by Bill Short
Shortly after completing his undergraduate and graduate degrees at Stanford and a stint at Oracle, Rajeev Samant returned to his native India and, inspired by what surrounded him during his years in California, began cultivating Sauvignon Blanc vines on a 30 acre plot of family owned land in Nashik, 180 km northeast of Mumbai. It was traditionally known for growing table grapes. Overcoming all the obstacles involved in establishing a new industry further complicated by a crippling national bureaucracy and an unheard of growing season – think monsoons – Raj soon became the prime mover of the nascent Indian wine Industry. Sula Winery was established in 1996. The first vintage was 2000.
The timing was right and Sula thrived. Rajeev purchased additional acreage in Dindori, an area in Nashik he and Sonoma wine consultant, Terry Damskey had identified as particularly promising. They worked with additional varietals, Chenin Blanc and Shiraz. In the quest to further define and discover the limits of the terroir they have planted and produce Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Viognier and Zinfandel wines. The portfolio includes a very fine Riesling (yes, in India) and they make a good sparkling wine! They now own 1800 acres. In addition, Raj has a distributorship which brings a number of fine wines and top spirits brands to the market. As part of their wine tourism venture, Sula operates a tasting room, 2 restaurants: 'Little Italy' & 'Soma'. Raj has just opened an upscale luxury hotel on the winery grounds overlooking the original family vineyard. A number of wineries have followed Sula to Nashik. However, 70% of the wine consumed in India is Sula. Dreyfus is Rajeev’s first and only U.S. importer.
In 2008 Rajeev hosted the 1st Sulafest. It was an instant hit. I was overwhelmed when I received an invitation from Raj to attend the vastly expanded 2017 10th anniversary of Sulafest. An India visit has been a dream for me. I always like to catch up with Raj (never possible) and I was anxious to meet his new wife, Margo. Sulafest has morphed into a three day party of rock music, often with an Indian twist; crafts; fashion; a wide variety of food and wine, wine, wine. Each day from noon to 10pm there were three stages simultaneously showcasing performances by both local and internationally known musicians, such as Bloc Party, Infected Mushroom, Afro Celt Sound System, a great Rahu Dixit Project and many, many more. 20,000 people attended over three days. There was not one incidence of violence, a virtual love fest. (Hey, I was at Woodstock!) It was an amazing experience. I am forever grateful to Raj and Team Sula for making it possible. Then, there were the after parties….
Newlyweds! Rajeev and Margo were married November 29th at a ceremony in Goa
On the VIP viewing balcony: Music, food, wine spirits and back rubs.
What they call their “Hollywood Sign” in the original vineyard, site of all the action.
Sula VP and Global Ambassador, Cecilia Oldne feeling it! Cecilia was voted recently one of the 10 most influential women in India.
My favorite – The Raghu Dixit Project mixes rock and classic Indian music. Will tour the U.S. this Spring.