The Rise of Luxury Water: A Glimpse into the World of Fine Water

by Chloe Baker
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Fine Water Trend

Monsoon rains have finally subsided, and the floods that once blocked the lone dirt road have receded, allowing a small truck to navigate the rugged Himalayan foothills to reach a pristine spring. This spring is no ordinary water source; locals affectionately call it “nectar” due to its exceptional freshness.

Inside a small plant nestled in this serene landscape, workers diligently handle sleek glass bottles that glide along a conveyor belt. These bottles are swiftly filled with a rush of natural mineral water, labeled, carefully packed into cases, and loaded onto a truck destined for a long journey.

Overseeing this operation with a sense of pride and responsibility is Ganesh Iyer, the head of the operation. As the bottles are prepared for their journey, he takes out his phone, much like a proud parent showing off cherished family photos, to display the underground cavern where this pristine water originates—a place often referred to as the world’s last Shangri-La.

This, however, is not ordinary water. It embarks on a journey spanning hundreds of miles to reach some of India’s luxury hotels, fine-dining restaurants, and affluent households. Here, a single bottle commands a price of approximately $6, equivalent to a day’s wage for an Indian laborer. It is a stark contrast to the millions worldwide who still lack access to clean drinking water, despite the United Nations’ recognition of water as a fundamental human right over a decade ago.

In the midst of escalating global water scarcity and increasing thirst, luxury water has emerged as a trend among the world’s elite. These discerning consumers uncork and savor it much like a connoisseur would appreciate fine wine.

This “fine water” hails from diverse sources, including volcanic rock in Hawaii, icebergs that have calved from melting glaciers in Norway, or even droplets of morning mist in Tasmania.

Advocates of fine water, some of whom study to become water sommeliers, assert that this trend is not rooted in snobbishness but rather a deep appreciation for the purest forms of water. To them, water is not merely a beverage but a sensory experience—an art form in itself. They meticulously consider factors such as the appropriate stemware, serving temperature, food pairings, and even choosing fine water over alcoholic beverages.

As a truck laden with bottled water departs from the Bhutanese bottling plant operated by Veen Waters India, the employees take a well-deserved tea break amidst the picturesque employee housing. They exchange conversations, check their mobile phones, and enjoy the melodic backdrop of birdsong. Laundry hangs gently in the breeze, all under the sweltering sun of these elevated regions.

Just uphill from their location lies the mineral spring, once a vital water source for nearby villagers who ingeniously used bamboo rods as makeshift pipes to channel the clear, flowing water into their buckets. Today, this source is safeguarded behind a locked gate by Veen, which acquired it over a decade ago from the previous owner.

Veen’s business experienced a slowdown during the pandemic, but it is now exporting around 20,000 cases (equivalent to 240,000 bottles) of water to India each month, with only a few casualties on the rough multi-day journey. Ganesh Iyer estimates that they have tapped into only about 10% of the potential market thus far.

The trucks carrying this precious cargo traverse lush Darjeeling tea plantations, navigate past signs marking elephant crossings, and pass by rural villages where teenage boys take respite next to rainwater catchments, surrounded by banana trees. Ultimately, these cases of fine water find their way to luxury hotels and restaurants located hundreds of miles away in cities like New Delhi, Pune, and Mumbai, where Veen’s headquarters are situated.

A select few affluent families receive weekly shipments of this prized water, with some humorously suggesting that the wealthiest among them may even use it for bathing.

Market reports anticipate a growing demand for premium water worldwide in the coming years. In India, the most populous country globally, with an improving standard of living but growing water quality concerns, Veen is well-positioned to meet this increasing demand.

However, the story of water takes a starkly different turn for many Indians, particularly in places like Dharavi, one of Asia’s largest slums. In this densely populated neighborhood, water flows through municipal pipelines only once a day, from 6 to 9 a.m., setting off a flurry of activity as the sweltering heat of spring and summer descends upon the area.

The three-hour window for water access dictates the daily rituals of the community. Men gather at makeshift bath areas to lather up, engaging in jovial conversations as they prepare for the day. In this labyrinth of narrow alleyways and modest homes, residents brush their teeth on their front porches, spitting toothpaste into the flowing water on the uneven concrete below. They fill buckets and reclaimed bottles to ensure they have enough water for their daily needs. Some women wash dishes and clothing with diligence.

However, for others like Rekha Nagesh Pawar, who resides with her four children in a makeshift tent of blue plastic tarps along a bustling Mumbai roadway, water is a constant concern. The water she receives from a neighbor, when he’s in a charitable mood, is illegally siphoned from a public system using a garden hose. She recounts her husband’s tragic death in 2021 from a heart attack, leaving her to beg for food money. In the absence of adequate water, she faces the challenge of keeping her children clean and their clothes washed, a situation she describes as living in squalor.

For individuals like Rekha, it is difficult to fathom the idea of someone paying a day’s wages for a bottle of luxury water.

Veen may be among the more affordable options in the fine water category. The rarest and most exquisite varieties, often bottled in collectible glass containers, can command prices in the hundreds of dollars each.

This contrast is evident when members of the Fine Water Society convene for their annual international tasting competition and symposium at an upscale hotel in Athens, Greece. Judges from various countries meticulously sample a range of water brands, swishing and occasionally spitting mouthfuls into canisters, much like wine connoisseurs. Spectators watch intently, many of them representing bottling companies competing for recognition.

The judges use scorecards to assess each entrant, assigning numerical ratings that can vary widely. Michael Mascha, a judge and a founder of the Fine Water Society, acknowledges that determining the winner can be challenging, as there is always the potential for an unexpected standout.

Approximately two decades ago, Michael Mascha’s fascination with water began, spurred by a doctor’s recommendation to abstain from alcohol. He embarked on a quest to discover alternatives that could captivate his senses as effectively as a complex bottle of cabernet once had. Along the way, he encountered like-minded enthusiasts who shared his passion for water. This community has since grown and evolved, delving into topics like “virginality” (purity), “terroir” (the environmental factors influencing water quality), and the measurement of total dissolved solids (TDS).

Waters with low TDS are akin to pristine rainwater untouched by terrestrial surfaces, while those with high TDS, such as Vichy mineral water from French thermal springs and Catalan water, boast a rich mineral content encompassing calcium, magnesium,

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Fine Water Trend

What is the fine water trend discussed in the article?

The fine water trend refers to the growing popularity of premium bottled water sourced from unique and exotic locations worldwide. It’s a trend where water is treated with the same level of discernment and appreciation as fine wines or gourmet foods.

Who are the consumers of luxury water?

Consumers of luxury water are typically affluent individuals, luxury hotels, fine-dining restaurants, and wealthy households. They are willing to pay a premium for the exceptional purity and unique characteristics of fine water.

How does the price of luxury water compare to regular bottled water?

Luxury water can be significantly more expensive than regular bottled water. In the article, it mentions that a single bottle of luxury water can cost approximately $6, which is equivalent to a day’s wage for an Indian laborer.

What are some examples of the sources of fine water?

Fine water can be sourced from various exotic locations, including volcanic rock in Hawaii, icebergs from melting glaciers in Norway, and morning mist in Tasmania. These diverse sources contribute to the unique flavors and characteristics of each brand of fine water.

Is the fine water trend considered snobbish?

Advocates of fine water insist that the trend is not rooted in snobbishness but rather a genuine appreciation for the purity and sensory experience that fine water offers. They compare it to the way food enthusiasts seek out rare ingredients and pair them thoughtfully with dishes.

What are some challenges related to water scarcity mentioned in the article?

The article highlights the stark contrast between the luxury water trend and the water scarcity issues faced by many, particularly in areas like Dharavi, one of Asia’s largest slums. It describes how access to water is limited to just a few hours a day in some regions, leading to daily struggles for basic needs like bathing and cleaning.

How is the fine water trend expected to evolve in the future?

Market reports suggest that there will be a growing demand for premium water worldwide in the coming years. India, with its rising standard of living and water quality concerns, is poised to be a significant market for luxury water brands like Veen.

What are some efforts to address water scarcity and quality mentioned in the article?

Efforts to address water scarcity and quality include desalination of seawater, collecting and purifying storm and wastewater, and building infrastructure to provide running water to households. However, challenges remain, particularly in countries like India, where water shortages and pollution persist.

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