22October2017

Goa's Spirited Online Weekly Magazine.

Goan liquor producers – 2

Mario's winesAugust 26-September 1, 2013

Lionel Messias

A spring in their step

If it weren’t for the “killer freight” and another slayer called customs duties, the Raia-based Springfields (India) Distilleries would have had the pleasure of serving up affordable tequila, the real McCoy that too all the way from Mexico.  But you can still get your shots thanks to Villa Vercelli Tequila Silver (the clear variety) the company has begun importing from Tequila Orendain De Jalisio, S.A De C.V.  Already selling in Goa, their Tequila will soon be available in Delhi.  The customs duty according to the group’s managing partner Mario Sequeira is a huge 160 per cent and is levied on the cost of freight as well.  “The cost of freight and cost of product are separate entities which are added to the final cost of the bottle.”  The company is registered with the Mexican government which allows it to import Tequila out of Mexico.

Why pick on a name like Springfields?  “It was a lovely day during the rainy season when the paddy fields were lush green and all around seemed to have a great light 'springy ' feel to it - that was actually how we decided on the name,” says Mario.

Springfields has a spring in its step today after the group itself (includes Tonia Industries and Tonia Distilleries) has come a long way from being just another player catering mainly to the tourist market which analysts say is not as demanding as one would expect but is definitely gluttonous in its demand and driven at the street level by the retailer.  That tag in fact stirred the group to do better things.  If, it was not that particular detail and subsequent motivation that stirred them than like good wine it was surely a question of maturity.  But, expect Springfields to filleth your cup now and later.  Next, is a chill-filtered (the manufacturing process) vodka due for production sometime in December this year.  Then, there’s a wine to come for which the company has already bought an acre of land in Nashik to set up a winery. 
“We have stopped short of buying the accompanying vineyards only because we are waiting for our joint venture to be signed, so that our venture partner can approve of the vineyards first, something they always insist on.  We will be producing still wines, both white and red varieties.”  Still wines are of course non-effervescent or non-sparkling wines. 
Earlier this year it began production of Napoleon Brandy made from grain alcohol and grape spirit.

Collector’s item

In the liqueur market with a fairly wide range (Triple Sec, Creme de Menthe liqueur, Coffee liqueur, Chocolate liqueur, Mango liqueur, Cherry brandy liqueur, Pan ellaichi liqueur, Pan liqueur) to satisfy chocophiles – the crème de menthe liqueur and chocolate liqueur – to well lesser mortals like paan eating persons, if that would be the right way to describe people with a bias for liqueurs with a blend of Indian herbs.  This is his own self-assessment of the liqueurs Springfields produces under the brand name San Andre, “Ours is very favourable when compared to global brands.  We were once approved by the Taj group to supply liqueurs on a pan-India basis over a three year period.  It sadly did not work out for us because we could not supply them over all territories because of the complex label licensing procedures that exists across different states.”

If like me you were a denizen of Goa in 1971 and also of the permissible drinking age you would know that the group’s founding company Tonia Industries were behind that era’s faourites, Toniapick coffee, Conserve de Café or Conserve de Ananaz (ananaz), Conserve de Alem (ginger), Conserve de Dudhshree (that ubitiquous root that drives coconut feni in Bogmolo especially), caju and coconut feni.  If you weren’t, too bad, you have missed out on an entire era of alcohol mixes of a type not commonly known in other parts and altogether extinct these days.  In fact, for want of giving them the right name, call them the original Goan cocktail liquor.  All that ended 20 years later when the three sons – Aleixo, current chairman, Norman, VC, Mario – took over the reigns of the family business from their father and Tonia’s founder Antonio Sequeira.  The face of Tonia was to change beyond recognition.

And rum called Gold Nun XXX

In the mid-Eighties the brothers focused on Tonia’s Doctors Brandy and it soon adopted the ‘W, B, R, G’ (whiskey, brandy, rum, gin) route like most players did in those years, under its own brands and through a new startup company called Tonia Distilleries.  It was a time when ungainly names like Uncle John Whiskey, Gold Nun XXX Rum (to boldly compete with Old Monk Rum) and Blue Knights Gin didn’t put the drinker off.

“We simultaneously got into wine production using the Bangalore Purple grape.  “We consider the Bangalore Blue to be a rudimentary variety and so we don’t use it.”  There were about five or six brands at that time he recalls.  “The wine trade was so peculiar then, that each dealer had a desire to have his own wine brand.  Even the MRP concept did not exist then.  Those were the days when a liquor dealer would buy wine for Rs 10 a bottle and sell it for Rs 20.”

Along the way the brothers began to upgrade their infrastructure which they managed to achieve around the year 1995 to produce high-end brands.  Industry analysts say that the market’s opinion of Tonia Distilleries then was that it was a maker of cheap brands only.  “With a brand perception like that naturally, it was forced to change track,” says a high turnover liquor wholesaler on condition of anonymity.  Admitting that, Mario says, “We decided to stop bulk production of the so-called cheap liquor or IMFL, re-brand ourselves and move on.  We also decided the way ahead for us was to produce good wines.”  As a result production of IMFL was limited to supplying retailers whose demand came primarily from the tourist trade.

"We concentrated hard on our San Andre and Santa Barbara wine and Crystal Red Ruby wine as by then the technology available to India had improved and we were able to make better wines.”  These two brands had come to be accepted says the wholesaler.  “Even if a dealer was not interested because it simply did not fit his sales profile, he still kept our two port wines because they were now brands that were desired.”  On a high by now, Springfields began producing a series of brands like Goan Classic Wine (red and white), Castelinho (tinto or red) and Branco (white).  Last year it launched its Kandara range in Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blance.  It also has a Susegad wine in Shiraz, Merlot, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc.  According to him his is the only Goan company producing dry sparkling wine called Saudades.

(To be continued)