The Maharashtra government is drawing ire after its decision to allow the sale of wine in supermarkets and walk-in stores across the state to let winemakers broaden their retail footprint. The last wine policy, which allowed sale only through exclusive liquor stores, was in force for the last 20 years and lapsed in December 2021.
After former Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis criticised the move calling the state “Madya” Rashtra, Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut defended the new policy and said wine was not liquor.
“Wine is not liquor and is made from grapes and other fruits sold by farmers. If more wine is sold, then the farmers will get a good rate for their fruit. And keeping this in mind, the Maharashtra government has done all this,” said Raut (at 0:24 in the video below).
He said the policy was implemented, not just to boost the wine industry, but also for grape farmers who can get better prices for their produce as the market widens.
Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar also argued that there was a marked difference between wine and liquor. “We have not allowed the sale of hard liquor in supermarkets,” Pawar was quoted as saying by The Indian Express. “Our decision is restricted to only wine. There is a difference between wine and liquor and this should be categorically impressed upon the public.”
Same or different?
While both beverages contain alcohol, the key difference between wine and liquor is alcohol content. The maximum alcohol content of still wines is generally around 14%-15%, whereas, for liquor, the alcohol content ranges between 38%-43%, Kishan Pedhapally, founder of Asav Vineyards, told FactChecker.
The other distinct dissimilarity between the two is the process of their making. “Wine is a naturally fermented drink made from fruits mainly grapes, while liquor is a distilled product,” Pedhapally told FactChecker. “Both are made from fermentation. But, in the case of liquor, the alcohol is concentrated by boiling the fermented mash made from cereals and other matter. The distillation if not done properly can also concentrate methanol or wood alcohol, found in hooch.”
Ajoy Shaw, a wine consultant and former chief winemaker and Vice President at Sula Vineyards, said that, unlike liquor, wine has many healthy characteristics too. “While liquor is fermented initially, then distilled and the alcohol is collected. So, you are just collecting alcohol and nothing else. In wine, you have potassium, iron, anti-oxidants, items which are good to consume,” said Shaw.
Wine can also be further classified into the food product it is made out of and years of ageing, while not all kinds of liquors age – whiskey, rum and brandy can, but gin does not.
Although wine and liquor are not the same, supermarkets will still need to acquire a license to sell wine. Earlier, the compulsory license required for beer or wine shops anywhere was the FL BR-II license. Now, the licence required for the sale of wine in stores equal to or greater than 100 square metres will be the FL-XC permit, which is for the sale of foreign and country “liquor”, and the annual licensing fee will be Rs 5,000.
FactChecker tried contacting Raut for a comment on the matter via call, text and email. But, had not heard back from him by the time of publishing this article. If he does respond, this article will be updated.
Wine in Maharashtra
While only 1.5% of the grape produced in the country is used to make wines, Maharashtra leads in both the production of grapes (81.22%) and wine (80%).
Under the new policy, the state government has decided to allow the concept of “shelf-in-shop” sale of wine in supermarkets or walk-in stores with an area of at least 100 square metres, which would have a single locked cupboard of wine of a maximum size of 2.25 cubic meters.
“People are getting confused that this means even kirana stores would be allowed to sell wine, but the requirements clearly state that the size of the supermarket or store has to be 1,000 square feet [around 100 square meters], which is a big store,” added Shaw.
These shops also have to be registered under Section 6 of the Maharashtra Shops and Establishment Act, 2017. Also, owing to an already existing norm on the sale of alcohol, supermarkets or stores near religious sites and educational institutions cannot sell wine.
Madhya Pradesh also recently permitted liquor sales at all its airports and select supermarkets in its four major cities – Indore, Bhopal, Jabalpur and Gwalior. The central Indian state also allowed issuing of home bar licences to those earning Rs 1 crore or more annually.
This article first appeared on FactChecker.in, a publication of the data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit IndiaSpend.