The subcontinent has a long tradition of viniculture, largely forgotten . . . until two Oxford MBA graduates decided to put it squarely back on the wine map.
By Alok Mathur (Mansfield College, 2007)
September 2008. A beautiful day at a 17th-century pub in sunny Oxford suburbs. A final trip to a favourite haunt before we left Oxford for good. The end of the most fabulous and memorable year at Oxford. And the beginning of one of the worst recessionary periods in living memory.
Seems like a lifetime away now.
I was finishing my one-year MBA programme at the Saïd Business School, a course I had chosen after suddenly ending, in the hunt for greater meaning and satisfaction in life, a thriving 14-year career at Jaguar Land Rover owners Tata Motors. The 12 months after I joined the Saïd are now almost a blur, but at the relatively advanced age of 36 this back-at-uni year turned out to be one of a radical shift in my worldview, and of a real opening up of the horizon.
In the second half of 2008 the mood at the business school was less upbeat than it could have been. With the recession, good jobs were increasingly hard to come by. Though previously unimaginable for most of us, not having a high-paying or satisfying job at the end of an Oxford MBA degree looked possible, or even likely.
But finding a job was the last thing on my mind, or on classmate Melvin D’Souza’s (Green Templeton College, 2007; pictured with Alok below right). I was determined to leave my corporate past behind and forge my own path. What was supposed to be a dreamy, wistful day reminiscing about the year just gone past ended up one of impassioned discussion about the future. The seeds of Soul Tree Wine were sown.
India has a 5,000-year old history in wine but the world’s major wine-consuming regions knew nothing of it. Indian cuisine is the most popular cuisine in Britain, yet Indian wine was nowhere to be seen. We had spotted a gap in the market that no one had successfully plugged.
Never having worked in the wine industry, we were unburdened by a full sense of the size of the mountain we faced. Establishing something unknown in a hugely conservative industry is a massive and expensive challenge, usually taking decades of evolution and commercialisation. Or, as we thought, the right people in the right place and at the right time.
Armed with naiveté and determination, we set off on the mission of creating a global consumer brand that could put India on the wine map of the world. We began dreaming of the day when India became accepted as an established, mainstream producer — of wines that would be counted as amongst the best in the world.
The past few years have truly been a journey. We have learned an incredible amount and have had more wine than we ever thought possible — I guess in entering the industry relatively late in our lives we have desperately been trying to catch up! Like any other start-up we have had our share of triumphant moments, and times that left us wondering about the futility of it all.
By the end of 2014, Soul Tree wine was represented by 25 UK distributors and sold in over 600 outlets across Britain. The wines were being sold in France, Germany, and the USA, with other international markets in the offing.
Since then, a crowdfunding campaign to fund the next growth stage of the business has been completed, raising more than £350,000 for 16.5 per cent of the business, with investors from eighteen different countries. Crowdfunding is truly an exciting alternative to traditional sources of finance, and though some people find the prospect of managing tens or hundreds of ‘small’ investors daunting we, as a budding global consumer brand, see these investors not just as individuals helping us fund the next stage of the business but as brand ambassadors, evangelists, and potential future partners. And the possibilities this creates excite us no end.
Soul Tree Wine is still a small business, but we are working on making it a business with a big heart, and even bigger dreams and ambitions. We are determined to take Soul Tree to the top of its game. As a consumer brand we aim to make a little difference to the lives of millions of people around the world. And we aim to make this the most intensely satisfying achievement of our lives.
Unsurprisingly, alcohol had formed a huge part of my year at Oxford. Meeting up for an after-class drink, for an after-study session, or for that rather surprisingly frequent all-night session, was commonplace. But not until that day in an Oxford pub in 2008 had I imagined I would be helping bring new joys of wine drinking to the world.
All images © Soul Tree Wine, reproduced with permission.