Wines are a blend of Science and Art, and Winemaking is a blend of Patience, Skill and Creativity.

Sankalp Shende, our next pathbreaker, is a freelancer and Consultant Service Provider for production & new setups in the Wine & Beer Industry.

Sankalp talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about working in renowned wineries in France, Australia and USA and deciding to create a platform to help farmers grow better fruits for Wine production.

For students, as global brands are making inroads into India to setup their wineries, this is a great time to pursue a career in Winemaking !

Sankalp, tell us about your background?

First of all, I am very thankful and happy that you have picked me for your inspiring platform to motivate people through my interview. 

I am Sankalp SHENDE. ‘Sankalp’ means Resolution. By profession, I am an Oenologist, Scientist & Researcher, Consultant Winemaker, Product & Brand developer & Freelancer working in the Wine, Beer & Spirits industry. I have also created a platform to help farmers.

I am gratified with my professional experience in numerous World-Famous Wine Regions, Countries & Continents as in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Côte-d’Or, France (most famous wine regions & luxuries wines in the world), Napa-California, USA (The Valley of World Famous Wine Growing Regions & considered one of the premier wine regions in the world), South Australia, Australia (one of the world’s largest exporters of wine) and still counting…!

I am a 2nd Generation wine enthusiast & the 1st qualified Oenologist from ‘Chandrapur’ which is in the North-Eastern Region of Maharashtra called Vidarbha.  

I was born in the depths of Indian culture from a small town called Black Gold City ‘Chandrapur’. I am from a middle-class, humble family from a defense background. My father is retired from the Central Government, my mother is a housewife & my younger brother is working with an International Bank in Pune. 

I am very lucky that my parents placed a lot of emphasis and highest priority on education, success through hard work, discipline, dedication & that is the reason for me being passionate & successful in life. 

Parents play the biggest role in their children’s career, future and success in life. Correct guidance for a better future without doubting my potential made me confident enough to reach my career goals with full freedom. When I chose the Wine & Spirits industry as my career destination, my parents stood up for me inspite of facing all kinds of negativity. “Thank You Mom-Dad”

If we talk about my interest in sports, I am an ‘Indian Athletic State Player’ of ‘Gymnastic High Jump’ & ‘Long Jump’. Got awarded with #1st position at the district level in ‘200 Meter’, ‘Triple Jump’, ‘Gymnastic High Jump’ & ‘Long Jump’. Also, my favorite games are Chess, Badminton, Snooker, Volleyball, and Shooting. Other than this, I love to prepare different styles of dishes & to bring people together around one table. I strongly feel that the wine industry is not only about winemaking but also wine tasting and proper food pairing.  I am a big animal lover, I love heritage, painting, pencil sketch, creativity, Craft, Singing.

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?

I used to love to taste different Beers, but was not a big fan of Hard Liquor. During this journey, I was exposed to the wonder called ‘Wine’ which enhanced my fascination to be a part of the wonderful wine industry. As my interest grew, not only was I in love with the bouquet of wine, but also science & fascinating stories behind it. Then I started exploring and tasting different varieties of wines and also began attending several events, Wine Festivals, where I stumbled across numerous wines & realized that a truly spectacular glass of wine could take your breath away. 

Since I had already developed a fascination for wines, I wanted to pursue this further as a career option to reveal the mysteries of the wine world. I took a deep interest in learning the journey of a fruit from its origin to its ending up in an exotic wine bottle.

I was surprised when I saw the label of a Wine bottle. It was quite impressive to see, ‘Wine itself telling its fascinating story through a label’ which I have not seen with any other liquor or Beer label in my life. Understanding a Wine Bottle Label  further  drove me to understand & puzzle out the difference in how wine production is regulated throughout the world. As you learn about different regions, you find out the type of grapes that grow there and how they vary. The most distinctive characteristic of wine is based on the type of grape(s) used in it. The second most important distinction is the region, which specifically will relate to the flavor of the grapes. Weather and soil have dramatic effects on how grapes are produced. The region also determines, especially in the old world, the methods by which wine is produced and labeled. After these factors comes the winery and vintage. However, these characteristics are constantly juxtaposed. Bad weather can make a bad vintage, which can have more of an adverse impact than any other quality. But at the same time, truly great winemakers can consistently produce outstanding wines, but there will always be variations in quality due to factors beyond their control.

What did you study?

While I was exploring this brilliant innovation by Man and God, I came across a Wine Technology course from my Father’s business magazine. I was amazed, and without any further delay, went with my dad to Nashik, to ‘Gargi Agriculture Research & Training Institute (Garti)’ to enquire about the admission process. Though people said that there was less chance for this career in the future, in my point of view, we must create a chance instead of waiting. Moreover, I didn’t want to lose hope & to stop dreaming without even trying. My educational journey started with ‘PGD in Fermentation, Distillery & Wine Technology’. My education was focused on developing skills in Oenology from Various Grapes & fruits, National & International Winemaking, Sensory Profile of Wine, Analytical Techniques, Brand Marketing & Vineyard Management. 

I am very lucky that I got very supportive mentors & friends. They helped me a lot, no matter what it was for. You will never fail if you have encouraging, positive thinking people with you. I must say thanks to all of them by heart. 

Me and my peers who were learning about wines during our college days were motivated to visit multiple wineries, doing hands-on ground level work in the winery, relishing the taste, aura and essence of several wines which in turn also helped us gain practical knowledge about the tasting profiles of different wine varieties and producing it on a large scale.

Our esteemed professor, Mr. Vasanthan Jayguru who was also associated with the hospitality industry earlier, provided us with knowledge and insights into ‘Wine Appreciation’ which helped us attain deep knowledge about wine tasting along with wines & food pairing. During this phase, we tried and blended different wines with different kinds of food. This in turn helped us to enhance our knowledge about wine serving and wine-food pairing.

I started exploring Wine Events, leading annual trade shows, conferences, meeting professionals, etc. These events provide an excellent forum for active networking between Registrants, Professionals, and Suppliers. I started meeting with Winemakers, Wine Marketers, Wine Consumers and Grape growers actively to discuss, debate information, ideas that directly influence their work and success. 

You meet many people and become proficient in more languages too. A language is absolutely a vital tool. Not only is it a means of communicating thoughts and ideas, but also forges friendships, cultural ties, emotions & relationships. So while studying, I decided to learn the French language, Diplôme d’études en langue française level A1 & A2, Certified by the French Govt.

To satisfy my thirst for further knowledge & to understand the winemaking industry from professionals, books, internet, professors, I started making wine & successfully made it out of fruits such as Table Grapes, Pineapple, Strawberry, Pomegranate and Apple, which were well received and appreciated by professionals & across the multiple states.

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 – 

I wanted to understand each & every process scientifically and come up with some New Results, Techniques, Solutions & Products.

With a bit of luck & good fortune, I got an offer from the very established & renowned winery named ‘Deccan Plateau Vineyards’ to get trained under India’s first qualified winemaker Mr. Nitin Shinde. We were with a very creative team comprising Mr. Nitin Shinde, Mr. Deodatta Gaikwad, Miss. Priyanka Gupta, Mrs. Preeti Mehendale Singh and we made some of the best 2011 vintage wines. During this training we made a Strawberry Wine on a trial basis on a lab scale of which a few bottles are in the aging process since the last 9 Years. We got a very professional training in Deccan Plateau Vineyards. 

As an intern I learned Wine Analysis, Winemaking, Wine Blending, Bottling, Packaging, Dispatching, Grape Sampling, Vineyard operations, Inoculations, etc. We started participating & representing the company in Wine Events. 

Later I started Working as Winemaking Production Head at La Bela Wines (Le Ambrosie)

Le Ambrosie is dedicated to bringing the best quality of wines for your perfect palate taste for various ceremonies and occasions. They do not compromise; choosing the best quality grapes, undergoing long fermentation, and taking no shortcuts for delivery. Le Ambrosie brand is one of the finest wines in India. It ferments high-quality grapes to get the perfect composition of taste & aromas.

My working responsibilities were;

  • A full Vinification and complete involvement in all aspects of work and treatments throughout the winemaking process
  • Overseeing the 20+ staff involved in vintage production.
  • Preparing Work SOP’s
  • Making accurate observations, analyzing, and solving problems.
  • Determining additions and treatments throughout the winemaking process.
  • Raw material stock maintenance and ordering
  • Preparing plans for bottling wine and taking care to ensure no loss of quality during this process.
  • Participating in development of Winery & Assuring Efficient High-Quality Operations.
  • Coordinating & conducting wine tastings & events
  • Involved in Label designing
  • Involved in the improvement of business plans
  • Selection of seasonal wine and arranging wine tasting sessions.

Continuing as Consultant Winemaker I joined boutique winery, ‘Blackbuck Vineyards’, and ‘Manala Valley Vineyards ( Jouvin Wines)’  to work with passionate French Oenologist Mr. David Ciry. Jouvin wines are unforgettable with very appreciative consumer reviews. BlackBuck Vineyards is a huge winery, and cultivates Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc & other great wines. It’s surrounded by nature with several animals such as Blackbucks. There, you can enjoy Wines in a Luxurious Resort and Vineyard too. This is one of my favorite places replete with nature.

Here I was also involved in Wine R&D for better improvement, Blending, and Tasting, identifying aromas and flavors in wines and recommending treatments to improve wine quality.

After 5 years of rewarding work in production & business, I wanted to be a part of overseas companies & work with them to understand the Old vs New Worldwide Wine-Spirits Business Strategy & Production, so I could be an all-rounder in the Wine & Spirits industry.

Subsequently, I got selected in a highly ranked and reputed educational institution in IPC, part of ‘The Bordeaux, Gironde Chamber of Commerce and Industry’, one of the oldest & third founded in France 1705.  Finally, I started my journey with them in ‘Masters in International Wine and Spirits Business Management’ from the most famous & unbeatable wine region in Bordeaux, France. 

My education was in Business & Technical domain in order to work as a highly qualified administrator in marketing and Technical fields in the Wine & Spirits (Vins et Spiritueux) sector. 

I immediately got a job offer from Domaine Marc Rougeot, Meursault, Burgundy, Côte-d’Or, France in Vineyard & Winery Operations. Here, winemaking is without sulfite for a total expression and respectful of the soil of origin & fully Organic. The rearing is carried out in 228 l Burgundy barrels for 12 to 20 months without racking or bâtonnage. It was a memorable and learning work experience in Winery & Vineyard Operations to improve the Winery & Vineyard Quality assurance.

Next, I got an offer from ‘Château Rubicon Estate Inglenook, Napa, California, USA. The Château Inglenook legacy began in 1879 by Gustave Niebaum, and restored by six-time Oscar-winning director, writer, and producer Francis Ford Coppola’, the best known director of such epic films as “The Godfather” Trilogy and “Apocalypse Now.” The chateau includes a small museum celebrating Coppola’s movies. 

Château Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, 1941 at $24,675, is the most expensive American wine ever sold. Francis Ford Coppola loves to point out that it “had just finished fermentation at the time of Pearl Harbor.” The price per glass for such a historic wine is $4,113.

I also worked under the renowned French Oenologist Mr. Philippe BASCAULES, Managing Director of famous French ‘Château Margaux’, Bordeaux, France & General Manager with Francis Ford Coppola’s, Napa Valley Inglenook.

My daily routine

  • Whole winemaking process from grape receiving to wine bottling
  • Active participation in the Cellar which covers all the tasks
  • All responsibilities for winery operations
  • Multi-function roles
  • Managed 1800 barrels (fermenting & still wine)

Then I got an opportunity to work in one of the largest wine production companies in Australia, ‘Riverland Vintners’ as an ASST. WINEMAKER

The Riverland Vintners is reputed, renowned for their excellent wines & one of the largest wine production wineries in South Australia. 

This winery was established in 1987 with a 30,000 Tonne Crushing Facility, 35 Million Liters Wine Storage, and production capacity of 22 lakh Wine cases per year. That means they produce 20 Million Liters Production Per Annum while annual wine production of Indian wineries is 19-20 million liters. Isn’t it amazing? Yes, it is true. This is one of the biggest production companies I worked for & one of the biggest achievements of my life. 

Some of my responsibilities were

  • Liasoning with Senior Winemaker concerning wine styles, blending, wine husbandry, wine care & costs.
  • Planning ahead and communicating work plans with cellar management in a clear, written form.
  • Coordinating export loading, analysis, QA clearance PDR forms, all domestic dispatches, and cellar dispatch notes.
  • Supervising contract stored wines in particular analysis, taste, temperature & ullage management
  • Liasoning with contract storage customers at production level concerning contract wines, schedules, and remedial actions.
  • Monitoring & managing wine analysis to specification, using daily lab ledger results, and ensuring timely corrective action as required.
  • Observing all Laws and Regulations regarding Food Laws, Wine Law, and label declarations.
  • Supporting all company systems, including WHS, HACCP, and EMS, having the authority to question or halt any process or operation which you consider may impair product quality or affect consumer welfare.
  • Complying with all reasonable instructions and procedures and using such equipment, protective clothing, and other items provided by Riverland Vintners in the interest of health & safety.

I spent my very precious moment in South Australia with my winemaking team.

How did you get your first break?

As soon as we finished our training with Deccan Plateau I got selected in a campus interview from Nisarga Vineyards as a Winemaker. No doubt, Nisarga Vineyards is a really great winery, making superb wines. As many wineries are making bulk wines in huge quantities, famous marketing companies are tieing-up with them too. The reason for the good wines made by Nisarga was the founder of this winery is Dr. K H Mumbaraddi, a very renowned university professor & a grape expert. Unfortunately at that moment, I made a decision not to work there because my plan was to be in Wine production and Marketing, but they were offering just a Winemaker post. They were very genuine. But I believe that we should have an in-depth knowledge of the Winemaking industry including the Wine Market, which will allow us to become well-informed professionals. 

Subsequently, I was surprised when I got an offer for the position of ‘Winemaker and Market Research Analytics’ from the Brand Le Ambrose. 

What were the challenges? How did you address them?

Life could be fragile & unbelievably tough. But instead of running away from challenges, everyone can find their way out of it. We just need to understand a wrong situation, wrong people, and the difference between reality and perception. Then you will be ready to fight with challenges in any situation. 

“Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they’re supposed to help you discover who you are” – Bernice Johnson Reagon

Challenge 1: 

My passion for Wine has always led to bringing out innovations for improvement and betterment in winemaking. 

I believe in making the best out of waste. We don’t use unwanted material in the wine industry. We throw out pressed grapes called Pomace during crushing time. Pomace refers to the leftover solids from grapes after they have been pressed for juice for white wines, or the finished fermentation pressed red grapes for red wines. It includes the skins, pulp, seeds, and stems. These are unwanted materials.

I started keeping pressed grapes (Pomace) in one tank. Then I did chaptalization (process of adding sugar). I started fermentation in Pomace after dilution. I changed the process a little. After wine fermentation, I got a great result with a really nice fruity aroma, body, taste & amazingly superb end palate.

I was happy with this experiment when I got positive reviews from the consumers & wine professionals. 

“Stay motivated in research, you can fail, but definitely one day you will win”.

Challenge 2

After a few years of winemaking I started searching for masters. Surprisingly, one day I got selected for a scholarship among 50 applicants from all over the world in a very highly reputed European institution for higher education. I was very happy, but my happiness was short-lived, as I was not selected in the last 5 applicants. 

I immediately decided to upgrade my skills and decided to become proficient in a very powerful & strong vehicle called ‘Forklift’ which is very useful for wineries. I started learning at an institute. After dedication & powerful practical knowledge of Forklift driving, I became ‘Forklift Certified’.

When one door closes, another always opens & I got selected in the highly ranked  European educational institution in IPC, part of ‘The Bordeaux Gironde Chamber of Commerce and Industry’, one of the oldest & third founded in France 1705. 

I got an offer from a very famous & world’s #2 award-winning French wine brand, Pernod Ricard, which is a world-renowned premium wine business with iconic brands across all over the world but unfortunately, the visa process got delayed and I lost my job. Sad but true. 

While recovering from this challenging situation, I enrolled for the ‘GOOGLE DIGITAL COURSE’ for new digital current world’s business & I have become a successful “Google Certified” professional. 

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Then I immediately got a job offer from ‘Domaine Marc Rougeot, Burgundy, France. I started work & it was a great experience with a very renowned, historic winery & memorable work experience to work with lovely French people. 

Where do you work now? 

 “I believe each organization I work with has provided a special story in the glass. My work ethics helps them to compose the excellent experience with me”

After working internationally in France, USA, & Australia I have decided to resolve problems with the Wine, Beer, Spirits & Farming industry.

  • Working as a freelancer Consultant Service Provider in the Wine & Beer Industry for production & new setups.
  • Collaboration with Californian, USA awarded innovative tech company which is Coming up with New Boutique Wineries & Breweries projects in India.
  • Collaboration with the French Award Winning Company  

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

First of all, people should not treat Winemaking as a job. When I have started handling my work as a Winemaker, I was staying in the winery 24/7 & my 1st day off was direct after 10 months. If you treat work as a burden then you cannot give your 100%. In the vintage period, I work on 10 to 15 tasks simultaneously, constantly running between the vineyard, cellar, fermentation tanks, lab, barrel room, receiving areas, working on everything from vintage to next vintages.

What’s a typical day like?

I make a plan on priority & target my work for the next day before I go to bed.

The vintage season is my favorite festival 

  • Days in Vintage season
  • Without rush, wakeup early morning and begin with fermentation check & testing
  • Check inventory
  • Check fermentation juice-wine analysis results, understand how these decisions will impact the style and quality of wine and treat accordingly. 
  • Be ready for grape receiving, crushing, pressing, fermentation, sanitized machines, tanks, hose & accessories, and all harvest related ingredients addition.
  • Initiate and develop trials and experiments to help improve quality and efficiency in the winery.
  • Cross-functional continuous improvement work with team for winemaking, operations, processes, and procedures.
  • Cross-functional continuous improvement teams for winemaking, operations, processes, and procedures.
  • Check fermentation parameters of red grape tanks for a pressing 
  • Maintain detailed and up-to-date records in PC, Files & SOPs
  • Cleaning 
  • Appreciate colleagues for next night or day shift

What is it you love about this job? 

A Grapes’ journey  from Vineyard to Glass is not a short or easy journey but is a celebration of the delightful rhythm of wine at the end. 

I get an opportunity to do Independent research and make wine better than before. Since there is no need to use the same protocol for winemaking, we always discover something new every time.

I am always glad to communicate with & welcome people who have many questions about wines. Sometimes I feel like wine itself introducing a winemaker.

 How does your work benefit society? 

Good Question. I have created a platform to help farmers & working as a Freelancer in Wine, Beer, Spirits & Juice industries.

Professionals and people in the beverage industries are concerned with finding products with distinctive characteristics, in culturally diverse markets, and marketing issues, attracting consumers, etc. Beverage industry is getting more and more competitive by the day.

In India, the farming industry is directly affected & struggling. On top of that, the clearest indicators of the problems of farmers are bad environment, crop failure and low production price. It’s a very genuine reason our farmers are facing. Farmers need more industries to utilize their fruits to get their benefits, instead of throwing away the fruits.

We should not lose this opportunity to help farmers and support them. Farmers are the backbone of our nation. I am helping them with foreign techniques for premium & low produce quality fruits.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

I believe that “If you have not made history, that means you haven’t lived a lively life to remember you after ages..!” 

  • Visit as many wineries, breweries, farms as you can and grab the opportunity to learn from them. If you never try, you’ll never know.
  • Have patience, we cannot rush aging. Having complexity, sucrosity, and soft tannins are important, it takes time. 
  • Don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you can. Your attitude & mindset should always be towards learning something new. There are so many resources out there and people who know so much about the industry & to make your better future, go & grab it, but remember you should be the best listener first. 
  • Always Dare to fail, stand up & chase until you win. 

Best of Luck you guys… I hope your life will be really very beautiful and fruitful. Never stop. Keep going. If you need help, of course, you can contact me. Cheers..!

Future Plans?

I am glad to serve the beverage community with my global experience in Wine, Beer, Spirits, Juice & in Farming sectors. I would like to provide my service to industry members, students, newcomers & the general public through innovative practices in the future..Cheers..!