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Sparkling spirit

What makes Dharti Desai as complex as a robust Cabernet Sauvignon, and equally delightful? Tasneem Nashrulla writes.

health and fitness Updated: Dec 22, 2008 00:06 IST
Tasneem Nashrulla

What makes Dharti Desai as complex as a robust Cabernet Sauvignon, and equally delightful? She is an Avinal Brahmin from Valsad in the state of enforced prohibition – Gujarat, who is the founder of Finewinesnmore (FWM), a leading importer and distributor of wines in the country. She is a Gujarati who taught French in Ahmedabad and New York for 10 years. She is a first generation entrepreneur and a single mother.

Not surprisingly, this 41-year-old businesswoman’s eyes light up when she talks of three things – her three-year-old wine company, her 10-year-old daughter Anjali, and her lifelong love for French.

At her plush Andheri office, Desai exudes an air of hard-won success. After acquiring nine wine brands from an out-of-business firm, she has single-handedly taken the company to 150 labels from nine countries. She also manages a direct marketing firm and a mail order company along with her brother.

But as with any other success story, there were challenges to be faced and stereotypes to shatter. “Being a Brahmin from Gujarat, my mother was wary of my entry into the alcohol trade,” says Desai. Then there were the problems of working in a predominantly male industry. Recalls Desai, “At one meeting, the client only addressed my VP of sales throughout, without even acknowledging me.”

But then, Desai is accustomed to dealing with negative attitudes. At the Alliance Francaise in Manhattan, she remembers, “I was a 25-year-old Indian girl teaching high-flying corporates and Hollywood actors like Liam Neeson. The teachers were not very friendly towards me.”

Her reaction to such situations? “Every time there is a challenge, I get up and say, let’s deal with this.”

Desai, who was divorced in 2000 when her daughter was two years old, says, “It was very difficult to take care of her on my own as I had no family in New York, where I had moved after marriage.”

So in 2005, Desai came home to her family in India. And the idea for FWM was born. “I couldn’t find any of the wines I loved during my years abroad. So I thought of bringing in foreign wines to India.” Though, she admits, she was “clueless” about the business. “The first year was hell, to put it mildly,” smiles Desai. “I had to deal with the whims of the government, the bureaucracy and the different laws for each city and state.”

Being a single working mom in the city isn’t easy, but her daughter is quite a trooper, says Desai. “She even accompanies me on my trips to vineyards across the world and by default knows about red, white and sparkling wines. We’ve developed a really close bond because of our travels together.” Desai now plans to take FWM to 20 cities in India by March 2009. We say, bon voyage!