Cecilia Oldne, VP-Marketing of Sula Shares The Nine Years Journey Of SulaFest

Image Courtesy: www.indianwineacademy.com

In today’s time where there are zillions of music, film and food festivals taking place every weekend, SulaFest, the only Gourmet World Music Festival has managed to be in forefront in this cut throat competition. ACTFAQs had an opportunity to interview Cecilia Oldne, VP-Marketing of Sula to understand how the fest has succeeded to keep the magic alive!

Over the years, there has been drastic growth in the number of festivals in India; how does SulaFest manages to be in the forefront?

Our location is unbeatable in the midst of the vineyards. Can’t be explained in words – has to be experienced! We are the only Gourmet World Music Festival – our great selection of cuisine and drinks from all over the world leaves no one hungry nor thirsty! We have 100 artists with the largest number of live-musicians performing of all the fests in India. The EDM stage has also grown over the years – this time around shifted to midst the vineyards. Tune in to the #RhythmOfTheVines as we say! At Sula, there’s something for everyone in the group of friends.

What was idea behind starting SulaFest? What were the obstacles that came your way?

We wanted to share our love for music – and India when we introduced SulaFest back in 2008 – there was a limitation of live music platforms in India. Our aim is also to introduce new talents to India. SulaFest gives us one more reason to invite people to our gorgeous vineyards – to experience what all Sula is all about at site! Our CEO has studied at Stanford and the idea of building an amphitheater came from there. It was ready in the end of 2007 and March 2008 is when we hosted our first festival.

Climate changes has been a bit tricky for us – in 2009 we saw unexpected rains in March and on the day of SulaFest and the main stage had to be shifted hence we shifted it to one month earlier – now in the beginning of Feb! Getting to Nashik in 2008 was a bit of a challenge too – today the Mumbai – Nashik highway is one of the best in India! It makes for a perfect 3hr road trip from Mumbai to Nashik through the beautiful Western Ghats. We were also limited on accommodation in Nashik and at the vineyards the initial years but now there are a list of great hotels in Nashik – we run our very own vineyard resort Beyond by Sula and we had set up 300 tents at the vineyards for our festival goers this year!

For the first time, Ra Music will be curating for SulaFest. What new did they bring to the fest?

Jehan Johar is the man behind Ra Music. You may know him from his time with blueFROG.

Ra Music has worked closely with our CEO Rajeev Samant and team to create the best line up so far! We had two headliners this year – The Cat Empire and Kailasa. The world renowned The Cat Empire who has performed at both Jay Leno and David Letterman -made their Indian debut – launching a new album just the week after. We at Sula are known for bringing artists to India that have millions of fans around the world but are yet to break through in India. The Cat Empire’s new album is coincidentally called ‘Rising with the Sun!’

We also had Alexander Sukhochev of Soma Project on board curating the EDM stage Atmasphere headlining Edu Imbernon.

From past few years, VERO MODA is one of the partners of SulaFest; how did the association with Vero Moda came about?

Wine and fashion have always gone hand in hand, be it the fashion weeks across the globe or the numerous fashion do’s in the city, wine is always a company to these fashion soirees. Hence, VERO MODA’s association with Sula fest was only natural. Commenting on this association, Vineet Gautam – Country Head – VERO MODA said “We see SulaFest as a confluence of all things fashionable, be it wine, music or style, hence it’s a perfect place to be for us. Also, the elementary synergy between wine and fashion is very exciting, making it a very fruitful association at both ends.”

Your involvement with wine fraternity has been age-old. How has the journey been so far? Share some experiences.

I love every bit of it including my time in India! Wine brings great people together – it’s a fact – and adding wine culture to the table has made India a happier country. When I first came to India – wine was still at a very nascent stage. It is encouraging to see how India, the Indian wine industry and the consumer have developed over the years. I’ve spent almost a decade in India now and this has been my most exciting time in the industry.

Belonging to a foreign land, yet, successfully managing an Indian brand for close to a decade, how did your knowledge of foreign market helped Sula? Also, how did you adapt to the Indian Market to scale great heights?

I have travelled the world visiting wineries gaining my expertise in the field. I’ve learnt a lot over my global wine journey and I share my experience with Sula and spread my knowledge with the Indian consumer. The more you know about the wine – the more you appreciate it! I am Swedish of origin – but have spent time from an early age in Thailand as I have a house there – my grandparents stayed there for 30 years. My move to India was possibly more natural and it was easier for me to adapt to the lifestyle as compared to the normal Swede.

I am very happy I made this move – Sula is today India’s no. 1 wine company with 70% domestic market share – exporting to 30 countries. I am proud to be a part of the Indian wine revolution.

Sula fest started off as a small gathering for Sula owners and members; and few years back it turned into a commercial festival. How did this transition came about?

It’s been growing with the Sula brand, the Nashik tourism and the increased interest in live music gigs in India over the years – from 300 people and a one day show in a year with one food stall, a limited selection of wines served and only a hand full artist on stage – we in 2011 made it a 2 day festival – and we are today at over 12,000 fest-goers, 100 artists, 3 stages, 20 food partners, 10 drink partners and more!

Music or Food Festivals are generally are organised at huge grounds, malls or stadiums. What are the challenges that organisers face while arranging a fest in a vineyard?

We are privileged to already have a great hospitality set-up managing the over 2,50,000 people visiting our vineyards this year. Traffic and parking had been a challenge but we have learnt over the years in the interest putting quality and convenience first for the festival goers! At SulaFest, we had added a few elements to the fest this year – Swiggy was on board as a food delivery partner and they got the food delivered to you at any location of the festival – from the now as many as 20 + different cuisines. Might it be in the vineyards or at the corner of the amphitheatre – food was served. And with Airtel Money as a pay partner – one could enjoy cashless transactions.

This is the Ninth Edition of SulaFest, how has things changed over the period of years?

It’s bigger and its better! Now a 2 day festival and the world wants to be associated with Sula.

Our first year we had a limited selection of wines – this year we had so much else on the drink front apart from wines. Apart from our wines of Sula – Hardys is on as our wine partner – this from the Sula Selections portfolio – and on board are also Cointreau, Asahi, Grant’s, Jack Daniel’s, Budweiser and Stolichnaya. All to ensure no one goes thirsty!

It was the first time we had our friends at Olive on board. SulaFest lives up to its reputation being India’s only World Gourmet Music Festival! We had cuisines from all different corners of the world on offer – other on board worth mentioning are Woodside Inn, Bombay Food Truck, Mainland China!

We had visitors from across the country – We saw an increased interest from Delhi, Goa, Pune, Nagpur and Bangalore, this year – even from out of the country who have been planning their visit for months.

We had something special planned for the wine enthusiasts with the harvest going on! Grape stomping, a must do – and one could also enjoy a private sit down tasting of our reserve wines with our wine makers in our VIP tasting cellar.

We have seen an increase in both the wine and food consumption – With Swiggy, food was always only a click away! London Dairy as an indulgence partner kept things extra cool!

Even before the fest, we received calls for booking of tables at Soleil by La Plage. People are aware of our farm-to-fork dining experience and had a relaxed day before and after dancing in the vineyards with a sit down gourmet time!

Our Tasting Room were revamped and expanded and a must visit – Florence Tarbouriech haa created a magic wonderland – and with the extension another 200 people could enjoy the breath-taking view of the vineyard from the balcony.

What is next for Sula in the coming future?

Our motto at Sula is quality over quantity – every year things just get a little bit better at SulaFest! For Sula the sun is shining bright too – we are well on track to sell 1 million cases this year – all quality of course – to keep a smile on the Indian consumer’s face and to keep these glasses clinking!