Caroline Mukami Mwiraria describes herself as an oenophile, a lover of wine. The 25-year-old is a sommelier and owns a vineyard in Saikeri town in Ngong. She talks about all things wine with BDLife.
How did you become a sommelier?
There’s a version my mom tells me about a trip we went to Naivasha when I was one. I was bothersome, and someone gave me wine to put me to sleep. Of course, I can’t confirm or deny that, but I can see how it would have happened. But, I was in my first year pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce, majoring in Economics in Australia. I failed in economics and had to redo the classes. I was willing to, but my parents saw that I wasn’t good at it. They advised me to take a class as I thought of an alternative, which is when I went wine tasting. I got to see that it’s a real career.
How has the journey been so far?
Fun, and unplanned for. I took the class, got into The Wine Society. I did almost all tastings and even got to organise some before I came back home. Once back, I remember mentioning that I wanted to make wine for a living. Not long after, my parents had got me vines from Maua to kick start my career.
It’s been amazing seeing the wine industry change, meeting people who have built it, and even those who are interested in it. I don’t sit on the supply side really. I enjoy the experience and story behind the wine. I can sell the experience.
How did your parents take this decision?
They were pretty OK with it. I took them wine tasting, where they got to see and understand what it was all about.
Is it a full-time job for you?
There are two schools of thought: winemaking is the farming versus winemaking is the winemaker. I lean on the farming side, which is more of my full-time job. The wine side is a subset of it.
Tell us more about your vineyard.
It’s about two acres at my parents’ farm. I’ve got Bourboulenc and Sauvignon Blanc among others. The grapes came from Maua from a priest who owned a vineyard.
Have you started harvesting?
I actually did one in January last year, but I sold the grapes because I didn’t know what to do with them. I hope to make sorbet with them after the next harvest and maybe sell them. I just don’t know how to make wine yet.
Where do you see it in the near future?
I want to extend it to about five acres, ideally. I would really like to partner with a brand to make something together. In three years, I hope to have some bottles to sell. I’m pretty sure I’ll have some on the shelves in five years though.
What do you think of the wine industry in Kenya?
I think the tax is too high. The middle class has grown and their taste of wine has changed from sweet to semi-sweet going into dry. People are willing to learn more about wine, something I mostly accredit to media exposure. There are also a rising number of wine experts in the city. I’m excited to see where it goes.
What’s a cliché in the wine world you would like to end? That champagne is for big weddings. I mean, you can drink it for breakfast. Don’t deny yourself a good time. Also, not all cheap wine is bad.
Do you ever drink low quality wine?
Yes. There’s no shame in saying it. It’s not even about the price. I’m just curious to see what each end of the spectrum looks like.
If you could drink one wine for the rest of your life, what would it be?
What’s the most overrated wine in the market?