It was literally a “Guns to Gewürztraminer” moment for me as I stood in rapt attention during the investiture ceremony of Rajiv Singhal, Ambassador of Champagne in India, at the French Ambassador’s residence in New Delhi. Having witnessed numerous investiture ceremonies during my career with the Armed Forces (of handling Guns of course) – here was one ceremony that was similar in soul but with a distinctly different execution.
To speak about the occasion first. Rajiv Singhal is no alien name to the World Wine Web ( my interpretation of WWW as the global wine community), when any mention of India is made in the vinous context. A graduate in economics from the prestigious Yale University, Rajiv chose to go the entrepreneurial way two decades back, after politely declining hot shot financial assignments. But apart from his urge to be professionally independent, there was a lurking wine passionate in him that blossomed soon after, making him silently promote the cause of wine- particularly French wines- with the sole aim of educating and delighting the Indians on this potion of Gods. 20 years later, as we stand witness to the Sommelier phenomenon, Wine Flights and ever increasing availability of Fine Wines in India, Rajiv’s services towards promoting the cause of French wines has been deservedly acknolwledged by the award of France’s second highest civilian honor viz. Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Merite (Knight in the National Order of Merit) by the President of France . The award is made in exceptional cases to foreign citizens and it was indeed a privilege for me to witness it’s bestowal on a mentor and a friend.
Coming to the ceremony- as compared to investiture ceremonies in the Armed Forces where protocol, ceremonial accoutrements, fanfare and Standard Operating Procedures are de rigueur, here we had only subtle formalities in the form of a dress code (business formals) and having to carry the invite for security reasons. Thereafter it was the unsaid decorum that came naturally to the select group of guests befitting the occasion to the tee. There was no earmarked seating here- in fact no chairs at all- that made it convenient for the guests to mingle around some wine. To summarise, while the investiture ceremonies in the Armed Forces could be called Strictly Formal, here it was ‘Casually Formal’ but the essence remained the same- of pride, elegance and celebration.
As the coveted medal was brought pinned on a red silken cushion, the Ambassador of France in India H.E. François Richier rendered a short and humorous speech putting the guests further at ease followed by reading of the citation and pinning of the medal on Rajiv’s jacket lapel. This was followed by a short speech by Chevalier Rajiv taking the guests down the memory lane when he embarked on his dream of making wine approachable to Indian enthusiasts and at the same time making the Indian market more accessible to passionate wine producers . A magnum each of Champagne was opened by the Ambassador and Rajiv and thereafter it was congratulations galore with free flowing wine and exotic finger food
The Gewürztraminer part of my Guns to Gewürztraminer journey had just witnessed a familiar pasture with a different chemin.