Kenya's extreme winemaking high above the Equator

The mist lifts from the mountains of Kenya's fabled Rift Valley, better known for its flamingoes and zebras than its wine, as women weave in and out with baskets of grapes on their heads.

It is grape picking time at Kenya's only commercial vineyard.

Dressed in cowboy boots and jeans with three days' stubble and greying hair, manager James Farquharson supervises the harvest and pretty much all else going on at the vineyard.

He dips his hand into one of the baskets and looks at a bunch of grapes with satisfaction.

"We're practically on the Equator and at very high altitude. That makes management of the vines here very different from the way it would be in France or even in South Africa," he explained.

The goal on this more-than-mile-high farm is ambitious - to produce a quality wine in Kenya.

The brand is called Leleshwa - the name of a small olive-like local tree. It is produced at the Rift Valley Winery which is owned by Kenya Nut, whose core business, as its name suggests, is cashew and macadamia nuts.

Farquharson spent his childhood between Kenya, Scotland and South Africa, where he studied wine making. Then came a managerial position with a large privately-owned South African wine producer. Though he found the job stimulating it was "too office-based" for his liking.

Out of the blue, Farquharson received an email saying a rich Kenyan businessman was looking for a specialist to develop his vineyard - and it is now more than three years since he decided to take up to the challenge.

"I said to myself that this was a chance for a wonderful adventure, to try something different," he recalled.

Pius Ngugi, the businessman who owns Kenya Nut as well as Thika Coffee Mills, had tried making wine from vines at his farm north of Lake Naivasha in the Rift Valley in the 1990s.

- 'It's Kenyan' -

After deciding he was never going to achieve a wine of constant quality, he put the project on the backburner. His son Mbugua Ngugi, knowing how close the project had been to his father's heart, revived it - but this time seeking out a professional viticulturist and winemaker who knew Africa.

The vineyard's geographical situation - at 2,000 metres (6,500 feet) right near the Equator, 90 kilometres (55 miles) northwest of Nairobi - as well as Kenya's climate provide Farquharson with several challenges.

But he knew extreme winemaking was working elsewhere, including in Argentina which has some of the world's highest vineyards at more than 3,000 metres along the Andean mountain range.

"We'll never produce the sort of 'great wines' that the French do," said Farquharson, but "we try to keep it simple and respect the fundamental principles of wine production."

Feedback so far is encouraging.

"From the wine-making point of view everything seems to have been done properly," said Marcus Mitchell, the chef and manager at the Talsiman, a restaurant set in the leafy upmarket Nairobi suburb of Karen.

"It's light, it's summery and it's Kenyan," he said of the Leleshwa wine.

Cost is also on its side, since Leleshwa is exempt from heavy import duties that push up the price of French or the popular South African and Chilean wines.

A Leleshwa Sauvignon blanc retails in local supermarkets for KES 540 (about six dollars/4.2 euros) and the brand's red for KES 645, which is about 10 to 15 percent less than a comparable Chilean wine here.

For Mitchell, Leleshwa can hold its own against the South African and Chilean wines.

"Reactions so far have been very good. The challenge is getting people to opt to taste it," he said.

The wine from Naivasha, however, is gaining a following among Kenya's fast-growing middle class that is more and more "open to the idea of paying for quality products," Mitchell said.

Over the next 10 years the vineyard hopes to boost annual production to three million bottles from just 80,000 currently.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz