In Conversation With Rajeev Samant
A former finance manager at Oracle, Stanford graduate Rajeev
Samant quit his job and returned to India with the crazy idea of
growing grapes and making wine in India. He established Sula Wines in
Since its inception, Sula has rapidly established
itself as India’s leading premium wine brand, helping spark a wine
revolution that has seen consumption grow at 25% annually and several
new wineries come up in the Nasik area. In November 2002, Wine
Spectator – the world's No.1 wine magazine – did a five-page feature on
Sula, a proud first for an Indian winery.
A second winery with
three times the capacity of the first was completed in late 2004 to
keep up with demand, and a third 1-million litre winery is set to be
operational in 2006. Sula has expanded from the original 30 acre family
estate to having about 400 acres under plantation, both in Nashik as
well as in nearby Dindori, the latest up-and-coming wine region.
Varietals planted include Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Zinfandel and
Merlot along with the original Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc. In
addition to having a wide national distribution network within India,
Sula also exports its wines internationally, as well as importing and
distributing wines from leading producers worldwide.
In 2005, Sula proudly launched its first reserve wine, the Dindori
Reserve Shiraz, as well as India’s first dessert wine, the Late Harvest
Chenin Blanc. The winery is open to the public for educational tours,
and the beautiful Tasting Room invites visitors to enjoy their favorite
Sula wines amidst spectacular views of the vineyards and surrounding
lakes and hills.
Firmly committed to remaining at the forefront of
Indian wines, Sula continues to experiment with new varietals, engage
in sustainable agriculture, support the local rural economy, and, of
course, make wines of outstanding quality and superb value.
Rajeev Samant spoke to Lokvani about the company
What motivated you to quit your well paying job at Oracle and return to India and start a winery in India?
After graduating from Stanford I worked for seven years at Oracle. I
really enjoyed my job but yet somehow I always had a desire to go to
India and do something for the country.
owned a twenty-five acre land in Nasik which is traditionally famous
for its fruit crop. I decided to cultivate Alphonso mangoes and
table grapes on this piece of land. My California background
spurred me to investigate the possibility of growing wine grapes.
Climate studies showed that the land was perfect for wine grapes as
well. Since I had no knowledge about wines or winery I decided to get
expert advice from Keri Damsky who is a leading wine maker in
California. The idea perked his interest and he visited India. He was
convinced that the place was right and we were able to grow the grapes.
With some funding we established Sula Wines and the company became
successful beyond our wildest dream.
Wine is not part of the Indian tradition. Why did you feel that your wine business would succeed in India?
I came back to India when finance minister Manmohan Singh had initiated
the first set of reforms. I could see that cosmopolitanism was
growing and India was changing rapidly. More and more Indians were
traveling the world and I could see lot of infusion of western
lifestyles in India. I felt that the time was just right for a wine
I also was the right entrepreneur for this business.
My roots were in Bombay which was a big market. It is home to many
affluent people. I had ties to Nasik, the perfect place to grow grapes.
I also had lived in California, home to Sonoma and Napa Valley that
boast some of the finest wineries in the world. So I had the
connections to experts in the field
What were the major challenges in establishing this business?
Our biggest hurdle was getting a license. For twelve years prior
to my getting my license wineries, distilleries and breweries were
quasi banned in Maharashtra. The ministers who were mostly from rural
areas did not understand wines and hence getting a license was almost
impossible. Once we got over that hurdle we made steady progress.
Now that they see what Sula has done for the rural economy, they are
When you established Sula, were you eyeing the world market or the Indian market? What marketing strategies did you adopt?
Our goal was to produce a world class product which we wanted to begin
marketing in India. We worked hard on creating a marketing package that
would clearly declare the product’s Indian origin while also being very
We held a lot of wine tasting events and also did
pioneering work in helping people understand the concept of choosing
wines for different types of food. We provided a lot of training to the
staff of many of the fine restaurants.
Medical evidence points to
the fact that wines have a beneficial effect on health. Ayurved also
talks about the value of Drakshararista for health. Indians,
especially the affluent Indian men have the highest rate of heart
disease in the world. We were able to convince many to move away from
the hard liquor and move towards wine.
How would you describe your wine making technique?
Our advisor is from California and hence the technique is certainly new
world style. Labor in India is not that expensive and we do try to use
as much non-technology based production as possible. People in other
countries charge a premium for such production. We hand sort
grapes. We also use labor intensive techniques because we want to
provide jobs to the rural poor.
Our farming techniques are
very environment friendly. We work with the national research center
for grapes to work on agricultural methods to produce excellent produce
using environment friendly and sustainable farming techniques.
You went back to India with the hope of doing something for the country. What do you think is your major contribution?
I am very proud of the fact that I have been able to directly improve
the rural economy and provide jobs to many people in Nasik. Sula
wines can compete with the finest in the world and as an Indian I am
proud that we produce such a world class product. My entrepreneurial
story has inspired many others to come back to India and pursue their
dreams, some of which like mine have been unusual.
What does the future for Sula look like?
At this time we are working hard to keep up with the growing market.
Our current demand is for about two million bottles. We introduce a new
wine each year. We continue work on improving our products and range of
Where can people buy Sula wines in the Boston area?
The Wine Emporium, 607 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02118
(617) 262-0379 and Merchants Wine 6 Water Street, Boston, MA 02109
(617) 523 – 7425 are a couple of retailers who carry this wine.
Thanks for your time
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