In 1996, Rajeev Samant had an epiphany when he realized that Nashik in Maharashtra had the perfect climate for growing wine grapes. In 1999, he established Sula Vineyards, Nashik’s first winery, with help from noted Californian winemaker Kerry Damskey. This historic move transformed Nashik into India’s Wine Capital, and today, Sula Vineyards is globally recognized as India’s most important wine producer. The rural economy and employment in Western Maharashtra have benefited massively from Rajeev’s groundbreaking efforts.
Rajeev had innumerable firsts in India – planting the first Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Zinfandel, revolutionising wine tourism with the first winery tasting room in 2005, first vineyard resort – Beyond by Sula in 2007, and the country’s first vineyard music festival – Sulafest, well known to music lovers across the country. His entrepreneurial spirit has been instrumental in creating a thriving local wine industry in India and has brought global recognition, and a fan following, for Indian wine and the Sula brand.
- Who you are (naturally!)
I’m Rajeev Samant who founded Sula Vineyards 20 years ago today. I guess you could say I’ve probably done more to get Indians drinking and enjoying wine than anyone else! I was born and raised in Bombay and went to University in California. Now I spend my time between our Nasik vineyards, Mumbai and London.
- What inspired you to create/join your business?
I’ve always wanted to do something different, to blaze my own path. My dad was a first generation entrepreneur and I grew up with starting up a business in my blood. After I graduated from Stanford I was doing a corporate job at Oracle Corp in Silicon Valley and I quickly realised a soulless corporate existence was not from me – you’ve only got one life to live, live it well! And wine is something that brings together heart mind and soul…what a wonderful life!
- An anecdote which epitomizes your India?
When we set up our first winery in 1999 there was a meeting to discuss the exact technology and cooling solution required for chilling the wine, which we were pioneers in doing in India. It was extremely technical. And then we immediately followed it with a “puja”, breaking a coconut and chanting mantras to Lord Ganesha to bless the opening. That’s India – technology embracing religion!
- One thing that you can’t live without?
Ah that would have to be my little two year old daughter Mia! I started very late as a father and now I’m a hopelessly doting daddy!
- One thing that you hate?
Taking two weeks to do something that should take two days. Unfortunately that’s all to common in corporate culture!
- If you could change one thing about India what would it be?
I would shut down all the coal mines and coal power plants and replace them with massive solar power installations. I’m a relentless climate campaigners – we are running out of time to save our planet!
- Who is your greatest inspiration?
Definitely my father – came from small town Nasik, went to a municipal school, ended up coming to Bombay as a teenager, starting his own business in a completely new field and dominating it!
- What is your favourite quote?
Carpe Diem – Seize the Day!
I have noticed huge changes in India over the last few years but what is the biggest change you have noticed in India over the last 10 years?
There’s a massive entrepreneurial spirit and eco-system that has sprung up bringing so many different possibilities to young Indians which just didn’t exist a decade ago. Back then it was all about corporate or government jobs, today’s millennial Indians are much bolder and willing to step out on their own!
- What do you think are the biggest challenges India faces over the next ten years?
We will be in big trouble if we don’t create enough jobs to employ all the youth graduating from college every year with big dreams. And we will run out of water if we don’t act fast in conserving and enhancing our limited water resources.
- Which is the destination at the top of your bucket list?
My wife Margo and I really want to visit gorgeous Georgia. It’s calling out our names!
- What is the one place you visited that you have NO desire to return to?
Gorakhpur, UP on our border with Nepal. In 1993 I passed through there to go on a Himalayan trek and I was scared for my life! I’m sure it’s improved since then but I never want to go back!
- Book or Movie?
Book. Currently enjoying Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy and just finished Will Dalrymple’s The Anarchy. I love my historical fiction and non-fiction!
- Just for fun! I am doing a survey to find India’s most popular breakfast, what is yours?
Poha any day!
- In retrospect, what is the one thing you wish you could have told your 20 year-old self?
Party a little less and study a little more? Nah….my journey has been as good as it gets!
For more information on Sula Wines and also a stay at the vineyard check out: https://sulawines.com/