Rajeev Samant, founder of Sula Vineyards on the brand's association with TASMAC and reaping South Indian market harvests
Dosa paired with a Riesling, anyone? The founder of Asia’s largest wine producer outside China — Sula Wines — is a happy man with the brand’s recent entry into Tamil Nadu. Being the first national wine brand to be associated with TASMAC — a hurrah for Chennai’s discerning populace of wine drinkers, we take this as a cue to roll out a barrel of questions to the founder. Excerpts from the interview:
Sula Wines was founded over 20 years ago. What brings you to Tamil Nadu and why now?
As one of the top alcohol consuming states in the country, Tamil Nadu holds great avenues for Sula Vineyards. As a rule, all brands of alcohol need to be registered with TASMAC in order to be available at any wine shop in the state. Owned by the Government of Tamil Nadu, TASMAC has a monopoly over wholesale and retail vending of alcoholic beverages in the state. It controls the Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) trade in the state and thus is an essential step towards Sula Vineyards’ future plans. We are happy that our dedicated efforts to make it through TASMAC have finally reaped us positive results.
Tell us about your plans for the South Indian market.
We are absolutely excited to be the first and only national wine brand to be associated with TASMAC and offer our wines in the state. As the most integral channel in Tamil Nadu for any alcohol brand, TASMAC will ensure that our wines are available to the entire state. It is a true accomplishment for the brand and we are glad to spread the Sula cheer to Tamil Nadu. Karnataka is our second largest wine market and we have high hopes from Tamil Nadu as well.
Kozhi & Satori?
We asked Samant to name four wines that are part of the Sula wines repertoire and what South Indian dishes they are likely to best pair with and were pleasantly surprised with his list:
‘The dosa pairs beautifully with our Riesling. The fermented sweet aftertaste is well supported by the sweetness of the wine. Podi idli which is a very common household dish tastes even better with our Sauvignon Blanc. The texture and the slight spices of the idli are beautifully balanced by the freshness and the sharp acidity of the wine. For the chicken lovers, the intensity of the Kori Kempu works well with the freshness and the fruit flavours of Satori. And the very famous Chicken Chettinad’s depth is supported by the richness and the sensuality of the peppery Rasa Shiraz.’
Do you have any new wines coming out in 2020?
Taking our brand ethos of innovation one step further, we have launched India’s first wine sparkler in a can — DIA — in two gorgeous flavours of red and white wine. This wine sparkler will change the way the country drinks wine and makes for the perfect transitional drink from day to night in the most effortless, appeasing format of a can. No worry of mixers, corkscrews or glasses, easy to carry and crack open straight from the fridge. Dia epitomises the good life, in a convenient way.
Also, is wine gaining more favour among younger patrons — as compared to artisanal beer?
When Sula started retailing, wine was barely a drink of choice in India. We knew more about whisky, rum, vodka or beer than we did about wine. Over two decades, Sula has helped make wine more accessible, less daunting and widely available at economic price points. We also took on the mantle of educating people about wine. We have tied up with global wine education partners like WSET and offer wine trainings to thousands of people each year. We also conduct wine tastings and trainings across India for consumers and hospitality professionals who serve wines on a daily basis.
Today you can buy a bottle almost anywhere in the country. Sula Vineyards is fondly known as India’s most loved wine brand and holds over 60 per cent of the market share.
Give us a layman’s overview of what your ‘grape year’ looks like from farming to types of grapes to harvest.
We grow grapes like Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Tempranillo to name a few. The harvest season started for wine grapes with Sauvignon Blanc on December 19, 2019 and is expected to continue till the end of March 2020. With the Indian wine industry growing steadily, Sula Vineyards is all set to extend barrels full of fine wine yet again!
Chennai doesn’t have as much of a wine drinking culture as say, metros like Mumbai and Bengaluru — so tell us about the kinds of liquor and brands that you are monitoring and consider as competition?
Our decade long experiences in the industry reflect that over 80 per cent of the wine consumption comes from the capital city. As one of the highest alcohol consuming states in the country, we expect a similar pattern in Chennai and are looking forward to sales from cities like Coimbatore.