June 14: Sonal Holland MW has ventured into the wine retail space this year with a new initiative Vine2Wine and inking a Contract with Foodhall Mumbai for retailing wines since March 2019, and opening her first wine and beer retail operation, as she has also been appointed Indian Brand Ambassador for Asia’s fine crystal glassware brand Lucaris, writes Subhash Arora
Sonal Holland, India’s first Master of Wine, has expanded from her role as a consultant to becoming a full-fledged entrepreneur with the new venture which will retail an exciting selection of international and domestic wines and premium beers. A wine consultant with the Biyani-owned premier food supermarket chain, Foodhall, Sonal’s retail initiative was launched with the management of the exclusive wine section in the Linking Road store a couple of months ago. Foodhall wanted her expertise in managing the operations of the shop-in-shop wine store, thus making a smooth transition into retail.
For this venture, she has partnered with Singapore-based NRI, Dinesh Changela, the founder and ex-Managing Director of Berkmann Cellars India, who also floated Vinopolis Wines last month for their import business. While Dinesh will run the operations on a day-to-day basis, Sonal is the overall in-charge of negotiations with Foodhall, including all the contracts and wine selections.
“We launched Vine2Wine in March and have received a tremendous response. We put the customer at the heart of everything, gaining access to a great variety of wines across styles, regions and price-points,” says Sonal, who believes that the future development of the Indian wine industry lies in structured and experiential retail operations.
According to Sonal, studies point to a bright future in Retail. She attributes about 70% of current wine consumption in India to retail with a growing demand for sophisticated modern retail operations, highlighted in the India Wine Insider, a report of the urban Indian wine drinker that tracks their attitudes, behaviour and relationships with wine, which she launched last year in collaboration with Wine Intelligence, a global consumer research leader.
“What sets us apart from other wine retail ventures is that we have conceptualised Vine2Wine as an experiential store rather than the one where wine is a mere commodity. Our customer today wants the best selection of wine and not necessarily the cheapest,” speaking about the customers who are affluent and aspirational.
Vine2Wine stocks around 200 SKUs, 50% corresponding to the fine/premium wine category. About 30% wines are Indian wines that include labels from big producers such as Sula and Grover and even boutique producers such as York and Casablanca. The quality spectrum is complete, ranging from the pocket-friendly Santa Cristina to Meghan Markle’s favourite Super Tuscan, Tignanello. “My commitment is to promote a positive culture of wine. It is wonderful to see even women purchase wines. Gifting wine is a positive trend and that is adding to the sales. It is heartening that there are people who buy several bottles of wine, and also those who buy wine on the basis of perceived value, rather than price alone. Our trained and WSET certified staff guide customers through the buying processes.”
Talking about the super premium wines, she says, “Our clientele is delighted we stock classics such as Vintage Champagnes, Chateauneuf-du Pape and iconic Barossa Shiraz. Even when it comes to domestic selections, our focus is on the premium offerings, the kind you would typically find on the wine list at a luxury hotel or a premium stand-alone restaurant. For example, with Sula we stock Rasa but also from Sula Selections (imported wines). We have received a great response for Chêne, the ultra-premium wine from Grover Zampa. Even though the exclusive label Insignia is not registered in Mumbai, we would like to add these to our portfolio, including the magnums .With Fratelli we focus on their high-end portfolio like Sette and J’Noon. ”
‘The wine cellar at the Foodhall, Linking Road Santacruz is spread over 400-450 sq ft in area and is the largest wine aisle within the city of Mumbai. “This is an 'inclusive' initiative that gives an equal opportunity to deserving producers and importers of the country to showcase their exemplary portfolio of wines,” says Sonal, adding, “We will also showcase some winners of India Wine Awards, a platform conceived as independent and authoritative that recognises meritorious wines to enable informed consumer choices. We are in dialogue with the entire wine industry to see how this can be a collaborative effort to promote the best in India, to the consumer who is ready with evolved palate.”
Sonal also indicated that she is working on partnering with Foodhall to manage wine operations in Bangalore. Foodhall in Delhi currently does not have wine retail but once they commence their wine cellar operation, she will explore the market.
Brand Ambassador Lucaris
Simultaneously during the launch of her retail venture, Sonal has also been appointed the Brand Ambassador in India for Lucaris, Asia’s first home-grown luxury brand of crystal glassware manufactured in Bangkok. ‘They promote an aspirational lifestyle and want to infuse freshness and energy in their brand communication. Lucaris and I share the same passion to encourage the growing set of discerning Indians to elevate their lifestyle around wine by adopting the use of better-quality glassware” explains Sonal.
Before signing on the contract, she visited Thailand to witness their manufacturing process and understand their business philosophy. “Their strategy is very clear- to grow dynamically by launching several high-quality crystal glassware collections and adding momentum to its distribution network, to make its presence felt across the hospitality and restaurant business.”
Team Top Ten WOW 2019
Sonal Holland has consistently featured in delWine’s Top Ten Women in Wine in India since our inception of these awards in 2013 and well before she became an MW. She joins other women like Madhulika Bhattacharya who has been in the business of retail for the last 4 years and has also been one of the Indian Top Ten WOW 2019, based on her exceptional performance in the Retail business.
If you Like this article please click on the Like button