INDIA WINE INSIDER 2018
On the morning of the jury deliberation session of the recently-concluded India Wine Awards, Sonal Holland confesses that she has not slept a wink. Yet, there she was, bright eyed and impeccably dressed at 8.30 am for the jury briefing.
Quality, when judging, is of paramount consideration, she announces. “Never, ever let a deserving wine go without considering it for a medal it truly deserves.” Her words resound as we sniff, swirl, scrutinise and blind taste dozens of wines through the day. There are debates and intense discussions before scores are entered and sent for tabulation into the holding room where a bank of computers, Excel sheets and hundreds of brownbagged bottles sit, awaiting their turn at the blind tasting.
Sip on this
The onus is on Holland to deliver a world class competition, and she is aware of it. As a Master of Wine — one of only 380 in the world, and the only one in India thus far — she is expected to be the expert of all wine experts. With that power comes her own responsibilities. “I swore this year would be bigger, better, shinier than the last year,” she says. No small task, since the India Wine Awards were inaugurated just last year. “This time, the venue is bigger, so’s the jury; there’s a section being judged by four Masters of Wine; there are more nominations for the food and wine pairing category,” she says. To this end, the jury tasting is followed in a week by a gala evening, titled Winners’ Night. “Because I want every stakeholder in the industry to feel like a winner.”
Apurva Gawande, the Cordon Bleu-trained head of operations for the India Wine Awards, acknowledges that this year’s edition has grown exponentially. “We had a detailed game plan, with clear allocation of duties from start to finish. At the end, we felt like we had run a marathon and won,” she says. For Winners’ Night, four hundred invitations were sent out, the guest list double the previous year’s. With all of the work involved, Holland confesses that she was “both feet and all 10 fingers busy.”
Despite the breathless pace of her life, Holland has pencilled in time for we need to push boundaries in viticulture, discover new terroirs. I believe one day our mid-range brands (₹600 to ₹800) will merge with the luxury (₹1,500 plus) in terms of quality. Mid-range is where the majority of the market share will land when the market explodes.” If Holland has her way, that time will not be too far off.
Later, as the high-octane Winners’ Night unfolds at the ballroom of The Leela Mumbai, I watch the wine industry come together to celebrate — a rare occasion with most Indian wine producers and importers under one roof, applauding their competitors, tasting each others’ wines, indulging in industry chit chat. Master of ceremonies Anish Trivedi’s baritone announces the names of the winners of each segment. Holland, dressed in black and gold with diamonds in her ears, watches the ‘stakeholders’ soak up the accolades. The Sula Vineyards team led by winemaker Karan Vasani gleefully holds aloft its trophies; Grover Vineyards’ Kapil Grover makes a rare appearance onstage to support his team’s triumphs; Good Drops’ Ashwin Rodrigues dances his way to the stage to collect his award.
There is no denying that this is the perfect feelgood moment for the wine industry. “nice”. They are wary of conflict or confrontation. They feel guilty to reject a dinner or Facebook invite, they empathise with men, imagine hurt feelings. They want to be ‘kind’, but it ends up meaning they are not kind to themselves. This must stop.
My daughter is a millennial, and as this maelstrom sweeps over us, I’ve found myself learning from her. She speaks of how angry young women are, how they are constantly disrespected by young men friends, how men think that foul, sexist jokes are funny, how they demand ‘sexting’ and ‘nude photos’ as their right, how young girls are guilted into sharing them.
It can’t be easy to date or even just co-exist as classmates and colleagues in this impersonal, narcissistic and misogynistic milieu.
But my daughter also speaks of how conversation, disapproval, or open protest does make a difference. She talks of the sheer intoxicating power of saying ‘no’ or ‘stop’. Saying it with conviction and without feeling guilty. Of pushing back; demanding an apology rather than feeling victimised.
It’s not easy, sometimes lines are crossed by friends or cousins. But whoever said a revolution is easy? It would be foolish to imagine that a reformed workplace is going to be gifted to us. Power is not given up easily; you wrest it. And while the fight for institutional and social reform must continue, individuals must fight back. For themselves and for those weaker than them. Every Rosa Parks will inspire ten others.
I lunched with a friend today, and we spoke of how we’d been tough as nails at work. Of course, we made dear friends, laughed and fought and got drunk together. But when we picked a slime ball to shut down, we shut him down hard. And then we moved on.
Other things being equal, I don’t think I ever imagined I was not in control. I would like women today to realise this. Walk away, block, unfriend, freeze, yell, slap: do what it takes and then some. Unless there is power being wielded, don’t imagine popularity or eminence is power and surrender the initiative. Be like that Calcutta beggar.
Where the writer tries to make sense of society with seven hundred words and a bit of snark.