Sula Wines is the creation of an unconventional entrepreneur who used innovative business strategies to become a success in this emerging market. Rajeev Samant was born in Mumbai and grew up in a middle class family which encouraged independent and innovative thinking. Some of his fondest childhood memories are cycling up and down Carmichael Road. He studied in a cathedral school from class one to class twelve. He was a superb student and with his parents’ blessings and his natural determination he gained an admission in one of the best universities in America. At Stanford, he completed his graduation in economics and then changed tracks to do a master’s degree in industrial engineering.
Rajeev deeply valued the time he spent at Stanford saying, “It was like paradise. The people were great; a Noble Prize winner here, an Olympian there. It really made you want to succeed.” After completing his masters in 1990, Rajeev joined Oracle and within a year he was promoted as a finance manager at the company headquarters in San Francisco. He went from strength to strength to become one of the youngest finance managers in Oracle.
Around this time, the entrepreneurial bug bit him and in 1992, he quit his job at Oracle to stand on his own two feet. He knew that he wanted to become an entrepreneur, but he was not sure what business he wanted to do. Being young, free and restless he travelled around the world and after one year of extensive travelling, he found himself back in Mumbai.
The Samant family owned an unused 30 acre patch of land on the banks of the Godavari River. On an accidental trip to his native village near Nashik, Rajeev was suddenly struck with what he could only describe as an epiphany. He immediately returned home and presented his family with a unique vision. In 1993, he started growing Alphonso mangoes on that patch. For a number of reasons, that venture did not take off as desired. Nashik was India’s largest grape growing region and Rajeev started with growing table grapes and soon ventured into wine grapes. He had come into close proximity with this industry during his days at Stanford University, which was very close to the traditional giants of the American wine making industry such as the Napa Valley and Sonoma County.
Wine making was still in its infancy in India and the local market was miniscule. Commercial wine grape cultivation had started in India in the 1980’s. Grover wines had started in 1981 and Indage had started in 1982. Very little wine was being imported into India and the alcohol beverages industry was dominated by the likes of whisky and beer. In spite of being the primary grape producing region in India, no wine grapes were grown in Nashik. Raajeev started by scientifically analysing the climatic data from a grape growing point of view. He realized that there were a lot of similarities between Nashik and Sonoma. This was very encouraging and Rajeev decided to work further on his idea.
Having a passing interest in wine making is one thing but Rajeev was certainly not technically equipped to handle the intricacies of growing grapes and making wine from it. So he went back to California and located Kerry Damskey, one of the renowned wine-makers of the region. Rajeev convinced Kerry to join him as a consultant and help him build a winery in Nashik. Thus, Sula Wines was born in 1997. And is now one of the largest winemakers in the country.