AN East Lancashire firm has signed a £1million deal to supply Indian wine to restaurants and wholesalers across the North West.

Darwen entrepreneur Tony Melia is hoping to take advantage of the trend for Indian lagers such as Cobra in Indian restaurants.

His company Collector Box intends to import an initial 17,000 bottles of wine -- after it was revealed that India is set to become the fastest growing wine-making country in the world.

Currently it has only three vineyards, in northern Punjab in the foothills near the border with Kashmir, and imports all its vines from France, but that number is forecast to grow to around 250 over the next two years.

The wine Mr Melia, 44, will be importing is made by Mumbai-based The Indage Group.

He recently travelled to India to seal the deal and two salesmen from the Indage Group are to come to the UK to market the wine.

Mr Melia, of Woodside Bank, Darwen, a former president of Darwen Rotary Club, said: "There have been successful examples of India exporting its own beer and now wine is beginning to take off.

The country only has three vineyards but that is expected to grow.

"Indians do drink quite a lot of wine, but most of it is imported from France.

But this region has the perfect weather for winemaking and water from the Himalayas adds a distinctive taste to the wine.

"The Indage Group makes a range of wines including Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz and the we intend to import 17,000 bottles in our first order and also bring in a container on a monthly basis.

"It will be supplied to wholesalers and Indian restaurants throughout the North West."

The wine business will be worth around £1 million a year to Collector Box, a subsidiary of the Melia family's Melbro Properties, which employees 35 people from Darwen.

Among those endorsing the plan to tap into India's wine market was Blackburn with Darwen's deputy mayor, and businessman Yusuf Jan-Virmari.

The owner of Jan's Conference Centre, Blackburn, said: "The only problem I can see for places like Blackburn is its high Muslim population which officially can't drink alcohol. But there is an underground culture who do drink and I see no reason why it can't take off like Indian beer has in this country."