Never sip your wine with chilli spice: Lessons to learn from Sula Vineyard's CEO

It takes time for people to accept wines made in non-traditional wine producing countries and regions. So for the first few years there were a lot of mental barriers to overcome with regard to consumers.

Sulekha Nair February 02, 2015 12:38:21 IST
Never sip your wine with chilli spice: Lessons to learn from Sula Vineyard's CEO

Success Quotient is a weekly feature in Firstbiz starting this week, which willlook at the pains and joys en route to success for a head honcho-whether a CEO, MD or an entrepreneur. The column looks at theideas that helped launch a company, itshighs and lows.

In the first of our series, the column features the journey of Rajeev Samant, Founder and CEO, Sula Vineyards. After completing a Master's degree in Engineering Management from Stanford, Samant moved to work in Silicon Valley taking a cue from some of his classmates.He later decided to abandon it all, return home and begin his life as an entrepreneur in 1993, when India was still in the early stages of economic liberalization. Samant initiated his experiments with farming in ancestral land in Nashik, where he grew various crops before hitting it right with grapes. That marked a beginning of a niche market for wine industry in India.

"Sula can be credited for creating a market for wine in India and introducing a strong brand focused on wine and developing that market," says Saloni Nangia, President, Teknopak, a Delhi-based analyst firm .

Samant goes down memory lane and shares with Firstbiz what he was able to achieve with a dream made potent with motivation and hard work. Excerpts from the interview:

What are the key risks that you have taken in your journey so far?

From being a pioneer of a new wine region [Nashik] and then creating great quality wines which is today becoming more and more acclaimed world over, it has definitely been a great journey! It takes time for people to accept wines made in non-traditional wine producing countries and regions. So for the first few years there were a lot of mental barriers to overcome with regard to consumers. When the product is of high quality, has good packaging, then there's also a sense of pride in the people who live in that region to drink their own wines. So what was a challenge was also an opportunity at some point.


What was your goal when you began this journey? How far have you reached there?

I wanted to live a life outside the city. I wanted to enjoy both the country life and the city life. I started drinking wine and getting basic knowledge of it when I was living and working in Northern California, when I would go up to Napa Valley from time to time. Frankly speaking when I came back to India I did not know that much about wine. I was a spirits drinker. It just so happened that I ended up in Nashik which was the grape country here and that triggered memories of vineyards that I had visited and enjoyed in California. That's what got me thinking about producing wine.

Who would you consider your mentor? How important is it for an entrepreneur to have one?

One of my mentors is our master winemaker Kerry Damskey who has guided me with regard to wine production. As an entrepreneur you are always eager to try and experiment, but you can always learn from someone else's experiences which is why it is great to have a mentor, someone to learn from.

What do you consider as your strengths?

My strength is my power of concentration because I'm able to concentrate intensely on a subject, on a problem, until it's completely resolved.

What is your business mantra?

First things first, second things never.

Is India maturing as a wine consuming country?

The Indian wine industry has witnessed an approximate 15 percent growth in the consumption of wine in the country over the past years. We expect double digit growth for the next decade at least, making it one of the world's most exciting wine markets looking to the future.The point is that all Indian food goes well with wine unless it's too spicy.

Do you have wine with yourmeal? Which ones do you pair with each meal?

I don't have wine with every meal. I rarely have wine with lunch, especially weekdays - no wine with lunch. I have a glass probably with dinner almost every day and on weekends I might have a glass with lunch as well. When I'm in India I drink in fact more white wine. When I'm travelling abroad and when it's in a cooler climate I drink a glass of red. In India these days what I've been having most often is the Sula Riesling because its low alcohol and it's a very versatile wine for pairing.

Which Indian foods do you think go best with wines? Give us a names of a few --veg and non veg--and the wines to pair it with, not necessarily Sula? Do you drink any other wines besides yours?

The point is that all Indian food goes well with wine unless it's too spicy. The enemy of wine is chilli spice. As long as it's not too heavily spiced you can pair pretty much any Indian food with wine. With a lot of Gujarati food, take an appetizer likeDhokla,I would pair our Chenin Blanc because it's slightly sweet and Gujarati food tends to be slightly sweet so it goes really well with it. When you're talking about a sea-food curry that is not sweet but might have a little bit of sourness likeKairior something in it I would go for our Sula Sauvignon Blanc. And if it's lamb cooked in a Kashmiri or Hyderabadi style I would go with our Dindori Shiraz.

How do you unwind from work?

I love diving and also, trekking.

Is there a hobby that you want to pursue besides the one you have?

I would like to ride bikes.

What made you pick Sula as the name for your wines?

The name, Sula, is short for my mother's name, Sulabha.

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