Sonal Holland is India’s premium wine phenomenon,
travelling the wine world with Bacchus ease and
deconstructing wine-making techniques and varieties
for us with inborn flair. An internationally recognised opinion
leader in the world of wine, Holland plays judge on several
global platforms as well, including Decanter Asia Wine Awards,
Concours Mondial du Bruxelles, and Hong Kong International
Wine and Spirits Competition. She is also wielding her
expertise and experience in working with governments of
Australia, Chile and California to bring their wines into India,
facilitating mechanics at the regulatory level.
Excerpts from a conversation:
What inspired you to carve a career in the world of wine?
I entered the industry in 2007. Before that, I had been working with a Fortune 500 NASDAQ-listed global staffing giant for six years and stagnation had set in. I was on my way to becoming the country CEO, travelling aplenty across the globe, but felt that I had stopped growing. At 33, I desperately felt the need to do something entirely different, that stoked my passion. While discussing this with my husband Andrew, over literally a glass of wine, I read an article he showed me, written by UK-
based wine expert Jancis Robinson. He commented that she was there in Britain when the wine market went from zero to hero, and schooled herself to become a coveted voice of wine in the country. That stoked my interest instantly and I decided to dip into the arena.
It took you a decade to create your own certified voice in the
world of wine. What was that journey like?
I was very clear that I wanted to earn my stripes. I never wanted to be a self-proclaimed expert after reading a couple of books. I went to London to study, invested time and money, gave examinations, and finally earned the title of Master of Wine. The only one in India. It didn’t sit well with me — the thought of being employed by someone else and let a company take advantage of my credentials, knowledge and experience. I decided I wanted to start off on my own. A world of opportunity opened up…and the rest is history.
Are you where you envisaged yourself to be?
Yes. I have many firsts to my credit, at the risk of sounding pompous. I conceived the India Wine Awards with no pre-existing template to guide me initially. This is the fifth year of the IWA and we have a five-year alignment with Pro Wine for organising. As India’s only Master of Wine, I have pioneered the country’s first wine academy. Our classes have been
running full for the past five years. Before that, I was creating
awareness for wine appreciation, meeting the GMs of hotels to convince them to invest in the courses for their personnel. For me, the best lies ahead as the wine industry flowers.
What was that pivotal turning point?
It was a signal from the universe that I was on the right path. I
was still earning my credentials as a wine expert, having done
my foundation and intermediate courses. I conducted my first
workshop — a one-and-a-half hour-long wine appreciation
session for 40 people at Tendulkar’s restaurant in South
Mumbai. It was met with applause and everyone assumed that
I had been doing this for years. I knew in my bones that I was
on the right track and needed to keep going.
How do you see the wine industry evolving in India?
When we say F&B has been growing, only the fat F has been
growing over the past decade. Not the B. Beverages contribute
to 40 percent of the business in the F&B space. Over 12,000
room keys are expected to be added to the hotel space over
the next few years, with over USD 200 million flowing into
hospitality expansion. Indian food is globally renowned and
the scope for wines is tremendous. The whole world wants to
pair their wines with our food and flavours, our hospitality is
incredible — this is how large the ecosystem is.
Shilpi Madan for The Leela