How an all-female Kenyan team found their way into a blind wine tasting contest – VIDEO

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How an all-female Kenyan team found their way into a blind wine tasting contest – VIDEO

The five sommeliers competing in the World Blind Tasting Championship in Paris on October 7 and 8, 2022. PHOTO | NMG

Ten wine bottles covered in black cloth and numbered in red are placed on a bar counter. In the adjoining room, five Kenyan sommeliers, all women, sip and sniff wine as they train for the World Blind Wine Tasting Championships to be held in France.

For the first time, Kenya will be represented at the October event, a kind of wine olympiad, which has attracted 31 countries, most with a long history of viticulture, with vineyards dating back to the 17th century and rich wines – cultures to drink.

Sommeliers, however, say that with decades of viticultural expertise, they are ready to compete on the world stage. “Kenya is known for its athletes, it’s time we were also known for having wine experts,” says Victoria Mulu-Munywoki, team leader and famous sommelier who has transformed wine culture locally.

The five sommeliers have studied wine and made it their profession.

“The selection criteria for this team was people who know wine and have a WSET Level 3 qualification. {A high level qualification for people looking to work in the wine industry or wine enthusiasts},” says she, adding, “the ladies were ready and had the passion.

Joy Adero Ochola joined the Kenya team because she loves a challenge.

“I have been a wine enthusiast for more than 10 years now. I’m really excited to go to France because this opportunity is not just about the five of us. To be invited to compete on such a huge global level shows that we are making an impact in spaces where traditionally we were not considered experts,” she says.

Joy discovered wine in 2011.

“It was purely out of curiosity because I was used to seeing people in magazines and movies talking about wine with such depth and passion. I thought, ‘It’s just a drink, what’s so important?’ When I decided to dive into it, I realized that wine is complex. I immersed myself in learning about it. I am currently a level 2 WSET and will be taking my level 3 exams in a few weeks. So I guess this contest is good practice for exams as well,” she says.

Soraiya Ladak is one of the directors of The Wine Shop in Nairobi. The passion for wine is anchored in his family. They import it and distribute it.

“Wine found me. I was doing something different. I was working for the UN, and a pregnancy later, I had a much improved bouquet and palate that served me well in my discovery of wine. I quit and completely turned to wine,” she says.


Two bottles of wine, a Sparklehorse 2018 Brut, and a Champagne Duval-Leroy, Brut Réserve. PICTURES | NMG

Soraiya says wine as a career requires ongoing training and learning opportunities such as competitions.

“I am very honored to be part of this incredible team. Kenya has earned a place at the international table because we have qualified sommeliers, people with real talent,” she adds.

Kenya’s food and beverage industry is growing, creating new careers and attracting liquor manufacturers who previously focused on European and Asian markets.

“We used to be a beer-drinking nation, but now wine is the star. Kenyans are very open to trying new things and wine is something that is focused on the dinner table,” says Soraiya.

The wine expert is optimistic that such a competition will work in Kenya’s favor as it did in South Africa. For years, South Africa and Zimbabwe were the only teams representing Africa in the blind tasting events.

“South Africa is always on the map because of its vineyards and wine trade. And he supports his sommeliers, takes care of them. I think Kenya is now at a place where they can do that,” she said.

Melissa Mwende, 27, is another participant. She talks about the opportunities they had to give up to perfect the art of tasting, every week.

“I had consultations that I had to give up. I live in Nanyuki and have a small baby but I train here. These are sacrifices we had to make but it was worth it. My participation in this competition proves to young women looking to join this career that it is possible,” she says.

She cautions, however, that the wine industry may seem glamorous, but it takes a lot of hard work to stand out.

“Yes, there is glamour. We spend a lot of time tasting wine, meeting interesting people and going to nice hotels, but during the day you have to take care of logistics, customers,” she says, adding that a career in wine has finally reached maturity.

“You can have wine knowledge and be a food and beverage manager, wine sommelier, start a wine store, be a wine importer or a wine content creator. The time is so ripe. Five years ago, you had to spend a lot of money to get out of the country to study wine. But now there is a school in Nairobi that offers wine courses,” says Melissa.

Any tips for having the palate of a good taster?

Wine tasting is a memory game, the more you smell and taste, the better you become. I’m not just talking about wine, what do lilies smell like? What do violets smell like? The more you smell and retain the memory, the better you become, which is why we can enter a blind tasting contest like this,” she says.

Beverly Mbaika, who has been in the wine industry for nine years now, will also take a seat at the Kenyan team’s table, swirling and sniffing different wines to determine the grape, their country of origin, region, producer and the vintage. .

“This training involves a sacrifice of time. We had to endure the early morning mornings,” says the WSET Level 3 expert, who also works at De Vries Africa, which imports and distributes premium wines in East Africa.

“We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs to get here, including going to wine schools and finding out you’re competing with people who grew up with vineyards. But despite this, the world should be ready for the Kenya team,” she said.


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