I am having a new section in this blog called ‘Ask a Sommelier‘. As I mentioned I’m in the journey to become acquainted with a lot of wine knowledge to the point where calling myself a wine connoisseur will be a well-deserved title. What better way to know about something than learning from the experts. I was privileged to have an interview with Kenya’s youngest wine sommelier. Geoffrey is a very affable individual. He has a warm demeanor and you can tell that he has a proclivity for wine just by how his face beams up when you ask him about wine. I had myriads of questions to ask Geoffrey. We had scheduled an interview at the Wineshop at 11am. One thing you don’t want to do is be late for an interview that you set up. We were rushing to get there on time and we got there at 11.02. Pretty close huh? Geoffrey was already there and I loved that he kept time. The Wineshop is at Peidmont Plaza in Ngong Road, just before you arrive at the Junction.
Here is the Q & A.
Who is Geoffrey Kariuki?
Geoffrey is a cool guy, I love socializing and I’m open to suggestions and different opinions. I’m passionate about wine and books. I read tons of books.
Tell us a brief history about yourself.
I was born and bred in Dagoretti, in a place called Kagondo. I’m the fifth born in a family of seven. I attended school in Ruthinmitu primary and secondary.
Can you describe your pathway to becoming a sommelier? Had you wanted to be a sommelier all your life or it something you decided along the way?
I wanted to become a musician all my life. We all had these dreams when we were younger. I decided to venture in to wine after I got an opportunity from a winemaker called Georgio Dalla Cia and George Dalla Cia. (These are winemakers who are father and son). That was in 2010. I went to South Africa to a school called WSET (Wines and Spirits Education Trust) and this is where I learnt on all the facets of wine. Wine is a very vast topic and there are over 10,000 grape varieties in the world. I did all my best to achieve all my dreams. This school also has online classes in case anyone wants to start them. However, one has to do an exam in South Africa which is the nearest place you can get an Approved Program Provider if you are from Kenya.WSET has so many APP’s around the globe.
How does it feel being the youngest sommelier in Kenya?
Honestly, I feel proud. I am grateful to God and my family. It’s not a challenge but rather an opportunity. I’m still working to become a master sommelier.
Describe your typical workday.
I’m currently furthering my course. I wake up at 3.30 and study. In the morning the mind is fresh and one can learn a lot. I then take a jog at 5 to six. I get back, and prepare for my work day. I get to the office not later than 9am, answer emails and get on to work. I follow up with clients and office work. I explain the wines to interested clients and customers. Sometimes, I get to work outside the shop and in restaurants or events. I facilitate wine and food pairings in different establishments. It all depends with my schedule.
What are the challenges of your job?
(Thinks for a moment) Let’s revisit that in a while. 🙂
Do you offer any trainings for aspiring sommeliers?
That is a great idea and it is something I would love to do in the near future. I can give lectures but I can’t certify people. However, for people to be certified, they have to pass an exam from an accredited college/school.
What are some of your career milestones?
One of them is being the youngest sommelier in Kenya. The other milestones come as I work day to day. I get to meet very great people in Kenya and in the world and I also get to travel and explore the world. I network with people in the wine industry and I get a lot of useful information from them.
Any interest in owning your own vineyard and winery one day?
Yes. I believe that some grape varieties would do well in arid and semi-arid areas of Kenya. Think about a vineyard in say, Turkana. I have a dream of owning a winery there.
Do you ever drink beer or cocktails?
I enjoy whiskey once in a while. I take it neat or on the rocks. I don’t love bottled beers but I prefer fresh beer. I love beer from the Brew Bistro, I think people should try it. Those are my two drinks apart from wine. I also make cocktails once in a while. I have great cocktail-making skills too.
How do you pair wine with salads.
There are many things to consider when pairing wine and salads. One tip is that you should consider the salad dressing. If the salad has some cheese, one should consider the type of cheese. If the cheese is light, then the wine should be light. For strong cheeses like blue cheese, one should go for full bodied wine.
Do you think Cabernet Sauvignon is overrated?
People love barbeque. Kenyans love nyama choma. Cabernet Sauvignon is a great wine to pair with barbeque. The meat has animal fat and the Cabernet Sauvignon complements it and makes it chewy.
Why do people tend to think that red wines are superior to whites?
Red wine has is healthy because it contains antioxidants which are good for the body. Red wine is wine that is made with the skins on as opposed to white wine and this is what gives it the color and the antioxidants. People tend to prefer red wine because of that reason.
What analogy do you use to describe the relationship between food and wine?
Everyone should strike a balance between food & wine. The two should go together. Lighter foods pair with lighter wines while heavier foods with heavier wines. There are two ways to go about the pairing. Start with the food you have then look for a wine to go with it. Or start with the wine you have then look for a food to go with it.
What’s your best food & wine pairing?
It has to be Marborough and Blue cheese based salad with a Vinaigrette, white vinegar or/and olive oil dressing. It was breathtaking and it topped my list of pairing.
Advice to Kenyans who don’t know how to shop for wine. What is the best way for people to try to learn more about wines without having to buy bottles and bottles of it?
I believe the best way is to come here at the Wineshop. One gets to try six different wines while being guided by an expert sommelier. All this is at a price of 800ksh. The best thing is that the tasting is very detailed and well thought out. Sommeliers know that they should start with lighter wines first. This 800 Kshs package is inclusive of the tasting of six wines and some biting to clean the palate). Trying to learn about wine? Take advantage of this deal.
Is there a person you especially admire within the wine industry? A farmer in Burgundy, say? Another sommelier?
I admire Georgio Dalla Cia and George Dalla Cia. (These are winemakers who are father and son). The son prompted his father to take an early retirement so that they could venture into winemaking. This was a great risk but it paid off because they have a great winery in South Africa.
How do you pair wine and chocolate.
Well some white wine goes well with white chocolates and some red wine goes with dark chocolate. I am using the word ‘some’ because there are many different ranges of chocolates. A dark chocolate from one company may be different from that of another company
What wine goes with spicy foods?
One of the general rules is that people should not pair spicy foods with tannic wines. Tannicity is that aftertaste that you feel when you taste some wines. Spicy foods go well with semi sweet wines like Reislings.
Give thanks for what you are now. However, keep on fighting for what you want to be tomorrow.
Any advice for anyone who wants to venture into this industry as a sommelier.
When you venture into something, be willing to put in the hours and the effort. Make sure you are doing it out of passion and not because of the money. When you have passion you can do anything you set your mind to.
Geoffrey is turning 28 on 27th July so , HAPPY BIRTHDAY GEOFFREY!