Hands dart out, bearing wine glasses as a wine bottle steadily moves round the table, pouring a bit of wine into each wine glass. One person quickly gulps his share and stretches out his hand again.
“It is wine tasting not drinking,” Kelvin Wanjira says as the crowd breaks out in laughter.
Kelvin, 31, is a wine educator. Today, he is training the staff of Eagle Peak Spurs Restaurant at The Hub mall in Karen. The eager group is composed of waiters and food and beverage managers. Kelvin is there to teach them about wine, its origins, tastes and how best to sell the wine, which comes with an incentive for the sale of each bottle of a client’s brand, Nederburg Wines.
Kelvin never imagined that this is what he would do for a living. Growing up in Nyeri county, he aspired to be a doctor or a journalist. What propelled his determination was his Standard Four report card which stated that he was an “average student”. Those two words lit a fire in his belly; Kelvin was never going to settle for less. From Class Five, all the way to high school at Ruthagati High School, Nyeri County, he was always amongst the top in his class.
After high school, he worked in well-to-do homes around his area as a domestic help. He would work a few hours a day cleaning their homes, and would earn Sh150. He later worked as a sales person in Nyeri town, specifically selling Multichoice decoders. After this, he worked for Consumer Insight Africa, a research company, going door-to-door, gathering information for Sh500 a day.
“It allowed me to travel. It was a lot of fun and it exposed me to different places, plus the pay was good.”
Like most casual work, this too came to an end, and his mother advised him to go to college.
“My marks did not allow me to study medicine, but I could study journalism. I joined the Institute of Chartered Marketing to study for a higher diploma certificate in journalism and mass communication studies with a bias in advertising,” he says.
On graduation in mid-2007, reality quickly sunk in.
A job in the media was not forthcoming. Kelvin and two of his friends would wake up each day and camp outside media houses hoping for an opportunity to come by.
“I was once part of the audience during a shooting of Vioja Mahakamani, the long-running local legal comedy drama shot at Kenya Broadcasting Corporation,” he says. He even had a short contract working for Nation Media Group, conducting audience research, earning Sh700 a day.
After a few months of doing odd jobs, a friend encouraged him to drop his CV at the Deacons Kenya office, which was opening a new clothes store at the then newly opened Westgate Mall, which he did.
A few weeks later in September 2007, while paying an electricity bill, he received a call from Deacons Kenya. The first question he was asked was whether he knew anything about fashion.
Kevin quipped, “Look at how I am dressed, I do understand fashion.”
He was hired.
Two years later, in 2009, Kelvin was yearning for more, and he started sending out applications to advertising agencies. He was hired to work in client service at Brainwave Communications, where he worked until 2014.
That same year, he moved to Whats Good Studios as a sales and marketing consultant. He later got a job with a local advertising agency in client service for one of their leading clients, Distell Wines, sellers of Nederburg wines. This is how Kelvin got into the wine business. He even got the opportunity to traverse the country with Eric Wainaina, the celebrated Kenyan musician and brand ambassador of Nederburg Wines, to run activations of the brand.
“Before I know what I know now, I used to buy a box of dry wine at the supermarket and add lime and ice to the wine,” he laughs.
In late 2014, two months into working with the wine brand, Kelvin was invited to a training to learn more about wine.
“That first session changed my life, I finally understood wine, and started to pester the wine trainers to give me more information about their wines.”
In January 2015, Kelvin finally knew what he wanted to do - educate people about wine. He has since run numerous trainings and launched wines in Uganda and Tanzania. He has further attended numerous trainings, one offered by the Wines Of South Africa (WOSA), among other companies locally and online. He is now working towards becoming a Master of Wine.
What is the difference between a Wine Educator and a Wine Master?
A wine educator is an individual who has an in-depth grasp of wine characteristics, history and the business of wine and trains and educates people on it. It is similar to what a sommelier does, but our scope is not limited to a restaurant.
A Wine Master is someone with much more thorough knowledge of wine; you have gone through a lot more examinations and training to fully grasp every single aspect of wine globally. And finally you have a Wines and Sprit Education Trust certification on the same.
How long does it take to gain Wine Mastery?
A good course takes three years; three years of research, trainings and also taking various tests to fully understand wine.
What kind of certification is required?
Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) is a must. It is international certification the equivalent to what ACCA is to accountants.
Do you have to attach yourself to a specific wine brand?
No you don’t. You however do need to explore different wines to fully understand wine.
How do you source your clientele?
I do a lot of networking, which has brought me the most business. I also have a Facebook page - Winenjira The Wine Master and a blog; Journey Of A Wine Master.
How much do you charge?
It varies based on the number of participants and what you would like to learn. It ranges from Sh35, 000 for a group or at times, I could charge, (starting from) Sh2, 000 per person.
For someone who can’t afford to travel abroad to study wine, what options are there for them locally?
There are online courses such as those offered by Cape Wine Academy. Closer home we have Ethnovino, run by Victoria Munywoki and Winejiru run by Wanjiru Mureithi who are both WSET certified. These are the people I really look up to. Instead of traveling down to South Africa you can learn right here in Kenya from their programs.
What keeps you going?
I want to change the scope of wine in Kenya. Not individually, but with a group of people. I am in group of 30 people; we are wine masters, sommeliers, wine sellers and distributors discussing everything there is about wine. We are not in competition; we support and grow one another.
What does it take to be a wine educator?
You need to have passion, be willing to learn from others - everyone’s insight is important. You need to study every day. I go to www.winefolly.com and www.vinepair.com each day and I take many of the courses. The way they structure their information is very simple.
What do you enjoy about your work?
Meeting different people from diverse cultures and attending events and trying out different cuisines and engaging with different cultures. It was amazing attending Israeli, Spanish and South African wine and cultural events.