Alok Chandra interviewed Cecilia Oldne who was a key member of the core team at Sula.
She’s been a national-level gymnast and champion dancer in her younger days. Now about 30-plus, a sommelier, wine writer and judge, Cecilia Oldne until recently was Vice President Marketing (and Global Brand Ambassador) of Sula Vineyards, India’s largest wine producer and fastest growing alcobev company since 2015.
Cecilia Oldne’s involvement with Sula started in 2007 when she met Rajeev Samant, founder and CEO of Sula Vineyards in South Africa quite by chance, and came over to India to help give an international face to Sula’s efforts to market “Sula Selections”, the Company’s range of imported wines in India. Her work in this area led to her being appointed Sula’s Global Brand Ambassador in 2013, in which role she has taken Sula to new markets like Belgium, Canada, China and West Asia.
Cecilia has also been looking after the Corporate Communications function, including social media and – along with a small team of professionals – is responsible for organising Sulafest, the annual festival of music at Sula’s winery. Sulafest 2017, the tenth edition of this jamboree, was held from February 3 – 5 and was hugely successful, drawing an audience of about 15,000 visitors over the three days. Cecilia has been involved with organising Sulafest since its inception in 2007, and the success of this platform has been a major factor in her own professional growth. Cecilia was also the woman behind Sula’s three-city India roadshow, “Globe in a Glass”, covering Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai in October 2016, which showcased the entire range of products sold by Sula – a unique initiative which took place this year in Goa, Pune and Mumbai.
Established in 1998, Sula Vineyards Pvt Ltd is today a US$ 50 million (`335 crore) company that will sell about 12 million bottles of wine in 2017/18 – more than the next 10 Indian wine companies put together.
With its distinctive sun surface symbol, Sula is the most recognized Indian wine brand. Although its principal winery is based near Nashik, a town about 170km northeast of Mumbai and three hours away, Sula has other production facilities in Karnataka and has acquired a winery on the Bangalore-Mysore highway. India’s first wine for a cause was recently launched in Karnataka with Cecilia in the lead for business with a purpose. The company produces and sells wines at various price points, ranging from `200 to `2,000 per bottle in India and exports select labels to some 30 countries, while a sister company – formerly a joint venture with Rémy Martin – produces Janus and “J” grape brandies. Sula Selections imports and markets international wines including Bouchard, Hardy’s, Le Grand Noir, Ruffino, Cono Sur, Trapiche, and Piper-Heidsieck, spirits such as Rémy Martin, Bruichladdich, Beluga, Glenfiddich, Grant’s, Drambuie, Cointreau, and Asahi beer, to name just the better-known brands in its portfolio, which has grown aggressively this past year.
Sula’s founder Rajeev Samant, who got married in November 2016 to Muscovite Margarita Andronova, has a very personal and informal management style, and Cecilia’s rise in the company is proof of both her competence as well as the trust reposed in her abilities by RS (as he is known by company insiders). “Cecilia is more than a Brand Ambassador for Sula – over the past ten years she has become a part of the heart and soul of Sula!” said Rajeev.
So what does the future hold in store for Cecilia? “I’ve spent a decade in India now but have no plans on leaving what has become my home! I take great pride in achieving what I have so far. And you’ll see me continue to contribute to the growth of the alcobev industry,” she said, adding, “No, there are no plans to settle as yet – I’ve still got to meet the right man!”
We are sure this remarkable wine professional will continue to do great things and rock the wine world wherever she is with out-of-the-box initiatives for many years to come.
This article was first published in the print edition of Sommelier India wine magazine November-December 2017