Meet Rajeev Samant and Kerry Damskey, the Pioneers Behind Sula Vineyards
In this winemaker's profile we meet Rajeev Samant, the entrepreneur and founder of Sula Vineyards, and Kerry Damskey, the legendary winemaker from Sonoma County who today heads up Sula's winery.
Growing in Nashik soil of Maharashtra, India, are the grapes of Sula Vineyards, under the steady hand of Kerry Damskey and Rajeev Samant. The rich red laterite and the drainage properties of the area are what give wines of this area their great character. But it is thanks to Rajeev and Kerry that this character is nurtured, into an eclectic blend of products that must be experienced by any wine enthusiast.
Rajeev, the CEO of Sula Vineyards, was born in Mumbai and graduated from Stanford with an MSC in engineering management, following a BSc in economics. In 1999, he took a gamble and founded the winery in the Nashik district of Maharashtra, the first in the district.
This is testament to his tremendous foresight, and now Nashik district is the leading wine growing area of India. This is also reflected in Sula Vineyards’ exponential rise in sales, from 50000 bottles in the first year of production to over 3 million bottles in 2009, along with an additional 1500 acres of Vineyards from the original 30, with a 3 million litre winery created in 2006. Nationally, this has started something of a new found passion, with wine consumption expanding 25% annually, and new wineries popping up the Nashik district.
It would be a grave error, however, to think this was all Rejeev’s work. He first met Kerry Damskey when working at his winery in California, where they agreed to go into business, with Kerry as chief winemaker. Undoubtedly his expert winemaking skills, regarded as one of the best in California. It was partly his knowledge that cemented Rajeev’s dream of establishing a vineyard in Nashik, and Kerry is now the chief winemaker, consulting with the team throughout the year to ensure the highest quality wine.
This entrepreneurship and passion for wine is underlain by their deep-rooted humanitarian nature. Sula Vineyards prides itself on its sustainability and awareness of the fragility of the surrounding ecosystem, ensuring that its operations create minimal interference with natural processes. This ethos means that water is used efficiently, from a 100 million litre water pond fed by rainwater that takes as little as possible from the surrounding area.
As well as this, lighting is, when possible, provided by the sun using skylights within the winery, and solar panels provide 20% of the electricity used, though these are all areas that Rajeev would like to see improve.
“I feel if you run a non-sustainable enterprise, you have no business doing business. Every day, we come up with projects to reduce our power use. We would love to lead by example and have others follow us”.
Varietals planted include Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Zinfandel and Merlot along with Chenin Blanc, and as you’d expect, this means a multitude of quality wines are created.
For example, the Cabernet Shiraz (India’s bestselling red wine) possesses light tannins complimented by aromas of black pepper, amplified by cherry and plum notes.
The Chenin Blanc, India’s best-selling white wine, offers you tantalising selection of tropical fruit notes, in a semi-dry wine that serves well as an aperitif. These are just a couple of examples from an astonishing collection of products, all of which serve as excellent ambassadors to the ever growing Indian wine Industry.
Winemaker profile written by John Hanley for Novel Wines.