When you are from a family of Winemakers, you have big shoes to fill. You can either take up the mantle to meet expectations and set a benchmark or choose the easier way out to pursue something else.

Shraddha More, our next pathbreaker, works at her family winery as an Assistant Winemaker to her father, responsible for the red and white wine processing.

Shraddha talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about following the footsteps of her father, but bringing her imprint through a global education and European experiences and introducing her own signature wines from different grape varieties into the product line.

For students, Winemaking as a career combines several advantages of travelling, working with farmers and bringing the best of other cultures into India ! Read on to know more …

Shraddha, tell us about your background?

Being from a small village, I grew up on a farm near Nashik. We have a family history of growing grapes and making wine. 

My grandfather Mr. Madhavrao More started India’s first cooperative sparkling winery called “Pimpen Co-op Ltd” near Pimpalgaon Baswant. This cooperative winery consisted of 4000 grape farmers who helped build this winery. 

Grandpa, being a huge world traveler, did not miss on visiting the home of sparkling wine known as “Champagne”. It’s a small village in Northeast France. During his visit he met a young French winemaker, whom he offered to come to India and make sparkling wine for Pimpen Co-op winery from local Thompson Seedless grapes. The French winemaker agreed at once and since then, he was the head winemaker of Pimpen Co-op. He used to travel by bicycle every day to work and enjoy the Indian food at my parents’ house.

Mr. Jean-Manuel Jacquinot made the best sparkling wine from Thompson seedless grapes, which won a prize among the three world’s best sparkling wines at an International wine competition in Paris. This was a proud moment for the farmers and everyone who worked hard to reach this stage. My grandfather’s intention through this project was to provide an alternative business to the grape farmers, making them independent from all the agri-political bureaucracy. However this project caught a lot of evil political attention and soon his dream for farmers came to a standstill. 

After every end there is a new beginning and it was with my parents’ winery called “Sailo Wines” in Pimpalgaon Baswant. They started the winery in 2002 and it’s still going strong as ever!

My parents raised the company; however my mom played a huge role in being the support system of the entire business. She went on to handle all the vineyards, managing all the laborers and supervising administrative work. I have learned the real meaning of women empowerment from her. I also salute my dad for having progressive thoughts on equality.  

Being born in such a high achieving family, I had big shoes to fill in the future! But being an average student till my 12th std, my relatives and others always wondered what i would do with my life. 

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I was good in sports, was a Table tennis Champion in school and an oil painter! Having always loved biology, I went on to do my Bachelor’s in Biotechnology from Abasaheb Garware College, Pune. At that time I got fascinated with the study of the human body and wanted to pursue tissue engineering in the future. 

But destiny had something else in store for me ! For my final year B.Sc thesis project, I could not get any tissue related projects and hence decided to go with my last option, which was, “Let’s make wine”. 

This single decision has led me to where I am today! My research was based on different enzyme concentrations used to increase the juice yield quantity per kg of grapes. My research received a lot of appreciation and I also presented this research in College of Engineering Pune (COEP) in Pune. The research was also published in the Indian Journal of Experimental Biology in 2015. In this whole process, I didn’t realize that I had fallen in love with wine! Therefore, soon after, I decided to pursue my career in wine making. 

Having done my B.Sc in Biotech, I thought I should apply for a Masters in Wine making. I applied to the Erasmus Mundus program called Vinifera Euro-master course in Europe but was declined on the premise that even though I come from a wine making background I din’t hold any prior wine science knowledge. They told me to re-apply after gaining some prior degree in wine making. I did not back out! I told them that I would do it and reapply. 

I soon found an appropriate course that was perfect for me. It was a Foundation degree in Wine making for 2 years in Plumpton College, East Sussex, United Kingdom. I acquired a basic knowledge in soil studies, grape growing, wine making and wine marketing during my 2 year program. I also got to be the wine judge for the Effervescences du Monde (International World sparkling wine competition) in Dijon, France. I am their official wine judge for lifetime. 

The aim was always to be good enough for the Vinifera Euro-master program in Europe. At the end of my 2nd year, I applied again for the mentioned course and it was a moment of truce! After a few weeks I received an email that I had got selected for the program! I was among the World’s 6 European students who got selected for the prestigious Erasmus scholarship called EMaVE of 4000 Euros. 

I was fortunate enough to study in the following world renowned universities

  • Completed Foundation degree (2 years) in Wine making from Plumpton College, East Sussex United Kingdom
  • Masters in Viticulture (Grape growing) & Enology (Wine making). Completed from,
  1. Montpellier Supagro University, France (1st year) (Louise Pasture delivered his lectures in this University in 1870: The same lecture room is untouched since he left)  
  1. Hochschule Geisenheim University, Germany (2nd year)
  2. Bordeaux Science Agro University, France ( 1 month for Wine auditing )
  3. University of Melbourne, Australia (Master thesis on “Quality of sparkling wine bubbles”)

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?

The major turning point was in a lab when I was making wine in small tanks. In this whole process I didn’t realize that my career was taking shape. However, considering the fact that I grew up in a wine making background it wasn’t unconventional, but to be honest as a kid I least expected to see myself in a wine industry one day. I guess thats the beauty of life!

Life gives us hints to drive us towards our purpose by giving us support in many forms. In my whole wine making career, there are a few people without whom it wouldn’t have been possible to achieve my dream. These people include everyone, from my parents to university professors and winery owners. 

My whole support system throughout my Masters in Germany was my professor Dr. Strobl. He really got the best out of me by being my Master thesis guide. He guided me in every step and encouraged me to reach my full capacity. 

The major wine influencers were the winemakers at Schloss Vaux winery in Germany. They shaped my wine making skills and understanding of the process of making sparkling wine to its finest details. 

My research trip to the University of Melbourne was made possible by the support of Geisenheim University and two renowned German wineries, Schloss Vaux & Henkell. Both wineries make exceptional sparkling wines in Germany. They sponsored the entire supply of sparkling wine bottles , nearly 100 bottles respectively for my research in Germany & Australia. 

All these events and support from such wonderful people assured me that I was on the right path in choosing my career in winemaking!

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

The first Internship outside of college was at a winery called Furleigh Estate in the UK. The internship was for 2 months in the winery and vineyard. 

My daily routine started in the vineyard doing,

  • Pre harvest work as part of the vineyard management such as, tucking in leaves in the wire of the grape structure.
  • Repairing the structural poles in the vineyard followed by wine bottling & labeling in the winery. 
  • Other duties included cleaning the wine tanks, equipment and oak barrels, transfer of wine, filtration, wine fining and warehouse cleaning. 

As it was my first internship in a winery, it was exciting and tough at the same time. However you get strength from your inner core when you have a strong determination towards your goal. It made me tough for the next challenge! 

During my master program, an 8 weeks internship was necessary to enter the 2nd year of Masters. I secured an internship at Schloss Vaux. Schloss Vaux is one of the top three sparkling wineries in Germany. I still remember I flew from Bordeaux to Frankfurt for an interview and was interviewed by the owner, head winemakers & marketing manager of the winery on an antic wooden conference table. After a positive response I commenced my internship at Schloss Vaux.  

I was fortunate enough to work directly under the winemakers in this winery, which is every intern’s dream! My daily tasks included, 

  • Berry sampling, berry maturation control, berry sorting
  • Wine additions, analyzing the juice
  • Managed the pneumatic press, operated the bucket press, worked with various pumps, filtration units like cross flow, yeast filter and sterile filter. 
  • During the fermentation process, monitored fermentation kinetics, and did regular tastings with the winemakers. Wine tasting session means tasting professionally where the wine taster has to spit out the wine after tasting each wine sample.
  • Along with clarifying the juice, racking, filling tanks and making all the additions that needed to be done, also worked with the barrels, monitoring barrel fermentation, and barrel filling & cleaning. 

I also managed to work in a winery after I came back from Australia to write and defend my thesis in Germany. With the experience and good reference from Schloss Vaux, I got an internship at Raumland winery in Germany. Raumland is the top most sparkling wine producer in Germany. His wine sits among the world’s best Champagnes in high end restaurants and boutique wine shops in Europe. I was really fortunate to land an internship at such a prestigious winery. 

During my internship at Raumland, I did all the major winery tasks that I had done in my previous winery. However I learnt an ancient technique of hand riddling the sparkling bottle. It is an ancient technique which requires the bottle to be turned by hand at specific angle and elevation. It’s one of the most important processes during sparkling winemaking. 

While working for such wineries you often meet some rare gems of the wine industry. At a wine tasting event hosted by Schloss Vaux & Raumland, we get a chance to meet world renowned wine influencers, like wine writers, wine critics, judges and most importantly, Masters of Wine professionals and students. I was lucky to have interacted with them and to this date, I remain in touch with them for guidance whenever needed. 

In Europe, my recent vintage was at the Union de Guyenne (UG) Bordeaux (2018) in France, where I was in the white winemaking team, doing must additions, monitoring fermentation, racking, transferring juice & wine. I carried out post fermentation work of addition for settling, followed by blending & additions prior to bottling.

With this experience in my pocket, I recently joined my family winery as an Assistant Winemaker to my father, responsible for the red and white wine processing. As a new project, I am looking to establish a sparkling wine unit. My tasks include managing the bulk wine transport, performing lots of trials for different additives, curatives, corrections and blending. The estate has an 18 acre vineyard. Therefore, I work on soil management, nutrient management, irrigation programs and pest (grape vine diseases) management. I also give advice/help to the local farmers in my state as a Vineyard/Grape consultant.

In order to keep my research curiosity alive, I am also involved in developing the research of different grape varieties of India through a joint research collaboration with ICAR-NRCG in Pune to promote new varieties dedicated to winemaking. This research aims to introduce new grape variety wines in the Indian market. 

How did you get your first break?

After completing my masters from Europe, I came back to my family winery. I worked under my father as an Assistant winemaker. The family winery is quite big compared to the wineries I had worked before in Europe. Therefore I felt that something was missing and this void needed to be filled. Hence I decided that in order to work efficiently with huge tanks and quantities I need to secure a position in a winery with large capacity.

I was fortunate enough to land my first job after graduation at the Union de Guyenne (UG) Bordeaux winery in France (2018). This job opened up a different universe of winemaking for me. This winery had a capacity of more than 300, 00,000 liters of wine and had five wineries, out of which I was working for the biggest one. The winery premises span around 2 to 3 km. This job required lots of physical strength as any other work in the winery. The wine tank capacity began from 40,000 liters to 2 lakh liter for wine fermentation & storage purposes. In the beginning it felt like the movie “Transformers” coming to life by seeing huge equipment like the size of a truck and more!

The biggest advantage of being a winemaker is that you get to travel the world and earn at the same time. You also get to work with people from many different nationalities. During my work at UG Bordeaux I got to work with people from 20 different nationalities and share their culture & love for wine. 

After gaining the experience, I returned to my family winery with satisfaction & confidence! 

What were the challenges? How did you address them?

Challenge 1: 

Fear of adapting: When you go to other countries to study, there is always a challenge of adjusting to the new environment and people. Making friends who support and understand you is very important. Being the only Indian student in Plumpton College, UK, I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by kind hearted friends in the UK and in Europe who were a family to me and their friendship lasted till date. When I went to the UK my whole mind was only focused on learning and grasping as much as I could. 

In terms of adapting to the new education system, the system of the UK is different from India. There were few challenges in the approach of studying and giving assignments & exams. However as time passed by, I had a clear understanding of how things are to be done. By the time I went on to do my masters in Europe, the whole European education system was familiar to me and it made my master’s education smoother. 

Challenge 2: 

In order to work in a winery one needs to have good physical strength and strong will power. In the beginning the physical work was a major challenge, however once you enjoy the winery work you automatically gain physical strength and will power. During harvest peak time we used to work for 14-18 hrs/day, 7 days a week. I remember my winemaker in Germany used to give me time off during the middle of work to get my groceries for the week. In Schloss Vaux, I gave more than 100% in my work. It was easier with the noble winemakers I worked for. I discovered new capabilities and endurance levels in me by the end of my work. They say hard work never goes unpaid! 

On my last day of work the owner of Schloss Vaux called me into his office. He appreciated all my work and help during my time in his company and as a token of thanks, the head winemakers & others decided to give me double salary for all the hard work!! I did not expect this nor did I look forward to such an outcome.

I realized something at that time, you should never keep an eye on the end result, you should only focus on the work you have in front of you and give your 100%! When I was working and overcoming challenges day after day, my mind never wondered off thinking what I would get for this! My aim was only to work efficiently and do the best to my abilities. 

Challenge 3:

Language is a major challenge especially when one studies in Europe. Though the teaching language was English, day to day life needed basic French & German. After long hours of study and practice, German language became my new favourite! 

The internship I did in Raumland winery required a good level of German language and I am happy to say that I completed 4 months of internship with no English speaker in the entire winery. 

One often doubts the hidden talent & abilities one has, but it takes courage and determination to let it flourish. In order to unleash it you need strong will power and support from loved ones. Without their blessing it becomes impossible to achieve anything in this world. 

 Where do you work now? 

At the moment I work as a winemaker and vineyard consultant in my family winery in Nashik. I also give my consultation to our bottling unit in Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh & Bhutan.

What problems do you solve?

As a winemaker I have to solve issues coming up in every step of the process, as I supervise the wine processing during harvest as well as post-harvest wine procedures. I am involved in the following work,

  • Red, white & rose wine processing 
  • Standardizing the winemaking protocol but also being innovative when required. 
  • Provides remedies towards efficient fermentation processes. 
  • Solving quality control issues with precision. 
  • Wine tasting at each stage to adhere to the expected quality. 
  • Overcoming challenges when working with different grape varieties by conducting bench trials & pilot production. 

As a wine consultant, I also travel with my father to our bottling units in Northeast India for monthly checks on wine feedback and to improve its quality at every step when required.

  • I provide my consultation based on rigorous wine tasting sessions with our bottling & marketing partners.
  • Along with my father, I also interact with the retailers and distributors to seek feedback from the market. 
  • We also cater to their demands in terms of launching new wine products into the market.  

Being a vineyard consultant, I work to solve the following aspects,

  • Providing appropriate and sufficient nutrients to the plant
  • Irrigation management by delivering individual irrigation schedules for different grape varieties.  
  • Addressing pest issues by adhering to environmental friendly ways. 
  • Canopy management (balance between fruit & leaves ratio) protocols for overcoming climatic challenges and to restore balance with the grape flavors. 

For other farmers, I try my best to solve their vineyard problems. Some problems need immediate solutions and I make it a point to provide an appropriate solution. 

For example, one of the farmers sprayed a last minute solution that was supposed to improve the grape quality as per the seller’s advice. However such last minute sprays often backfires on the farmers and forces them to sell their grapes at lower price. 

One of such farmers came to seek help to the winery in hope that his grapes will be accepted by the winery, as no grape exporter was accepting his crop due to the white spots on the berry caused by the spray. 

After observing his grape samples I knew the problem and its solution. Therefore I offered an immediate cure that helped ease his worry. After giving appropriate remedy he was able to get rid of the white spots on the berry and was able to sell his grapes at a good rate to the grape exporter. 

Therefore different problems from grape growing to winemaking need to be addressed on a daily basis. I also make sure to keep time for quick vineyard visits to several farmers who seek help. 

What skills are needed for the job? How did you acquire the skills?

  • The ability to think on your feet is the most important skill you need to have in a wine industry. 
  • Respecting the timeline of the wine process and having patience in tough times is a much needed trait for a winemaker. 
  • One of the main skills you require is wine tasting ability and interpreting its quality & faults correctly. 

Wine tasting is done at every step of the wine process; with this you get an idea of the evolving wine quality in a tank. 

Such skill needs to be readjusted with the growing wine industry. Wine tasting skills get better with practice and experience. 

Your tongue has to be trained and updated with different tastes & flavors around you. In order to always be on par with the world’s wine tasters, I often travel to judge different international wine competitions across France & UK. In such competitions one can improve one’s tasting expertise and recheck ones skills on an international level of wine tasting standards. 

Fortunately, being a wine judge for over four different international wine competitions helps me keep myself in the loop with the other wine tasters and keeps me inspired in learning more about different wines of the world!   

In terms of the vineyard, the skills and approach should always be in favor of nature. Knowing the limit of your human interference on nature will reap you a good result and will show your gratitude towards nature. 

What’s a typical day like?

Day starts with yoga! 

Before going to work, I bow my head in front of the gods to give me blessing & strength to carry out my day to day work. 

Then during grape harvest, the day starts with, 

  • Wine tasting session
  • Monitoring the fermentation process
  • Checking the quality of the incoming grapes
  • Supervising the grape reception and crushing process
  • Monitoring overall wine processes. 

I assist in the supply of bulk wines to the bottling unit in Northeast and bottling & packaging wine to supply to the company’s wine bar.  

I also have to monitor the grapevine for post-harvest vineyard management. 

In off season, the focus shifts to the grapevine, decisions have to be taken on several aspects of the grape quality. 

  • From balancing the number of leaf areas to the number of possible fruits to protecting the vine from different pests. 
  • Adhering to efficient canopy management techniques is the aim to obtain a quality fruit. 
  • Daily vineyard visits to monitor the health of the plant followed by supervising the irrigation & nutrient schedule for different varieties and plots. 

Before grape harvest,

  • Random sampling is done on every variety to decide on the picking date. 
  • Several analyses are carried out such as checking the sugar quantity, acidity level, nitrogen level and the overall ripening stage of the berry.  

Daily job depends on every month as it changes with the grape’s growing season. Harvest, which is the grape picking season, is the busiest time for us as many jobs need to be taken care of during this crucial period. So we need to multitask.

Lastly, at the end of the week, I often indulge in my hobbies like painting & baking. Such activities refresh your brain and increase the “happy hormones” in your body that help you regain your focus and maintain good mental health! 

What is it you love about this job? 

  • This job brings an adrenal rush especially during harvest which I love to experience, as it gives me that strength and energy through the work. 
  • One of the things I really enjoy is the wine tasting sessions! I really wait for such a session no matter where I am working in the world. It’s that joy that completes me! 
  • Being a huge champagne & sparkling wine lover, I love to taste bubbles whenever I get a chance during a wine show, wine trade shows and expositions. 
  • Lastly, it’s the best job for travel freaks like me! Like I said before you earn while you travel. That’s the beauty of this industry, though it’s a small wine world but it brings different cultures together to celebrate and appreciate each other’s uniqueness! 

How does your work benefit society? 

As a vineyard consultant I visit many vineyards that seek help and provide my consultation at zero cost. I also provide consultation over the phone for those who are far away and make sure to help the poor farmers who come with hope. The aim is to enhance their knowledge and find a solution to their problems in an efficient & inexpensive way.

Farmers have always been a victim of climate change and this is the major problem. Therefore, to address this issue, I am currently collaborating with some government bodies to promote disease tolerant varieties that will reduce the annual cost of pesticides and insecticides of the farmers. Such varieties will ease the burden of high production cost during the growing season and farmers will be able to grow grapes efficiently. 

There are many vineyard management related research trials that were successful and benefited the farmers tremendously. 

One of the vineyard management techniques to increase grape berry sugar & size within 10 days before the picking date was successful in Sangli, Dindori and some villages near Nashik. It benefited many farmers. 

There are many upcoming plans and ideas in the future, which we will work towards, to help farmers cope with their agriculture problems. Giving back to society is my ultimate aim and being a farmer’s daughter, it’s my rightful duty!  

In this wine industry, there is also an increase in employment. In our case, our preference lies with the Adivasi tribal workers for all our winery work. We provide training & skills and look after their living expenses. 

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

There are many! However the recent one is, when I started working in the family business, I always wanted to introduce my own signature wines into the product line. Therefore I made wines from different varieties, such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Medica (from NRCG-National Research Centre for Grapes, Pune) & ARI-516 (from Agarkar Institute, Pune). 

The ARI-516 has been ageing for over a year now along with Sauvignon & Chenin Blanc (International grape varieties). Since then we have conducted many tasting sessions with professional wine tasters and the response for the wines were tremendous! As it’s a limited edition bottle, the wines attracted many high end consumers and wine lovers! 

After this initial pilot production, we recently planted Medica & ARI-516 grape varieties in our vineyard from different grape research institutes in Pune. It gave its first crop this year. These varieties require minimal sprays and therefore are efficient.  Their wines have come out beautifully! It received a lot of positive feedback and it will soon hit the market when the time is right! 

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Never lose your focus: When you seek out to make your career, one should be so focused that no external force can shake this determination. 

Never give up: I know it sounds a cliché but it’s so damn true!! When you are working on something and you feel like giving up, just make your brain understand that you can tolerate a bit longer and try to fool your mind that the end result is closer than you think! In no time it will unleash your inner strength that you never knew you ever had! This feeling I have experienced many times and you come out of it being an evolved person.  You have no idea how much power you hold! 

Follow your instincts:  Pay attention to your inner voice, it will lead you to in the right path. Keep discovering yourself! You don’t know what talents you will find in yourself. In terms of choosing a career, you will get many different suggestions that you should keep in mind and then analyze what suits you the best. Find out what you really want to do at that very moment, thinking about life is like looking in to the future without paying your dues of hard work. Be in the present and you will automatically enhance the voice of your inner-self.  

Practical knowledge wins over bookish knowledge: Many students & their parents give preference to bookish knowledge. The real deal of career is in developing skills, using that knowledge to help the society and interpreting that knowledge in to practical approach. Always have curiosity for knowledge. One can never have enough knowledge! 

Developing hobbies as multi-career: In this era of main stream careers students often forget their childhood hobbies. In order to have a good mental health, one needs to continue their favorite hobby! Don’t ever underestimate the term “hobby” as you might never know it can become your multi-career option in life. 

Choose your friends wisely: If I didn’t have kind hearted, supportive and true friends I might have gotten distracted from my path long back! Your company reflects your thoughts and intentions. So always keep the good bunch close to you. Let them be your best friend and the worst critic as this will make you better than your previous self! Today I have friends on every continent who have stood the test of time; such friends can help you lead your life the right way! 

Be always down to earth: No matter where you go out in the world, your heart has to be always on ground! Don’t let your success fool you that it’s your “own” achievement, but rather it’s a combination of your parents’ & elder’s blessings and most of all it’s because of all the invisible angels that have been helping you all along! Be humble! 

Have good intention: Any work you do in life let it be anything do it with good intention at heart! False/ill intention is the first step towards self-destruction. Good intention work always aims to help the society and shares its success with others.  

Future Plans?

Plan to always enhance my knowledge by undertaking several different projects such as,

  • Developing an online platform between farmers & experts to solve their queries in an efficient manner
  • Launching of wine products from various different grape varieties 
  • Establishing a research vineyard onsite to carry out vineyard management trials to guide the farmers
  • Consultation to various government agriculture projects 
  • Ground consultation to various farmers

I am also able to take up a grape harvest job anywhere in the world for up to 3-4 months to enhance my practical skills & expertise.