Utsava Kasera is a next-gen portfolio entrepreneur who has put his faith in his latest investment: a premium Prosecco, aimed at shaking up the drink market in the UK and US. The Indian-born, UK-educated citizen of the world speaks to Anna Tyzack about his business portfolio across tech, fashion and hospitality, and his new direction in sustainability
Portrait photography by Charlie Gray
It was Phantom, Mandrake and Tintin comics, or rather the lack of them in India, that drove Utsava Kasera to start his first business at the age of 12. His group of friends were as obsessed with comics as he was, and as there weren’t many available locally, he started a small library. “When my father travelled to the big cities like Delhi and Bombay [Mumbai], he’d bring one back for me; if I did well in my exams, he might bring back two, and I’d rent them out to my friends,” he explains. “The library was a good lesson in entrepreneurship: where demand exceeds supply, there is always the chance to start an exciting business.”
It is this entrepreneurial spirit that has driven him towards his venture, an intriguing attempt to shake up the drinks market. While prestige champagnes have proliferated, and the market for the cheaper Italian sparkling wine, prosecco, has expanded, there has been no crossover between the two categories. Until now: Kasera has invested in a premium prosecco as a rival to champagne.
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The rollout of Ombra Di Pantera is now being driven in the UK. “The UK is one of the biggest markets for prosecco – more people drink it than champagne. And yet there are few luxury options, few competitors to grande marque, non-vintage champagnes like Moët et Chandon or Veuve Clicquot,” he says.
Ombra Di Pantera is the answer to this gap in the market – it’s the finest quality prosecco and will soon be available online and then in a select number of London’s bars and restaurants. “Our vineyards produce the most refined Glera grapes, used in the best proseccos, and the family in charge is passionate about production and cultivating and harvesting the grapes, and they have passed this passion and their techniques down through the generations,” he explains. The name pays homage to the Venetian term for prosecco, ombra de vin, ‘wine’s shadow’ – it is said that in ancient times the traders in Piazza San Marco kept the wine cool by storing it in the shadow of the Campanile. “Prosecco is faster to produce than champagne and it is drunk when it’s younger, but the best ones are exceptional,” Kasera says. “I’ve learnt from whisky that age doesn’t necessarily define the quality – it’s about the vintage and the methods of production.”
As with all Kasera’s investments and business ventures, the opportunity to create Ombra Di Pantera was a case of right place, right time. He was introduced to the Italian family who had been cultivating the beautiful Ombra Di Pantera vineyards for many generations and he immediately saw the potential. He had similar good fortune, he says, when he met Kevin Pietersen for coffee and soon signed up to invest in the cricketer’s ethical fashion label, SORAI, set up to preserve and protect endangered species; and when he met the founders of the Singapore private members club, 1880, in which he is now an investor and advisor.
Kasera says his own father drilled into him early on that you make your own luck in life. From nothing his father built up a successful chemical company supplying the chemicals to manufacturers of a detergent that is now a well-known name in northern and eastern India, a market of hundreds of millions of consumers. As a boy, Kasera used to love hearing his father talk about his world travels and the people he met along the way. “In 1972 he flew to Afghanistan and hitchhiked to the Munich Olympics; in Munich he met a guy on a bus who he stayed with for the next three months; they stayed in touch and that same guy went to my sister’s wedding in India,” he says. “It’s stories like these that showed me how small the world is if you take the time to explore it. I knew from the start that a 9-to-5 job wasn’t going to be for me.”
At school Kasera was a sports star, being the city captain for table tennis and a keen cricketer. After graduating from university in Delhi, he studied at the London School of Economics and gained a master’s in international business and emerging markets at the University of Edinburgh. “It was overwhelming at first – the language, the curriculum and the different culture – but it was good experience for me; there were people from 26 countries in my class.” Along with gaining his master’s he made a cosmopolitan network of friends and learnt to appreciate whisky and cognac. He was recently listed on the University of Edinburgh’s Alumni 100, a showcase of its Business School’s most inspiring former students and is also now an advisor to the British Council’s Creative Spark Higher Education Enterprise Programme. “It’s great to be able to help motivate young potential entrepreneurs to realise their potential,” he says.
His main investment focuses are now tech, luxury and environmentally sustainable solutions; in 2011 he worked on a sustainability project in the chemical industry in Switzerland and Germany, fostering in him an interest in renewable energy. “It’s been a process of learning as I go along,” he says. “I’ve made some bad investments that didn’t turn out as I hoped but I’ve got a good feel for it now – it’s so rewarding when things go well.”
The entrepreneurial landscape has opened up dramatically since he left Edinburgh, he continues, largely due to social media. When used intelligently, social networking platforms break down so many boundaries, he says, allowing entrepreneurs and investors to reach a huge audience without expense. “It enables things to happen out of the blue; it brings people and opportunities together,” he says.
Some of the truly unique opportunities, however, are still found away from social media and screens, he says – the bourbon whisky that he discovered in Austin, Texas through word of mouth, for example, and the Pinot Noir he tried in Armenia that he says would rival a good red Burgundy. For entrepreneurial inspiration, Kasera thus aims to explore five new countries a year; so far this year he’s visited Armenia, the Seychelles and Northern Ireland and Georgia. He also reads extensively and makes a point of expanding his network wherever he is in the world, often choosing to stay in Airbnb accommodation or with friends rather than checking in to a hotel.
Unsurprisingly, the pandemic put a damper on his travels. While this was frustrating in many ways, forcing him to put investment and philanthropic plans on hold, the time at home helped him gain new perspective. “I like to be busy; I found myself spending a lot of time thinking about what I’m going to do in the future, what’s on the horizon,” he says. “I read the Difficulty of Being Good by Gurcharan Das, which is a secular reading of the great epic, Mahabharata. It relates so much to modern times, which I found very inspiring.” He also taught himself to cook, perfecting Indian-style scrambled eggs with coriander, spices and tomato, and, with Ombra Di Pantera in mind, completed a WSET level 1 online wine course.
As the world opens up again, Kasera is looking forward to Ombra Di Pantera’s unveiling in New York City, where he aspires to open a prosecco bar to give more people the chance to sample fine prosecco. “I hope it will be a brand ambassador for Ombra Di Pantera as well as hosting small pairing lunches and dinners,” he says. “I’d like to see Ombra Di Pantera inspiring a whole new area of luxury proseccos.”
What’s also sure is that it’s impossible to tell what sector new generation entrepreneurs like Kasera will be investing in. Sector-agnostic, and symbolic of his generation, truly global, he looks for opportunities that expand and stretch the luxury sector, increasingly with sustainability in mind. He remains tight-lipped about his next ventures, but I suspect they will be increasingly impactful in the new world of luxury.
The premium Prosecco
Ombra Di Pantera’s Prosecco Superiore Brut Millesimato DOCG aims to conquer the hearts of aficionados of champagne and other high-end sparkling wines, who may not previously have considered a prosecco. The Glera grapes that go into this wine are grown in the foothills of the Alps north of Venice, in an area with sunny days and cool nights. This gives a balance of ripeness and freshness. The result of hand-harvesting, careful selection of grapes and a personalised winemaking process is a sparkling wine that is creamy and light.
My favourite indulgence
“Depending on the time of day and the mood, it’ll either be a whisky or a cognac. As a ritual before dinner with friends, or if I’m admiring a view, I’ll drink a glass of Louis XIII 100-year-old cognac. It never fails to get me in the right mood. Whisky is a passion I share with my friends; we taste it together, we collect it and we exchange notes.”
Find out more: ombradipantera.com
Thank you to Nobu Hotel London Portman Square for providing The Nobu Penthouse for our shoot. Styling by Grace Gilfeather; grooming by Brady Lea (Premier Hair and Make-up).
This article was originally published in the Autumn/Winter 2021 issue.