A student of biotech, Pokhrel is utilising her theoretical knowledge to produce wine while following the best practices.
Upon reaching Dhapakhel, we go through a muddy road from where we see a house-like structure made up of galvanised metal sheets. In between four ropanies of land, we find the factory of Pure Joy Pvt. Ltd. The first thing we noticeafter entering the factory is the sweet aroma of wine. A heap of empty bottles can be seen through the subdued light in one of the partitioned rooms. “And this is the place where we make our wine,” says 26-year-old Binita Pokhrel, pointing at the rooms with nine fermenting tanks.
Born and brought up in Pokhara, Binita is the founder of Pure Joy Pvt. Ltd, a food and beverage company that produces wine. Coming from a Brahmin family, entering the alcohol business was a challenge and convincing her parents was not easy for Pokhrel.
Pokhrel’s parents always wanted her to become a doctor. Instead, she chose Biotech. “I think due to the kind of ego I had at that time, I chose to study Biotech,” she explains. She elucidates that as a child she wanted to go abroad for higher studies. “As a child, I used to see my seniors joining Harvard, MIT or any other reputed universities abroad. They had inspired me and I wanted to follow them”, adds Pokhrel. She says that she was already applying to universities, writing applications to professors and was getting good responses as well. Although her mother was supportive, her father thought she was too young to go abroad. Ultimately, Pokhrel studied Biotech at Kathmandu University.
After completing her Bachelor’s, she once again tried to go abroad to study education as there were hardly any options for biotech graduates in Nepal. However, she dropped the idea of going abroad just a day before she was going to pay for the GRE exams. “I am somebody who will go into depression if I don’t talk to people,” she says. Moreover, the thought of having to confine oneself inside a lab for five long years was daunting. “I knew if I had gone, I would not return,” she adds.
Although Pokhrel had the idea of starting a water factory initially, she got interested in winemaking after visiting Pataleban Vineyard Resort. As a student of biotech, she knew the process of making wine. Besides, she also did a lot of research beforehand.
In 2017, she registered her company. However, dealing with bureaucracy was not easy for her. “Being a student of biotech, I had the idea of making wine. But I’ve never had to deal with bureaucracy. I had no idea about tax, industry department and the registration process,” says Pokhrel, adding, “And I think this is the drawback of Nepal’s education system”. She cites India’s single-window system, which allows patrons to avail a range of government services under one roof.
She says that this system should be applied in Nepal which will make it easier for new companies and startups.
Getting into business at such a young age was a challenge as well as a plus point. She shares an anecdote where a land deal that was already finalised was annulled just a few minutes before the contract was signed. “He saw that I was young and he might have thought that somebody else was funding me. So he increased the price after meeting me personally,” she states. She adds that there were high-level officials who would tell her,“You have studied biotech, now you have to go abroad”.
Regardless of such disappointments, she finally got a piece of land on lease at Dhapakhel which was not easy to do as well. She had to convince the locals to set up the factory. She considers herself lucky that the locals supported her and helped her to deal with government officials.
Although Pokhrel had imported grape varieties and started a vineyard, all the plants contracted a disease. Later she found out that there was a higher likelihood of fungus infection occurring in places with heavy rainfall. “Still today, many companies do not know this,” states Pokhrel. At present, she has used the place as a nursery. They plan to soon start their own vineyard in the west of Nepal.
Besides these problems, she was unable to launch her product on her own. “Even after two years, we have not received the certificate yet,” she says. As a result, she has now partnered with IE Food and Beverage and is using their trademark. She has now launched her wines with the ‘Mates’ brand name. She says that as soon as she gets the trademark, she will be launching her own brand.
Pokhrel recalls that her mother invested all the savings she received from her insurance. She claims that she has invested Rs 10.10 million in the business till now. Pokhrel is currently grafting a Nepali wild grape variety with a European variety. By doing so, she says that the root will be strong and productivity will also be good. She shares that she wants to start a vineyard resort and plant grape vines across thousands of ropanies of land.
Last year, Pure Joy Wine produced 6,000 bottles of Mates wine in the regular segment. In the future, she has plans to produce 1,500 litres of red wine every month. “Now we produce on an order basis”, she says.
At present, Pokhrel is making red wine as white wine requires more resources. Currently, her company produces plum and banana wines, but she states that her long term plan is to make wines from grapes. Once they are able to produce grapes in their own vineyard, she says that they will start making grape wines.
Smart and energetic, Pokhrel believes in women empowerment. She credits her mother for all her support and inspiration. She says that she has learnt to be independent from her mother. “My mother always says ‘if you become independent then you don’t have to ask for expenditure from others.’ She has been a homemaker but she has fought a lot for me,” Pokhrel says.
With the exception of a male security guard, all the employees at her factory are female. “I will need more human resources in the coming days, and I will employ women,” she adds.
When Pokhrel wanted to go abroad, she used to find everything negative in the country but now she sees the positive sides. “Right now I am happy,” she says. Moreover, when going to any meetings in any department, she says that her opinions are valued.
Pokhrel has also registered an agricultural company. Recently she has tied up with an agriculture group at Harisiddhi and is hopeful about starting the agro business soon.
From starting out three years ago, today, Pokhrel says that a person needs to know the laws and rules of the country before starting any company. This will stop you from being misled, she says. In addition, patience is a must. She says, “If you want to do business in Nepal, then you need to have patience. If not, it is better not to start a business”.
Pokhrel stresses that it is important to have a like-minded group of people but with different opinions. She also says that being legally strong is essential.
Though Pokhrel’s father was not convinced with her working in the sector, she says that the situation has now changed. She shares that during an event in Pokhara, her father supported and helped her to sell tickets and approach possible customers.