am passionate about wine. During my travels around the world, I have tasted and collected different kinds of wine and when Kapil Grover, one of the owners of Grover Zampa, suggested that I launch my own label with his company, I really liked the idea,” Amritraj told ET Magazine. While the Vijay Amritraj Reserve Collection, which was recently launched in India, is the first celebrity wine label in this country, the tennis ace joins famous golfers Ernie Els and Greg Norman, both of whom have their own wine collections and are passionate about wine. Els, a South African golfer, created the Ernie Els Wines label with its base in Stellenbosch, South Africa, in 1999.

Australian professional golfer Greg Norman has set up Greg Norman Estates, a collection of wines from regions in Australia, California and Argentina. But it’s not just celebrities who are passionate about wines and launch their own labels. Brian Schmidt, an Australian astrophysicist and Nobel laureate, owns Maipenrai, a vineyard and winery in Yass River Valley in Canberra, Australia, dedicated to making fine Pinot Noir wine. For his part, India’s first celebrity wine label owner, unlike the connoisseur golfers who have set up their own

winemaking outfits as well, so far is only a joint owner of the Vijay Amritraj Reserve brand with Grover Zampa on a royalty payment basis. But that doesn’t reduce his commitment to his wine brand. “I have been involved with the label since the beginning when we started planning it a few years back. From choosing the grape varieties for both the white wine (a barrelfermented varietal Viognier) and the red (a blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier) to designing the label, I have been involved at every stage,” he says. And he is proud about the final products, both of which, he says, were received well in London.

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“While the product speaks for itself, such international recognition will also help showcase Indian wines globally,” Amritraj added.

Priced at £14.99 a bottle in the UK and Rs 1,200 in India, Grover Zampa now plans to take it to South East Asia and finally launch in the US .

“Our products are already available in about 10 international markets and we are now upbeat about taking the VA label to markets across Europe and the US,” says Sumedh Singh Mandla, chief executive officer of Grover Zampa.

Mandla adds that he is keen to prove that wines from Indian vineyards are comparable with those in the global markets.

Industry experts say the Amritraj and Grover Zampa tie-up could be the start of a global trend of celebrities associating with alcobeverage labels in India. “Vijay Amritraj could be a trendsetter in India, with cricketers and Bollywood stars soon looking at launching their own labels. However, wineries in India may not be able to afford tying up with topend endorsers unless the latter plan to invest in the winery they promote,” says Magandeep Singh, sommelier and wine consultant. He feels that a celebrity launch such as the Vijay Amritraj Reserve helps to take the brand mainstream. “The company will have to use the celebrity prominently to reach the maximum number of people. Just one launch won’t have far-reaching consequences,” he adds.

In the long term, he sees serious players investing in the wineries rather than going in for just a branding tie-up. “I’d rather have celebrities invest in a new winery as opposed to merely launching a brand with an existing house. We need more players with a sense for quality rather than everybody getting behind the same 2-3 brands in India,” adds Singh. Though India’s top wine producer Sula Vineyards has not yet partnered with celebrities for any of their labels, founder and CEO Rajeev Samant believes that sometimes personalities could have a very positive rub-off on wines. “While the trend is yet to catch on in India, we have a collaboration with artist Jaideep Mehrotra — the label on our Satori Merlot Red Wine is an exclusive painting by him,” says Samant.

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