Rajeev Samant is new India’s entrepreneurial shining star. At the peak of his career as one of the youngest finance managers of software giant Oracle in San Francisco, this Stanford graduate quit his job and returned home to India with the seemingly crazy idea of growing grapes and making wine. He turned his attentions to a family-owned plot of 30 acres in Nasik, India’s most important table-grape growing region just 180 km from Mumbai. The terroir and climate there were, in fact, ideally suited to growing wine grapes, but nobody had really considered the idea as a viable business proposition. Rajeev teamed up with Kerry Damskey, a leading winemaker from California’s Sonoma Valley, and planted the first vines in 1997.
Kerry, a native of California, likens his approach to that of a gem cutter. “You have to start with high quality raw materials, and be able to identify them. Then it’s like cutting facets in a diamond or emerald to show off what’s inside and highlight it.” His chance meeting with Rajeev Samant, who had the crazy idea of setting up a winery in India - piqued Kerry’s interest. “I wanted to find vineyard locations that yielded distinctive fruit, because that creates distinctive wines. And when you walk the Sula vineyards, you know that this is a singular location.”
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. 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. Sula has expanded from the original 30 acre family estate to having about 400 acres under plantation, both in Nasik as well as in nearby Dindori, the latest up-and-coming wine region.