The 2023 WSET Outstanding Alumni Award goes to …

Sonal Holland MW and Jancis

At yesterday's memorable, two-hour WSET graduation ceremony in London's historic Guildhall, Jancis presented Sonal Holland MW of India with this year's award.

We are the proud sponsors of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust’s annual Outstanding Alumni Award, designed to celebrate the achievements of WSET’s global alumni community. Each year the alumni themselves are invited to nominate their winner by shining a spotlight on the inspiring work of Diploma graduates around the world. The 2023 award, recognising an exceptional contribution to expanding the world of wine, goes to Sonal Holland MW, DipWSET, India’s first and still only Master of Wine.

I first became aware of Sonal’s fearless energy at the MW symposium in Florence in 2014, when she tackled Christian Seely of AXA Millésimes (Château Pichon Baron et al) over the extent to which her investment in 2009 top bordeaux had lost value. Since then she has gone on to do all she can to encourage India’s growing interest in wine, pioneering wine education there with affordable and accessible courses via the WSET-approved Sonal Holland Wine Academy. 

She provides unique guidance to international wine companies and smaller wine producers on how to enter and succeed in the fast-growing Indian wine market through her work in consumer and trade research, marketing, communications and events. In 2017 she founded the India Wine Awards, ranking the best domestic and international wines available in the country. She has just been appointed Air India’s wine consultant and is currently co-organising Vinexpo Mumbai. Her half-million followers make her one of the most popular wine personalities in the world. With no little help from Sonal, India is a growing force in the global wine community.  

Previous winners are a thoroughly international bunch. The first, 2016, award admittedly went to a UK resident, but to a Frenchwoman, Isabelle Legeron DipWSET, who has done so much to spread the gospel of natural, or ‘raw’, wine around the world. Asthmatics have reason to be grateful to her. Sarah Jane Evans MW, DipWSET, who won the 2017 award, is also a UK resident but her sphere of influence is Spanish wine on which she is a recognised expert, writing books and innumerable articles on the subject (and on chocolate).

Winner of the 2018 award was another female Master of Wine, Caro Maurer MW, DipWSET, who lives in Germany where she is recognised as one of the top wine writers. With the 2019 award it was back to Spain when our very own Spanish specialist, the extremely popular wine man of Ferran Adrià of elBulli, Ferran Centelles DipWSET, won the award.

There was no WSET awards ceremony in the lockdown year of 2020 but the 2021 award was won by creative Austrian winemaker Ferdinand Mayr DipWSET. The 2022 award, presented as usual the next year, ie last year, went to Alexandra Schrecengost DipWSET, who managed to combine a serious spinal cord injury with running successful online businesses, Virtual With Us and then Culture With Us, from her base in New Jersey, with a particular commitment to empowerment and inclusivity

We are delighted to be associated with all this wine-related talent and wish Sonal every success in her aim to turn Indians into wine drinkers.