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Can you describe your career?
See, swirl, smell and sip. Wine tasting has moved beyond this simple ‘Four S’ rule. Sovna Puri puts her senses to use every day, as a wine taster, to distinguish every variety of wine. “It’s like a never-ending story,” says the 31-year-old Puri, Head-Tastings and Training, Sula Vineyards, referring to the study and understanding of wine.
Ten years ago there were no certified sommeliers (a waiter or a wine steward in a club in charge of wines) in India. “Today, there are 10 Indian sommeliers in the country,”says Gagan Sharma, sommelier and wine educator, Wi-Not Beverage Solutions, a wine consultancy company. Today, Puri is busy hosting wine-tasting parties across the country, organising exhibitions and events to highlight her company’s wines and getting invitations from wine producers across the globe like Bordeaux in France, to sample their bottles of Red, White and Rose wines. “You meet foreign wine makers and wine personalities and host dinners for them so there isglamour attached to this profession,” says Myles Mayall, a buyer for The Wine Society of India.
What did you study?
Eight years ago when Puri left India, after graduating from the Institute of Hotel Management in Dadar, Mumbai, wine-tasting as a career option was almost non-existent. After leaving Mumbai she moved to France for a Masters in Hospitality where she developed an interest in wine.
What do you love about the job?
At a wine tasting Puri recently hosted for a client in Thane, she was asked whether white wine could be made from black grapes. Surprisingly, her answer was, yes. The skin of the grape determines the colour of wine, so if the skin of black grapes is peeled off, the juice is colourless. At anotherwine tasting in Ludhiana, Punjab, a traditionally whiskey drinking region, the guests did not know about the existence of Rose wine. “Every time I walk into a tasting I don’t know what questions to expect and that keeps it exciting,” says Puri. After working in France for a while, Puri moved to London and completed a course in WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust), in wines while working as the assistant head sommelier in Benares, a Michelin-starredIndian restaurant, for over two years.
During her tenure there Puri would often taste between 50 and 80 bottles of wine a day. Generally, it is not recommended to taste more than 8-10 wines a day because the palate goes numb. “As a sommelier abroad we never sip the wine. We spit it out at the end of the Four S rule, as drinking it may influence our decision-making process for the next wine,” says Puri. What works in this profession according to Puri is a definite passion for wine. “You must absolutely love it and have a palate to distinguish one from another,” says Puri. Three years ago she moved back to Mumbai and joined Sula who was looking out for a wine taster and trainer. Her job is to make presentations of the culture and origin of wine and the different varieties available.
What is your role at Sula?
Her role is instrumental in building awareness and educating people. “Sula’s market share has gone from 25% three years ago to 60% today and a large part of that is simply due to the tastings we conduct with Sovna across the country,” says Rajeev Samant, founder of Sula Vineyards. Puri also works weekends and late evenings. She doesn’t mind it so much. “Every wine tasting is a party and you feel like the star of it,” laughs Puri. Her clientele includes eminentbankers and their HNI clients, MNCs and their employees and the urban elite who host wine tastings for their guests. Puri also works with the top restaurants and hotels in the country to train their staff in choosing wines for their menus.
Puri’s tasting invitations have taken her from Jalandhar in Punjab and Jaipur in Rajasthan right up to Darjeeling and Shillong in the North East. “I also get invited by wine producers across the world to sample their wines,” says Puri. Such two-three day wine trips include visits to seven-10 different wineries and meeting wine producers. They also get to taste the delectable cuisine paired with the wines, for a holistic experience. For young aspirants interested in wine, there are a few career options available.
What is a career like in the wine industry?
One could either be a sommelier attached to hotels and restaurants, or like Puri, be a wine taster and trainer for a wine company or even a wine consultant. A certified sommelier fresher could start with `20,000 a month and a wine consultant with experience could earn up to `1.5 lakh a month. India is still developing a taste for wine and, according to Mayall of The Wine Society of India, very few people are knowledgeable about the culture of wine so there is a great demand for experienced sommeliers and tasters.”The wine fraternity is a warm and cozy one with the urban elite as its members,” says Mayall.