The Buyer
Sonal C Holland MW on huge potential of India’s wine market

Sonal C Holland MW on huge potential of India’s wine market

As India’s first Master of Wine Sonal C Holland is well placed to assess both the huge opportunities there are to grow wine consumption in India, but also the challenges the sector has to make a major breakthrough. She will be sharing her insights at Wine Future in Coimbra, Portugal in November and is the latest speaker at the event to give their views on the state of the global wine industry.

Richard Siddle
13th September 2023by Richard Siddle
posted in People,

Sonal C Holland MW has been at the forefront in the growth of wine consumption in India and has helped bring wine education to the masses through her Sonal Holland Wine Academy. Find out how below and at Wine Future in Portugal between November 7-9.

What do you see as being the biggest challenges and threats that the wine industry is facing?

Globally, the biggest challenge is to popularise wine among new consumers, in face of an unstable global economy and strong competition from other beverages.

In the last week of August, the French government allocated €200m to destroy surplus wine and support local producers. The heartbreaking crisis has been brought on by multiple factors like falling demand for wine and a global economic crisis. So, remaining relevant is a priority for the wine industry.

Sonal C Holland gave up a career in sales and business to follow her dream to become a Master of Wine

Closer to home, we are among the largest alcohol markets in the world and wine is the fastest growing alcoholic beverage in India. However, people are also showing an inclination towards other beverages like premium whiskies, craft beers and innovative cocktails. So while Indian consumers are willing to try wine, the challenge is to cultivate a loyalty for the beverage among them.

What do you see as the big outstanding opportunities and how do you see the industry capitalising on them?

While we see engaging new consumers as a challenge, it is, in fact, a great opportunity. There are 600m people between 18 to 35 years of age in India alone. Research shows this younger generation loves to experiment with different kinds of drinks, and will pay more for better quality.

If the wine industry can get the younger generation to learn about wine, try it and make it a part of their lifestyle, then it will tap into a vast pool of new and dedicated consumers.

This is what we have been trying to do at the Sonal Holland Wine Academy, which has made affordable wine education accessible to everyone. As a result, we see numerous wine enthusiasts and casual drinkers sign up for professional wine courses at our academy. This growing pool of well-informed consumers doesn’t shy away from buying good quality wine on any occasion. All we have to do is guide them on how to integrate wine into their lifestyle and get the most out of the experience.

What do you think have been the biggest step changes in the wine industry in the last 10 years?

The biggest changes in the wine industry around the world are all rooted in a factor that is also our biggest concern – climate change. We are seeing a shift in harvesting seasons, levels of alcohol and quality of produce across wine regions. The harvesting seasons are arriving sooner, while the alcohol levels are going up due to a warmer climate. Overall, wines from many popular regions are enjoying a qualitative uptick. But we do not know how long these good fortunes will last as climate change goes from bad to worse.

In India, wine is moving away from being a premium drink to a mainstream beverage. It has witnessed phenomenal growth in popularity, especially among women and young consumers due to its softer, socially acceptable and aspirational image. It is no longer just a drink for the urban population, and more people from tier two and tier three cities are excited to explore it.

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of the wine industry in the next 10 years – and why?

Sonal C Holland MW hopers to widen the consumption of wine in India through training, education and communicating effectively about wine

I am extremely optimistic about the future of the wine industry in the next 10 years. Not only is India’s wine consumption going up, but we also have a thriving domestic wine industry.

To recognise, reward and celebrate this booming wine landscape every year, we hold the India Wine Awards – the most prestigious wine competition in the country. We are shaping consumer choices through these awards, guiding them to the best domestic and international wines available in the country. Judging by the quality of the wines finding their way to Indian markets from both India and abroad, one can confidently say that the thirst for good wines is growing among Indians.

How and why did you first get into the wine industry?

About 16 years ago, I was working as director of sales at a NASDAQ-listed Fortune 500 company, but I felt stagnant. Looking to give my career a new direction, I chanced upon the wine market in India, which was in its nascent stage and there were no qualified wine experts in the country.

While others saw challenges, I saw a huge opportunity for growth and success, for both wine and wine professionals. I knew that this industry would flourish in India and wine would eventually become a popular beverage. This also meant that there would be a need for qualified wine experts who could advocate, communicate and educate consumers and professionals about wine.

I started studying wine in London at the Wine & Spirit Education Trust. I realised very quickly that not only had I developed a passion for the subject but I also had a flare for communicating about it. That’s when I decided to continue pursuing this path and I aimed to become India’s first Master of Wine – a dream I realised in 2016, after 10 years of studying wine.

Along the way, several work opportunities came my way that launched my career as a wine educator, consultant, broadcaster and judge at international wine competitions.

What do you most enjoy about working in the sector?

Sonal C Holland MW has helped establish India Wine Awards as the country’s major wine competition

What I like the most about the wine industry is its ability to reinvent itself. The wine industry in India is growing rapidly and we have our work cut out in front of us. The Indian wine market is like a blank canvas and we can paint any picture we want.

We are in the process of launching numerous new initiatives. The fifth edition of the India Wine Awards is happening on November 24 and it is bigger than ever. The Sonal Holland Wine Academy has gained great momentum, for not only the WSET courses but also for all our proprietary courses.

Every big wine brand around the world wants to enter the Indian market, and at SoHo Wine Consultants, we find ourselves consulting with many international wine companies on how to enter and succeed in India. Our comprehensive India Wine Insider report is much sought after among those who want to enter and flourish in the Indian wine market.

What do you find frustrating and would like to change about the wine industry?

The high import tax on wine and other alcoholic beverages in India is the single biggest roadblock we face. Wine is a state subject in India where every state has a different set of rules for the production, import, distribution and marketing of wine. This makes it very difficult for the trade to operate cohesively on a national level and that’s frustrating.

India – like the rest of the world – has to do more to connect with the younger generation and get them interested in wine, says Sonal C Holland MW

I would definitely like to see the Indian government support wine more as a product that boosts agriculture and tourism while creating employment in both rural and urban sectors. The government needs to recognise it more as an agro-industry that has a long-term potential to generate jobs and income revenues for the government.

Can I ask why you want to be involved in Wine Future?

Wine Future brings together some of the most influential and experienced voices in the wine world. It addresses the biggest challenges faced by wine industries across the world and this is something that resonates with me deeply. For the last 15 years, I have worked in India’s wine industry, helping transform its perception from challenging to promising. I have seen the Indian wine industry overcome numerous roadblocks to reach a US$238 million valuation today and I would like to give back some of my learnings to the wine world.

What do you hope the event can achieve for the wider wine industry?

I truly hope that the event can create tangible dialogues between various stakeholders of the industry and inspire us to work together to find solutions, and not just discuss problems. The event will hopefully encourage everyone to stop lamenting the challenges and instead focus on our strengths and how we can best use them to our advantage.

What is the theme of your talk and why have you chosen that topic?

The theme of my talk is “Getting to Your Core Story – How to Better Communicate About Your Brand”. I chose this topic as it allows me to draw from my experience of making wine more approachable and appealing to Indian drinkers.Wine is not indigenous to India and it was perceived as highbrow for a long time.

For the past many years, I have been demystifying wine and encouraging more young Indians to try it. Today, we are among the most followed Instagram accounts in the wine industry, globally. Thousands of people watch our videos every day and reach out to us with questions about wine.We have used tools like engaging storytelling, affordable wine education and easy access to accurate information to make wine aspirational and we would love to share how we did it.

Any individuals and businesses that you most admire for what they do and why?

I have been a lifelong fan of Jancis Robinson MW’s work. She inspired me to pursue wine. The immense amount of work that she has put into the wine industry actually opened my eyes to all the opportunities that were possible in this sector. She continues to be the torchbearer for the industry and it is amazing how she continues to evolve and innovate, remaining a relevant voice in the wine community, and providing guidance to everyone from Masters of Wine to budding wine enthusiasts.

  • Sonal C Holland MW will be taking part in a panel debate at Wine Future tackling the topic of: “Getting to Your Core Story – How to Better Communicate About Your Brand”. She will be joined by: Alder Yarrow; Megan Greco; Natalie Wang; an Ferrán Centelles; and moderated by Michael Wangbickler. The debate takes place on November 8 at 9am.

Wine Future 2023 – Coimbra November 7-9

Wine Future 2023 promises to be the leading event in the world to tackle the biggest challenges facing the global wine industry and what steps its stakeholders need to be taking and focusing on to succeed in the future.

It is the fourth Wine Future event to take place following other editions first in Rioja in 2009, Hong Kong in 2011, Wine Future Virtual 2021 and Green Wine Future in 2022. Founder Pancho Campo claims the ambition and overall goal for Wine Future has not changed since 2009 when, in the middle of an economic crisis, it looked to assess its impact and offer solutions and inspiration to everyone involved in the global wine industry.

Close to 25 years later and the world is again facing huge financial difficulties, rampant inflation, a global climate emergency and a declining wine market in most major wine consuming countries. It is against that backdrop that Wine Future hopes to make a difference.

Key themes to be addressed at this November’s conference include:

  • Engaging new consumers – particularly Generation Z and Millennials.
  • The impact of global economic uncertainty, especially inflation.
  • The opportunities of greater diversity, equity and inclusion in the wine industry.
  • How we can reach new audiences and better engage with existing wine drinkers through celebrity endorsements, influencers, and working with major international music and sporting events.
  • The use of digital marketing and social media to gain a new consumers.
  • Using new technologies to improve sales.
  • What can we learn from the competition from alternative beverages?
  • The human impact of sustainability.

Key wine figures lined up to take part and share their insights and hopefully offer inspiration to the sector are: Emma Bertrand, Rob McMillan, Sonal Holland MW, Ian Ford, Adrian Bridge, Frederico Falcao, Martin Reyes MW, Robert Joseph, Dirceu Viana MW, Siobhan Turner MW, Natalie Wang, Alder Yarrow, Stephen Wong MW, Ulf Sjodin MW, Michael Wangbickler and Paul Schaafsma.

The event will also hear from inspirational figures from outside the industry including: Sir Christopher Pissarides, awarded the Nobel Economy price in 2020; the Secretary General of the UN International Youth Organization, Max Trejo; and the lead singer of Iron Maiden and entrepreneur Bruce Dickinson.