At the age of 28, my ultimate career goal was to have a corner office. At that time, I worked in a NASDAQ-listed Fortune 500 multinational company as their Director of Sales with the aspiration of becoming the Country CEO by 33. Over the next five years, I had changed my mind. I had reconsidered my position on staying employed and had arrived at a new aspiration; that of reinventing myself in a new avatar as a wine-entrepreneur invested in the business of wine. 

The decision to become an entrepreneur in wine was less conventional, even more so as a woman in India, because the whisky-dominant industry had traditionally been male-dominated. That’s when I began to see the opportunities that existed for a qualified wine professional in the nascent wine industry and decided to make a strategic shift to explore a career in wines. 

Today, as a ‘Master of Wine’, no two days are alike for me and I often find myself asking the question, “What next” in pursuit of the next big idea. 

If you are someone who relates to this story, wishes to realign their career aspirations and turn from being a corporate workhorse to an entrepreneur, here are some lessons to live by. 

1. Don’t always listen to people. The ones who don’t know you well often don’t care enough to mean well for you or may not be visionary enough to give you good advice. The first advice I received from a senior member in the industry at the time was: “You are too young to try for a Master of Wine. You need to wait till you are older to try.” I’m glad I didn’t listen.

2. Identify your true mentor. Behind every success story, there’s true mentorship. Someone who can help you identify and realise your inner calling, and help you dream big. This person will be your biggest influencer. Recognise them and hold on to them tight. They are your angels and your guiding light as they will always have your back. And, you’re going to need them throughout your journey.

3. Investment in self pays the best rate of interest and your personal brand is your most saleable asset. Invest in gaining knowledge, upgrading your skills, developing your creative talent and enhancing your image. That’s ultimately what businesses pay for. When you invest in yourself, a world of opportunity opens up for you.

4. Don’t waste too much time thinking; act. People spend too much time ruminating on ideas and miss the opportunity to execute in time. Speed is important if you are trying to pioneer a brilliant idea. Execute the idea and then work on perfecting it, or else you may lose out to someone who acts upon it faster than you. Ultimately, ideas belong not to those to think it first, but to those who act upon it first. So, execute.

5. Have grit and self-belief. It is the ability to persist in something you feel passionate about and persevere when you face obstacles. It is important to stay on course, no matter what. Because, the best almost always comes after the worst. Failure makes you give up. Grit and self-belief tell you to dig in your teeth and persist. And those who persevere, see the rainbow.

6. Success is a responsibility. Achieving milestones in your entrepreneurial journey should act as reminders to start giving back in ways that are meaningful, progressive and relevant, helping the industry to move forward. Your ultimate goal should be to serve the ecosystem of the industry and create solutions for the trade and its consumers, making that your larger purpose. 


  • Sonal Holland

    Educator, Entrepreneur, Consultant

    The Sonal Holland Wine Academy, Soho Wine Club, India Wine Awards, Vine2Wine Retail

    Master of Wine, Sonal Holland is India’s most accomplished and celebrated wine professional. The first Indian to be bestowed with the world’s most prestigious wine title, with a present count of only 389 MW’s across 30 countries, she has won numerous awards on her incredible journey to become India’s first and only Master of Wine in a nation of 1.3 billion people.  A domain expert on the business of wine & spirits in India, Sonal is passionate about drawing global attention to the country’s young and exciting beverage industry. Her vast cultural knowledge has made her a sought-after strategic consultant for international brands seeking a foothold in India’s complex marketplace.  Her entrepreneurial ventures include the SoHo Wine Club (founded in 2016), where her refreshing approach to demystifying wines has endeared her to budding oenophiles in a land of whisky lovers. Since its inception, SoHo Wine Club has emerged as the country’s most influential wine society that curates a fabulous collection of wines and experiences for the most discerning palates in India. She also founded the Sonal Holland Wine Academy (2009), India’s foremost institution offering certified WSET wine and spirit courses, which has since completed over a decade in the business of education.  Sonal’s professional achievements include her role as the former corporate head of wine and beverages at home-grown luxury hospitality conglomerate, ITC Hotels, where her main focus was to elevate the hotel Group’s wine cellar offerings, curate iconic, exclusive wine events for Group patrons and mentor a cadre of WSET qualified wine professionals. Currently, she is the Wine Buyer and Consultant for luxury food retail chain Foodhall, for whom she has designed a wine loyalty program for its regular buyers.  An ardent supporter of the local wine industry, Sonal has spearheaded two groundbreaking initiatives.  India Wine Insider, in collaboration with London-based Wine Intelligence, is the country’s most comprehensive survey on the urban Indian wine consumer. An initiative spearheaded by the Sonal Holland Wine Academy in 2017, this research-  backed knowledge paper gives an invaluable glimpse into the awareness, attitudes and usage of wine among domestic wine drinkers. The India Wine Insider report uncovers prevailing consumer realities and identifies future growth opportunities beneficial for the Indian & international wine trade, and hoteliers, to make informed decisions.  India Wine Awards, powered by Sonal Holland MW, is the most authoritative wine competition in the nation, led by India’s most qualified wine professionals. The inaugural edition of India Wine Awards in 2017, established itself as the ultimate consumer-guide to ranking the best domestic and international wines available in the country. In addition to the wine competition, the second edition in 2018, also recognized and awarded restaurants in luxury hotels and stand-alone category for their exceptional wine lists and beverage programs. In 2019, XX – do we want to add any specific highlight of 2019’s awards here?  An award-winning wine broadcaster, Sonal Holland’s pioneering digital channel Sonal Holland Wine TV, dedicated to wine education and entertainment, has been previously recognized by the Digital Women Awards for its innovative content. A regular wine writer, her columns have been published in distinguished publications across India. She is much in demand as a judge and has represented the country at prestigious global wine competitions such as the Decanter Asia Wine Awards, Concours Mondial du Bruxelles and the Hong Kong International Wine & Spirit Competition.  Since the day she embarked on this incredible journey, Sonal has been a role model for women, shattering the glass ceiling in the AlcoBev industry in India. Her exceptional contribution to India’s wine industry has been widely recognised. She has been featured among the Top Women in Wine by the Indian Wine Academy. Luxury business magazine Luxebook (formerly Blackbook) has named her as one of the Top 50 Most Powerful Women in Indian Luxury for the last four consecutive years. She has also been featured multiple times among Luxebook’s Top 100 Most Influential People in Indian Luxury. In 2018, Sonal was conferred the ‘Wine Personality of the Year’ award by India’s leading Food Bloggers Association of India (FBAI). In early 2019, she was also awarded and felicitated at the Rotary International District Conference in the presence of 1500 delegates, for her unique achievement as India’s only Master of Wine.  In addition to the Master of Wine title, Sonal holds the Level 4 Diploma in Wines from the London-based Wine & Spirits Education Trust, a Diploma in Hotel Management from the Institute of Hotel Management in Mumbai and a Masters Degree in Business Administration. In 2018, Sonal was conferred the Official Ambassador title by the German VDP wine association and the Bourgogne Wine Board with the charge of promoting their wines in India.  In February 2020, Sonal Holland added yet another milestone accomplishment to her career pursuits. She was conferred an advanced certification in Saké and Shochu from Tokyo Japan, awarded by the Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association with the support of the National Tax Agency, National Research Institute of Brewing of Japan, and the Brewing Society of Japan. This certification makes Sonal the first Indian to become a certified professional in Saké and Shochu Sonal shares her love of wine with her British husband Andrew, who is a high- profile Indian financial market expert. Their 10-year old daughter, Rianna, is her greatest joy and pride.  Watch Sonal speak about her incredible journey to becoming ‘One In A Billion in her TEDx talk here: