May 31: After a highly appreciated Article in delWine about Raghni Naidu as perhaps the first Indian woman wine producer in California, there was a request from many of our readers who wanted to ‘meet’ her on a Zoom chat and therefore a Webinar was organised on 26 May at 10 pm IST to talk to her about background, tastes, interests and plans for future and her wines, writes Subhash Arora who conducted the interview
First time when I read an Article in March this year, published in California about Naidu Wines in Sebastopol Sonoma, founded and run by Raghni Naidu from Amritsar, my thoughts went back to a song in the Bollywood movie ‘Shalimar’ in1978. Usha Uthup, the famous playback singer of my time and characterised on screen by the young and pretty Aruna Irani, a dance teacher to several young clients-one of them being some Mr. Naidu. The words were something like:
Oh God Mr Naidu
This is not the Bharatanatyam
this is the cha cha cha.
The song reverberated in my ears for years in her sensuous, husky voice. I smiled and visualised a North Indian Punjabi girl meeting Mr. Naidu on a dance floor in Australia and made him learn to do the Cha Cha Cha with her for life!! Not for a moment would I imagine her husband Kaushick Naidu, an IT specialist from Chennai she met in Melbourne and eventually married him, to even feign the moves of Bharat Natyam.
I wrote an Article about this young lady which was well appreciated-enough to make me do a zoom chat with her-even though the time difference of 12:30 hours was not easy to tackle. But we made it happen on 26 May at 10 pm IST which meant 9:30 am her time!
Also Read : Punjabi Woman owns Naidu Wines in Sonoma California
I was keen to know how much ‘Mr. Naidu’ had helped her in business. The Article I had written also described her as the first Indian woman wine producer in California as had been the flavour of the original Article, apparently upsetting a few viewers who felt that I had denigrated the efforts of many women who were perhaps already running some winery.
When I posed the question to her, a confident Raghni said she was not projecting herself to be the first Indian woman wine producer in California but emphasized that the winery was entirely her own choice and she was totally responsible for all the decisions regarding the winery. She admitted that a few women had sprung up, claiming they had also been running the winery (implicitly helping the husband or being helped by him).
In my book, she is the first Indian woman producer in California unless proven otherwise based on my criteria. We won’t know what tomorrow brings. The example of Indage Vintners can be a humbling experience for anyone-being from Hero to Zero. And there is no prize for being the first woman wine producer- of the second, or the hundredth!!
Raghni was candid enough to admit when Arora asked her how she picked up the vineyard, she felt she was lucky that the gamble paid off. She had been looking at various properties when she got the bug to be a producer. She has no formal wine training and has employed professional help- whether in viticulture or winemaking.
‘My objective was to have a boutique winery and make different varietals I felt were the best for the terroir. Pinot Noir is the best suited to the area and so the flagship wine was Pinot Noir. The first vintage 2018 was sold off very fast and apparently, has found appreciation from the thirsty and discerning palates, encouraging her to experiment with grapes like Viognier (single vineyards, Pinot Noir Rose and a Bordeaux type of a Cru wine, fuller wine- are the additional wines for now).
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I never got to share my visualisation about the Shalimar song with her when I wrote an Article about Raghni Naidu and her winery Raghni Wines. Not even in the Zoom web-chat with her on May 26 where I wanted her to share with our readers her passion for wine and how she started the business with practically no wine knowledge but only a dream and desire.
When I asked her when she had started drinking wine, she quipped –at 18, and mercifully in the company of her parents.
She has been brave enough to launch her wines last year during Covid. How was the experience? ‘I was actually very nervous. I had been visiting the winery from San Francisco and getting ready for the bottling when the lockdown was announced unexpectedly. I was too shocked but pulled myself together and since I was stuck at the winery, I set up the systems to market the wine; incidentally her education in Melbourne in Marketing was a big help. This has been a great swim-or die learning experience and I have emerged as a very strong woman.’ Of course, it helped that the flagship Pinot Noir was excellent quality and she was congratulated by professionals for the quality.
Did she face any difficulties being a woman or the treatment meted out to women in Europe as well as the US or if she encountered any racist tones? ‘It was like anywhere else. There were a few people who brush you aside. But in general, the equation was a professional one-I hired a service and remunerated after the work was done satisfactorily’, she says.
California being 12.30 hours behind, we have had to tweak the time for our chat at 10 pm in India but 9:30 am in California, not an ideal time to taste wines so we had to settle for her showing the 4 bottles including the full-bodied bottle of Naidu Pinot Noir 2018 from her personal collection- all her small production had been sold out last year. The beautiful Provence colour Rose looked seductive enough while the dark golden colour Viognier seemed very inviting from the bottle.
Raghni felt that though Pinot Noir was the signature grape, suited best for the soil, she was keen to experiment with other varieties as well. It will be an experiment and a process that she has to go through herself and bloom as a wine producer with a difference.
So where does she herself in 5 years? ‘’Of course, I want to expand my horizons. Naturally, I have expansion plans but I hope to remain a boutique producer making premium wines only.’ The world is her oyster- she plans to go back to Australia and visit wineries there.
I did mention that Burgundy being the mecca of Pinot Noirs should be perhaps on the top of the list. I do hope she visits the Indian couple of Paramdeep Singh and Dr. Nirmal Ghumman who own Nazaaray winery in Mornington Peninsula about 100 kms south of Melbourne and make excellent Burgundy style Pinot Noir and Chardonnay which she would surely find interesting to look at.
Although she has no plans to export her wines to India- I did explain that they were too expensive at $25 (Rose) to $55 (Pinot Noir) for the Indian market. She has often been told that her Pinot is worth $80- quite likely as California is known for its high flyers. She likes to sell in packs of 3. The shipping charges are very high- it makes sense to have at least 3 bottles to defray the cost per bottle. One can visit the online store and make a random selection of wines to order. She has been very successful in marketing her wines online. https://naiduwines.com/pages/sip
The winery also has a beautiful and exclusive guest house with 4 rooms and several resort facilities including a home- theatre and a pool. She admits that when she started tasting wines she did not even like them much but it was the lifestyle around it that enamoured her and she was hooked. She wants to promote the vineyard to table concept.
Also Read : Indo-Aussie Nazaaray Pinot Noir wins Top Award
I could not resist asking her the unpleasant news about California fires which appear to be increasingly common in the last few years due to global warming. It was unfortunate that though there was no harm to the property, the grapes turned out to be tainted and she could not use any of her own grapes in the 2020 vintage. What a pity!!
We close the chat by raising a toast to her with a Jai Ho...and extracting a promise that whenever she is in India she would organise a private tasting of her wines at my residence with a few of the attendees.