Amisha Sharan talks to India’s most accomplished wine professional Sonal Holland.
Sonal is the first Indian to have been bestowed with the prestigious global title of Master of Wine, Holland has won numerous awards in her incredible journey to become the only MW in a nation of one billion people!
1. How did your journey start?
My journey into the world of wine was unexpected. I had pursued Hotel Management from Dadar Catering College and then an MBA from Mumbai. I worked with The Oberoi Group, and I was pursuing a corporate career with a multinational Fortune 500 company. Though I enjoyed vino, I entered the world of wine by accident, but hard work, determination and the support of my family helped me succeed
I became cognizant of the opportunities that existed in the then-nascent Indian wine industry and made a strategic shift in my career to explore this further. My singular aim then became to be the first Master of Wine from India. Since then, I have achieved many milestones, and as a wine ambassador of India, take India’s fascinating wine story to the world.
2. An unforgettable wine memory.
Last year, on an invitation of Baron Eric de Rothschild and his daughter Saskia de Rothschild, I was part of an elite gathering of global wine connoisseurs from across the globe at Château Lafite Rothschild in Bordeaux, France to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Chateau Lafite. We stayed one night at the magnificent chateau, visited their iconic cellar, tasted historic vintages spanning the last 150 years, seated at an intimate dinner in the august company of filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola and actor Dominic West. It was a magical experience. We sampled 16 vintages going back to 1868. The only Indian to whom this honour was extended to, it was indeed a moment of pride to represent my country and it is an unforgettable experience and one of the most memorable moments in my career.
3. A common misconception about wine?
The most common myth about wine is that the older it is, the better it gets. But the truth is that around 95 per cent of the wines have a shelf life of around two to three years. Ageing these wines makes them taste tired, unbalanced with faded flavours. However, when it comes to expensive wine which is made with the intent of ageing, cellaring them helps to develop depth and maturity which will be appreciated when uncorked some years down the line.
4. We tasted Ice wine at the Nigeria region in Canada and loved it, do you too or would you recommend something better.
If you enjoyed Canadian ice wines, which are wines made from frozen grapes, you should try similar wines from Germany and Austria. You can also try botrytized wines, where noble rot or a beneficial grey fungus produces a glass of incredibly fine and sweet wine. Some fabulous wines to try are Tokaji of Tokaj-Hegyalja in Hungary, Sauternes from Bordeaux, France and Beerenauslese or Trockenbeerenauslese wines from Germany and Austria.
5. Underrated gem region for wines, and why?
There are so many underrated wine regions which produce exceptional wines but are still off the radar. When it comes to Old World regions, East Europe has vastly underrated wine regions. I visited Croatia recently and tasted some wonderful wines. Meanwhile, Hungary is world-famous for its sweet wine Tokaji, but its dry Furmint is certainly worth more attention than it gets. In western Europe, Portugal certainly has the most under-rated wines that offer exceptional value. Among New Latitude wines, my pick would be another unlikely choice, Japan, which has fabulously crisp white wines made from the Koshu grape variety commonly from the Yamanashi Prefecture. There is so much to discover in the wine world.
6. If you could own a vineyard anywhere in the world where will it be?
Frankly speaking, owning a vineyard doesn’t fascinate me. What excites me, however, is the concept of owning a chateau-like structure in a wine region, for instance, Nasik, and developing an authentic wine tourism experience around it. This immersive showcase will take visitors on a journey from grape to bottle – a complete wine experience, encompassing many wine-related activities that enthusiasts will enjoy; visiting nearby wineries, learning about their favourite beverage, its terroir and the passionate men and women behind the art of wine-making, while luxuriating in pristine environs.