Ms. Sonal C Holland – India – Master of Wine (Interview No. 189)

March 8, 2024

Name: Ms. Sonal C Holland –

Nationality: Indian –

At the moment: India –

SoHoWines –

Sonal Holland Wine Academy –

Chairperson at India Wine Awards –


Please, tell us a little bit about your first encounter with wine & the wine industry? Did you have any particular mentors?

It may surprise you to know that wine came quite late into my life. I used to work as the Director of National Sales for a NASDAQ-listed Fortune 500 company, but I wasn’t content with my work as I felt it wasn’t doing justice to my skill set. Then at the age of 33, I decided to quit my job to reinvent my career and it was at this time that I came across the wine industry in India, which was still in a nascent stage.

While there were no qualified wine experts in the country and the overall perception of India was that of a challenging market, I saw a huge opportunity for growth and success for both wine and wine professionals. Taking a futuristic stance and believing in the bright future of wine in India, I went to London and studied at the Wine & Spirit Education Trust to complete the early stages of my education, which included their flagship course- Diploma in Wines and Spirits.

I soon discovered my passion for wine and realized that I had a flare for communicating about it. That’s when I decided to apply for the Master of Wine program at The Institute of Masters of Wine. The six-year journey to complete this course was not an easy one as I had no mentors and had to chart my own course without any guidance. However, I finally earned the title of Master of Wine in 2016, becoming the first one to do so in India.

What specific traits or skills should a Sommelier(e) possess for professional performance and is there any person with those qualities you especially admire within the wine industry?

Sommeliers should have impeccable communication skills, good wine knowledge, decent organisational skills, and the ability to sell a wine based on a consumer’s preference. They should also be capable of creating an enjoyable and inclusive experience for guests.

What would be your advice to a young Sommelier(e)? How to find a good position at home or abroad? Any further tips?

Invest in yourself; as it pays the highest return, be qualified, stay updated on the recent developments in your field, get to know the important stakeholders, and constantly network so that you remain visible in the industry- these would be my five tips to a young sommelier. 

To help wine professionals in India gain access to world-class wine education, we founded the Sonal Holland Wine Academy. Over the years, we have seen a growing number of sommeliers join the academy to pursue internationally recognised WSET courses and our in-house certifications so that they can enter the wine industry with confidence. These professional certifications help sommeliers upgrade and refine their wine knowledge, also opening doors for better work opportunities and bigger roles.


When a customer asks for advice on selecting wine what, in your opinion, would be the best approach?

The best approach is to start with a conversation that helps you understand a consumer’s taste and preferences. A sommelier should also pay attention to factors like budget, occasion and cuisine as they play an important role in wine selection. They shouldn’t overburden the consumer with wine knowledge as it can be intimidating and off-putting.

What is your philosophy about glasses? Are you working with well-known brands or are you considering new brands as well.  How do you decide?

Glasses have a huge impact on the way one enjoys wine. Crystal wine glasses are better than ordinary ones as they are spun thinner, more luminescent and attractive to look at. Handmade crystal glasses by Schott Zwiesel, Zalto and Riedel are all very good.

What advice would you give people on pairing wine with food?

Don’t be overwhelmed by the task because most wines pair well with a wide variety of foods. The only things to keep in mind are: 

  1. High-acid foods (with a tomato base, or loaded with lemon juice etc.) required wines with high acidity.
  2. Spicy preparations that are packed with chillies need to be paired with low-alcohol, fruit-forward wines.
  3. Wines with high tannins are difficult to pair, however, they go well with salty foods like cold cuts or salted bread.
  4. Sweet preparations demand sweeter wines.

And lastly, if the pairing works for you, then just go for it.  Each one of us perceives taste and aromas differently, so drink what you like and eat what you love.

Should a Sommelier(e) taste the guest’s wine?

Traditionally, sommeliers taste wine before service, especially in cases where a customer has purchased a very expensive wine. The purpose is to detect wine faults like cork taint before presenting it to a consumer. However, faults in wine can easily be detected on the nose. Also, consumers in new markets like India might not be aware of this practice and thus may take offence when a sommelier tastes their wine. So, there’s no real need for a sommelier to taste a guest’s wine.

Wine list:

What are the key ingredients for creating a wine list for a restaurant and what is your opinion on pricing wine in restaurants, do you have tips on how to determine markups?

A wine list must be designed around the restaurant’s cuisine and its pricing should be proportional to the cost of the food. It should also complement the ambiance and theme of the establishment. For instance, a restaurant serving Italian cuisine should offer a decent selection of Italian wines.

How do you manage to stay on top of the changes in the wine industry?

By rolling up my sleeves and being in the field constantly. Also, research has been a big part of my career in the wine industry. In 2018, I launched the first-ever consumer landscape report for India in partnership with Wine Intelligence.  Then in 2021, I took this initiative further by launching the India Wine Insider, a research-backed white paper that combines both consumer-based research and trade insights to help international wine companies enter the Indian wine market with confidence. This has helped me stay on top of the changes in the wine industry.

How would a new vineyard get their wine noticed and what is the best way for producers to improve their chances of being listed?

In a new and emerging market that is highly competitive, getting some form of recognition can provide vineyards a chance of being listed.  To help wine brands gain recognition in our country, we host India Wine Awards- the country’s largest blind-tasting competition of in-market wines. The competition gives the winning wines an enviable advantage in the marketplace due to its credibility and we have seen previous participants and winners secure listings at restaurants in the country.

Favourite pick:

If you were a wine, which variety would you be, and why?

A Super Tuscan- it is rebellious, bold, and timelessly elegant.

Which top 3 types of wine (your faves would we find in your home wine collection and what’s your desert island wine?

Provence rosé, California Zinfandel, German Riesling, Australian Shiraz, Burgundian Chardonnay, and some treasured bottles of Italian Super Tuscans and Bordeaux reds.

Thank you


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