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Delhi Wine Club

Posted: Friday, December 04 2009. 12:24

Sula: From Zero to Hero in Ten Years

When Rajeev Samant started making Sula wine in 1999 in Nashik, he would hardly have visualized being number one in a decade, especially because of well established players like Indage and Grover ruling the Indian market, but ironically he has been helped by both his competitors to reach the top spot, writes Subhash Arora

Photo By :: Adil Arora
Rajeev seems to share the tasting notes with AD Singh

Of course, he is not willing to agree to our view that his ascent has been accelerated by the very competitors. Indage has buckled under the mountains of management and financial problems- at least for a while and Grover Vineyards has had quality issues due to which its revenues nose-dived from Rs.230m to Rs.130m last year.

He does admit though that since there was a vacuum, Sula might have gained some. Last year when everyone else’s sales went down, he recorded a gain of around 10% over the previous year.  

Rajeev produced about 4000 cases from the 1999 vintage which he sold in Maharashtra-mainly in Mumbai.-going door to door, sampling his wines. Grover was the only wine which produced wines from the wine grape varietals but was known more for their red wines. Rajeev did a smart thing by producing white wines from Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc which were not only easier to produce but the high yielding  Chenin gave off-dry (slightly sweet) wines which were lapped up by the wine novices.

Soon he realized the increasing market need for red wine and brought out Satori brand which was a locally bottled red wine from Chile. Again, his acumen and wisdom to focus on brand building, he got the Merlot wine accepted in the market. There were two advantages for him- the wine was imported at very reasonable price from a known winery and Chilean wines had started getting popular in India but were high priced due the a taxation of about 420%. Merlot made luscious wine which was easy to drink too. Later on he started growing Shiraz, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and even Merlot and Malbec-not to talk of the recent Riesling, Viognier and Grenache.

Amit Burman with Rajeev Samant- CEO Sula Vineyards

Today Sula does not use any bulk wine. In an exclusive chat at the 10th anniversary celebration in Delhi he confirmed to delWine that he has not used a drop of imported bulk wine for the previous three years. He uses his own blend which includes 2-3 varietals including Merlot but with an emphasis on Malbec, though everyone still believes it to be a Merlot. Malbec will be the basic ingredient in due course, he says and believes it to be the best red grape for the Nashik region.. Of course, there is a range of red wines including the premium Dindori Reserve, which sells at a premium of around Rs. 200 ($4) at Rs. 700-750.

I was chatting with Rajeev at Olive Mehrauli last week on 30th, where Sula was celebrating the tenth anniversary. There were several interesting people like the famous writer William Dalrymple, Muzaffar Ali’s wife Meera, Amit Burman, Rohit Bal, Hemant Sagar and Usha Albuquerque. AD Singh, who has known Rajeev more than a decade when both were trying to find their niche, made it a point to be present at the party which he also co-hosted.

So I asked Rajeev, if he was planning to come out with more expensive premium wines. ‘Where is the market for those? People here are not willing to pay more money for Indian wines,’ said Rajeev. He is shrewd enough to have come out with lower priced wines like Madera, Samara, Dia, etc. to capture the lower end, fully realizing that there would be a lot of pressure on pricing because of imported wines.

Rajeev Samant with Rohit Bal

For those hung up on imported wines, he brought in Maison Pierre from South France, a low end quaffable wine. That is not all-he has several imported wines in his portfolio too.

What are his plans of expansion in this area, now that Sula is a decade old? ‘Tell me, where is the business model for imported wines? There is no money in the imported wine market. Tell me, who is making money in it. We are doing it because of our distribution is well set up. We will add a couple of new labels every six months but we are not going to go berserk and blindly add new labels,’ he says.

‘So what are your plans for the future?’ ‘I plan to be on the Goa beach, on December 31, for sure. I don’t have any earth-shaking plans. We did 195,000 cases last year. This year’s target is 275,000 cases. We have around 65% of the market share. We are financially sound company. What more do we want?.’

‘The market is so uncertain. The government policies keep on changing. We do get some premium for our brand name but I don’t know how long it will last. In other countries, no wine producer has more than 10% share. We will continue to hold fort as long as we can.’

Rajeev Samant- CEO Sula Vineyards in conversation with Sumeet and Gitanjali Nair

Rajeev was apparently in a very happy and confident mood. He would still not accept that the fall of Grover and Indage have helped him directly.’ Of course, there has been some advantage. But we have earned it by keeping good prices, wines that are clean and good quality consistently and a national distribution system which is well-oiled.’

Though Rajeev would not share his future plans, the expected increase in sales of 80,000 cases in one year-perhaps more than all the other producers in Nashik will produce this year. The next decade will be challenging but interesting for Sula and the consumers who are their fans. The lead taken by the company may not be easy to maintain if Indage is serious and sincere in the comeback efforts.  

Meanwhile, the tenth anniversary celebrations continue in Bangalore on December 8 and Mumbai on December 17 and. Those of you who are invited and attending, Enjoy!!

Subhash Arora


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