After climbing the corporate ladder in a finance company for seven years, at the age of 33 years, Sonal Holland decided to pivot in her career and set a new goal for herself. She wanted to become India’s first Master of Wine, the highest achievable level for a wine professional. Ten years later, after undergoing extensive exams, she achieved this feat. Holland continues to enjoy the title as India’s only Master of Wine.
Holland doesn’t believe in making any differentiation between male and female. She says, “I don’t even stop to make a point about it. You’ll never see me say, India’s first woman master of wine that was never good enough for me. It was always first overall – India’s first Master. I think your work should speak for you.”
She began looking for a change, one that would let her start her family and deal with health issues that came alone with it. In 2007, Holland, who was only a social drinker, stumbled across the wine market that she describes as a “pre-sunrise industry”. “I came to this industry with no background in wines. I do not come from a family that had worked in the trade or had any knowledge of this industry,” she shares.
While considering her options for her new career, the one think that Holland had in mind was that she “wanted to do something where I could make a change”. She noticed a lot of interest in the wine industry in India, at that time. She says, “But, there were no qualified wine professionals, barring a few self-proclaimed experts.”
While she was achieving her goals on the professional front, Holland’s family was growing as she became a mother to a baby girl in 2009. During the roller-coaster of life, she credits her husband, Andrew, for being “her rock”. “When I fell into self-doubt or questioned my choices, he would always prod me along. I used to feel guilty as a mother, he would say, ‘you watch, one day, she (her daughter) will be very proud of you’,” the 50-year-old says.
While she might have started this journey on her own, Holland expresses the shift she has noticed in the alco-bev industry. She says, “When I started in this field, there were hardly any women. But I have seen a huge paradigm shift with many women entering the industry. They play different roles – as educators, content creators, consultants, events managers and even mixologists. I also feel humbled that young aspiring women reach out to me and tell me that I have inspired them with my story and with what I have done (in life).”