The complicated nature of wine has taken Kenyans to class, to study it. In a wine class in Nairobi, men and women in their 30s and 40s sit in rows practicing how to swirl and smell the notes of citrus, floral undertones, peaches, and perhaps apricots.
Having seen the enormous potential of wine in Kenya, Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET), the world’s largest provider of qualifications, now has trainers in Kenya. Over 100 people have gone through the programme, learning about the intrigues of wine.
At a WSET alumni meeting in Nairobi’s Kengeles in Karen, the average age of attendees is 30, with more women than men.
Wanjiru Mureithi, a certified WSET educator, prides herself in being among the few teaching Kenyans about one bottle of wine at a time.
“Being a tourist destination, the food and the drinks served to travellers make or break a holiday. We have to raise the bar to global standards.
“Also, wine has a large value chain, if we learn how to harness it, we’ll soon place Kenya on the world map,” Wanjiru says.
Through the WSET curriculum that has four levels, Wanjiru trains many on the adventure that is wine. “Wine is sensory so you have to teach like so. And every wine has a story. That story is what connects us to the wine experience,” she says, adding that her ultimate dream is to have wine drinking become a lifestyle in Kenya.
Adero Achola was the top student in level one and two in the 2020 wine class.
“Wine is truly intriguing. It is as diverse and as individuals as people or snowflakes. It will never bore you,” she says.
In 2013, she just knew five wines. Today, they are too many to count.
I ask her to share with me tips that I can use to look like a wine expert on a dinner table.
“Just swirl, sniff and sip. Don’t fill your glass to the top, Leave about two inches to allow you to swirl your wine. This helps to aerate the wine and allows it to release its aromas more readily. Then, sniff. Smell your wine. You’ll be able to perceive the aromas and flavours released from the wine. Then sip. Slowly,” she says. For her achievement, she got a bottle of Les Sinards Chateauneuf du Pape and a bottle of Chateau de Beaucastel.
“Kenyans are really opening up to wine. Seven years ago, the pickings were few. Now, I see different wines from different regions on the shelves and in restaurants. This shows that we’re growing and developing our wine tastes,” she adds.
Silas Ndung’u is perhaps WSET’s finest achievement. He works as a sommelier on a cruise ship. Silas decided to learn about wine because he was tired of being embarrassed while doing his job.
“Being in the hospitality industry meant that I was interacting with people who knew a lot about wine. Much more than I did therefore I couldn’t serve them efficiently,” he says.
His thirst for knowledge drove him to read anything he could lay his hands on about wine. He was so passionate that one of his regular clients sponsored him to do a course on wine anywhere in the world.
“I flew to South Africa to do WSET and came back with an internationally recognised certificate. This opened me up to the world, allowing me to get my current position,” he says.
Would he like to work in Kenya? “Of course. This is home. “Unfortunately, employers don’t appreciate us enough to remunerate us as professionals,” he says, adding that sommeliers can make up to Sh150,000 ($1500) a week abroad.
Finally, I meet the man of the hour, Charles Perrin, the owner of Perrin wineries, one the prestigious winemaking families in France.
Under Charles’ guidance, we tasted five of their excellent wines: La Vieille Ferme rose, Famille Perrine Cotes du Rhone reserve red, Famille Perrine Cotes du Rhone reserve white, Famille Perrine Brut sparkling and the Miraval Cotes du Provence rose (vinified together with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie).
“I grew up at Chateau de Beaucastel. I’m the fifth generation to work in the family vineyard together with my father, uncle and two brothers,” he said.
After a decade in entrepreneurship, Charles, a finance graduate, joined the family business.
So what does it take to produce a classic bottle of red Perrin wine?
“Everything begins soil. After planting the vines, we wait for the grapes to grow and mature. Harvesting is the first step and is done between September and October. After this, we sort the grapes then crush and press them to produce the juice. The juice is then put into a cellar for fermentation, which takes one month. Once fermentation is complete, we blend the wine and put it into oak barrels for 18 months to soften it. Finally, we bottle it; leave it to age further before we sell it. We wait two years for red wine and three to four months for white wine,” he says.
All their wines are organic.
“For good wine, you have to wait between 10 to 15 years. People must therefore be willing to pay the cost of good wine,” he says.
Charles has over 5,000 wine bottles in his cellar but he is yet to find the perfect wine.
“A perfect wine doesn’t exists. There’s always new wine to be discovered,” he says.