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Top Kenyan Sommeliers you should know

In a profession where you’re only as good as your last test (or in this case tasting), the stakes are high when it comes to giving it a shot at the top wine jobs in the world. Contrary to popular belief, a wine sommelier’s job involves a lot more than just sniffing wine glasses and tasting grapes. In reality, they are also expected to sell wine in the restaurant that they work at; alongside a myriad of responsibilities including:

  • Monitoring delivery and purchase orders
  • Ordering and checking wine inventories
  • New wine shuffling for the menu
  • Opening bottles and pouring wine for guests
  • Cultivating relationships with vintners and distributors
  • Training and educating waitstaff on the different kinds of wine

To earn the title – sommelier, one needs to undergo rigorous training that has students go through certain levels on their way to becoming respected and sought-after. Let us first get a better understanding by tackling some basics.  

Basic Wine expert terminologies

Sommelier – This is commonly understood as a certified wine professional. The title is awarded by the Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS), a recognised educational body that awards all sommelier certifications. The introductory level (level 1) helps broaden your wine knowledge and refine the innate craft with a fast-paced course that lasts two days. You get a plain red pin upon completion. After getting your toes wet, the candidate then attempts to get certified (level 2) in an evaluation that puts wine-tasting, theory and service skills to the test. CMS awards the candidate a Certified sommelier title and shiny purple pin to go with it.

Advanced Sommelier – For you to qualify, an applicant must be a certified Sommelier, have a minimum of two years of restaurant service experience, and have not previously taken the Advanced Sommelier course. Candidates must attend a three-day Advanced Sommelier course and then sit for a 3-day assessment. Due to the intense nature of assessment, roughly 14 students pass each evaluation, and the exam is offered three times per year. The finalist is awarded a green labelled pin for this achievement.

Master Sommelier – This is the level they make documentaries about; the highest level of sommelier possible that earns a candidate a Master Sommelier Diploma from the Court of Master Sommeliers. The individual able to make it this far is entitled an annual salary median of USD 164,000 (Home Binwise), a figure that is one of the highest in the hospitality business. Since the inception of the Court of Master Sommeliers in 1977, less than 300 people have been awarded the Master Sommelier Diploma. The current list sits at 269 with a labelled red pin is awarded to each graduate.

Sommelier pins

After some investigations, The Wine Story was able to compile and identify a list of notable Kenyan faces having either fully accomplished their accredited certifications or in the process of doing so.

Kelvin Wanjira

Samuel Ndichu

Wanjiru Mureithi (AKA. Winenjiru)

Melissa Mwende

Silas Ndungu

Caroline Mukami

Emma Nderitu

According to our sources, although not confirmed as a certified sommelier, Emma definitely deserves some recognition on our list here as a major contributor to the growth of local Kenyan wine industry. The winemaker is the founder of Leleshwa wines and once won a gold medal in an international wine competition.

Other pro-finalists in previous WOSA Sommelier Cups include Soraiya Mehgji, Bev Mbaika and Huzeifa.

Finally, what is WSET?

For those willing to forego the service components offered in the sommelier camp, the WSET course comes into play which is a purely academic program designed for those who want to start learning the wine basics. The highest level, being 4, offers students a Diploma in wine and is great for those interested in pursuing careers as sales representatives, wine importers/distributors and educators. For those who prefer that formal class setting with time in between to absorb and reflect on your notes, this should be the right pick.

If you liked this article then you might like this one as well: Experientials – Building the Brand while you Educate the Wine Buyers

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