Chaitanya Rathi, COO, Sula Vineyards couldn’t have a better thought to outperform himself as he wakes up every morning. Chuffed to be the youngest COO, Chaitanya confesses that this is one thought that keeps him going, besides a whole lot of interesting stuff he has up his sleeve. Credited with flagging off the wine tourism industry in the country with Founder & CEO, Sula Vineyards, Rajeev Samant, he believes that the scope of this industry is colossal and the Indian market has matured with time, just as a great bottle of wine. Enigmatic and full of charm, he fills the shoes of his exemplary position and is a visionary in the industry ahead of his times.
Tell us about your journey on how you started to becoming the COO of Sula Vineyards?
I was born in a service class family, and grew up looking up to my mother who is a teacher. I have an interest in reading on politics, science, sports, Formula 1, cricket and current affairs. After completing MSC in food technology, I went on to pursue MBA from Institut Européen d’Administration des Affaires INSEAD, which offered me exposure and understanding on businesses today. I have worked in venture capital, private equity, retail and fintech sectors, where I got hands-on experience developing and managing businesses both internationally and in India. I had joined Sula in 2005 and Rajeev and I started SulaFest in 2008 and today SulaFest has grown really big and people are visiting from across the world. This time Sula Vineyards, celebrated its two-decade anniversary with the two-day SulaFest 2020, with British chart-toppers, Hot Chip perform for the first time in India, When Chai Met Toast, My Baby, The Local Train and many other very popular music bands, culminating with Salim–Sulaiman, with their record-breaking hits. We have put Nashik on the world map with SulaFest.
What were the challenges initially when you were setting up everything 15 years back, when wine drinking wasn’t really what it is today and wine tourism was unheard of and how’s the scene now?
It’s challenging to create a market, yes, but if you’re able to do it well, it’s also fun and rewarding. We can proudly say that we were the pioneers in wine tourism and after Sula the wine culture really caught up. The younger generation has opened up to wine in a big way now. The first year we started, we didn’t have anything. We started our tasting room also in 2005 and there were days when we didn’t have a single visitor. The highway from Mumbai was bad, but we kept at it. Our passion for creating something which has never happened in India, kept us going. Rajeev has been an incredible driving force for the industry and his vision has always been five years ahead of everyone else and that’s what has helped us stay ahead of the curve, whereas so many wineries have come and gone. We get over three lac visitors coming to our tasting rooms, vineyards, staying at our resorts – The Source at Sula and indulging in the best of music, wine and food at SulaFest annually.
What are you working on currently and what are the plans in the pipeline?
I’m working on and inaugurating the restaurants, the resorts, the tasting rooms, vineyards tour and tasting, SulaFest and the entire gambit of activities or experiences offered at the vineyards. We love making quality Indian wines. We are constantly striving to introduce new varietals for the Indian palate and want to continue making India’s best wines. We are adding another resort right next to our existing resort overlooking the Sula Vineyards. Also, our next big thing that we just unveiled at the SulaFest 13th edition – India’s first wine in a can – Dia Wine Sparkler in an easy and convenient can format. Every visitor was thrilled to taste the red and white wines in a can. We are the first wine company to start selling in Tamil Nadu, as it was so far very tightly controlled and restricted to any manufacturer coming from outside. We have managed to get that break in and are the first national winery to sell in Tamil Nadu.
How do you keep calm amidst all the work stress and maintain and a work-life balance?
Health is the only wealth that we truly have in today’s fast paced world and we must worship our body. Running is my favourite form of exercise and I try to squeeze in as many laps as my schedule permits. Also spending time with my family and unwinding with a great movie. A positive work life balance is key to a happy and healthy life and just as my two phones, I ensure that there is a clear difference between the two lives. A glass of Riesling calms me at the end of a hectic day especially when my favourite song hits the playlist. My mother taught me, that one’s word holds more weight than a contract and my father taught me that always consider your job to be like your own business – and the sky will be your limit!