It was a family trip to pastoral Provence, France, in 2018 that prompted Raghni Naidu to launch her winery. In Provence, her two young kids, Sameera and Saveer, relished the open spaces. They climbed olive trees while she and husband Kaushick became enamored with the area’s vineyard-centric small towns.
“I just had this epiphany,” recalls Naidu. “I want to make this an intentional part of our life because it just brings us so much joy. I’m seeing my children have so much joy in nature.”
Naidu, who was born in Amritsar, a city in the Indian state of Punjab, went to become one of the few Indian winery owners in the U.S. In just five years, her namesake brand, Naidu Wines & Vineyards, has grabbed drinkers’ attention. The bottlings earned several medals in both this and last year’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, while the winery’s 2021 Pinot Noir recently earned a 93-point rating from Wine Enthusiast. Naidu Wines now produces 1,000 cases a year, including Pinot Noir, Viognier, Cabernet Franc and other single varietals.
“From the get-go, my focus has really been on bringing a quality product,” Naidu says. “There’s a lot of pride involved in this and a responsibility to do it right.”
Just months after her Provence awakening, Naidu, a former account executive turned stay-at-home mom, dove headfirst into wine. In short order, she purchased a nine-acre estate and vineyard in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley. Naidu Wines debuted in March 2020 in Sebastopol and, undeterred by the then-nascent pandemic, Naidu sold the entirety of the operation’s cache of 2018 estate Pinot Noir in just two months.
Being taken seriously as a first-generation winery owner, however, remains a challenge in an industry where wine-making knowledge is often passed down from generation to generation. “As someone who does not fit the mold of a traditional vintner, I have to prove a lot more to my potential buyers,” she says. “I am held to a much higher standard of vetting than my counterparts.”
She’s changing hearts and minds, though. Today, lauded restaurants across the country carry Naidu’s wines. In nearby Healdsburg, there’s three-Michelin-starred SingleThread Farm and plant-based hotspot Little Saint. Naidu is also making inroads in some of the country’s finest Indian restaurants, including ROOH in Palo Alto and San Francisco and Indienne in Chicago. Sona, the New York restaurant co-owned by actress Priyanka Chopra, will soon start serving Naidu’s Pinot Noir, Grenache Blanc and Rosé Pinot Noir.
Naidu finds inspiration in her heritage. Though the wines weren’t necessarily designed to pair with Indian flavors and ingredients, they do so elegantly. In 2022, she collaborated with James Beard Award-nominated Indian American chef and activist Preeti Mistry on a five-course wine and food pairing dinner.
“The Viognier is very versatile and goes extremely well with Indian spices,” Naidu says, recalling the evening’s wild shrimp momos (dumplings) nestled in a scallion turmeric miso broth. She also hosts celebrations filled with food, wine and music to honor major South Asian holidays at the vineyard.
“Everyone comes dressed in their lovely Indian attire and it’s just an evening enjoyed in the vineyard,” says Naidu of their Diwali celebration, the Indian festival of lights, held in October. Naidu stays true to the tradition of Holi by providing guests with multi-hued powders that they can toss on one another to joyously mark the arrival of spring. Those who wish to stay the night can book the four-bedroom estate on Airbnb, with rentals starting at $917 a night. The property includes an outdoor swimming pool and hot tub, home theater, chef’s kitchen and bocce ball court.
“My goal is to offer a fully immersive experience where people can really experience the terroir and the wines that come from it,” she says.
Naidu attributes much of her success to being an immigrant, which she says has made her resilient and flexible. “I adapt super well to whatever is thrown at me. I’m constantly out of my comfort zone,” she says. She has big plans for the future: Naidu’s wines are currently available for purchase in California, New York and Illinois, but she’s working with a distributor to expand the operation’s reach to 10 more states, including Maryland, Indiana and Wisconsin. She also aims to increase production to 5,000 cases within the next five years.
“My goal is to just take it to the next level every year,” Naidu says. “I want the product out to as many people as possible.”