From Nairobi to Cape Town: A Journey into South African Wine

Wine makes every meal an occasion, every table more elegant, every day more civilised Andre Simon

South Africa, 2018. September the 12th to be exact, and the start of one of the continent’s most influential wine expos – bringing together wine experts, producers, importers and media from across the globe, including a massive Kenyan team – all converging on Cape Town for three days of tasting, testing, business and networking –centered of course, on wine. So much wine.  Overwhelming in perhaps only the great way that full, eight-hour wine heavy workdays can be!

The Cape Wine Fest may not be the biggest of its kind in the world, but it is certainly formidable – especially due to South Africa’s status in the global wine market – well within the top 10, and losing out only to behemoths such as Spain, Italy, and France in terms of sheer volume.

Organized by WOSA – Wines of South Africa which has heavy representation in Kenya, the main aim of the three days was to showcase and work to promote the export of South African wines within key international markets – including our very own.

And the efforts by WOSA as well as a growth in the numbers of producers who are obviously taking note of developing tastes here in Kenya are being felt: by consumers with an increased array of options, to importers who are able to market more fastidiously to more niche consumerss, through Kenya’s constantly evolving palate.

Conversations with experts at Cape Wine 2018 revealed that for many – even those fully engaged in the industry, for this growth to expand to regions that don’t pull the kinds of numbers that South Africa or Europe do, and for a generation of young people who would want to connect with wine and its wider system (the sense of community, enjoyment, business opportunities) the way we speak about wine will need to change.

The most popular South African wines consumed in Kenya are recognisable to most – from Orange River Cellers to Drostdy Hof, but South Africa’s wineries are as varied and compelling as they come: the country’s lush landscape – in particular around the Western Cape, means that there is diversity in the ranges produced. Pinotage is a signature, as in Chenin Blanc, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon as well as Merlot.

White grape varietals are said to account for over 60 percent of the country’s vineyards, despite the popularity of the reds.

But what does that mean for you as a consumer in Nairobi or Eldoret or Mombasa? How do you begin to make head or tail of the options, and not only that, how do you begin to influence an increase in the Wineries or varietals you’d like to see more of, within our borders?

The general consensus from some of the super well studied friends I made in Cape Town was that we shouldn’t be afraid to experiment. You don’t need to be armed with ridiculous amounts of knowledge – let your palate lead you, speak to sommeliers when you visit a fancy restaurant in the big cities, host wine nights with friends – each bringing along something surprising. Don’t allow trepidation to prevent you from experimenting. What might taste great to you, might be like medicine to someone else.

Favourite Cape Wine 2018 moments?

A conversation with Sesfikile – a black South African winemaker who injected such warmth and heart into her story that I was drawn in from the get go! Wine in 2018 is about inclusivity. It’s the nature of the manner in which we relate to things as consumers – whether that is makeup, food, clothing, art or music. What do our choices say about us, and how are we represented in them? She isn’t yet exporting to Kenya, but I hope she will. I’ll be keeping watch!

Special mentions: the complete order that WOSA brought to Cape Wine, coupled with the creativity of its programming – from the exhibition hall itself, to the diversity of speakers to the fantastic evening programming. Such a wonderful tribute to the product and the people that it represents.

Also, travel with friends – and enjoy meeting new ones during moments such as these. The Kenya Team felt like a solid group of experience, sophistication and fun. Which is exactly what wine should be all about.

Engage with WOSA via twitter.

Visit the WOSA website and find out a little more information about traders you may wish to connect with, or just some extra info on South African wines!

I love music and food! Radio presenter and lifestyle editor at Homeboyz Radio. Esoteric. Raw Like Sushi