#WCW: Q&A WITH WINEMAKER DR. CHRIS WACHIRA
Updated: May 9
Women in wine are totally crushing it – literally! As part of my #WCW series, I am so excited to share my interview with Dr. Chris (Christine) Wachira – the first Kenyan-born, Californian winemaker, distributor, importer and exporter – and owner of Wachira Wines. And, one of very few Black women leading the way in the business of wine. In the theme of Thanksgiving, I am so truly thankful to Chris for taking time out of her busy schedule to speak to me about her passion for wine making and her thriving wine business.
I first met Chris this past summer at a wine showcase held in New Orleans during Essence Fest weekend. After sampling her wine selection and learning about how her Kenyan roots were influencing her wine making, I was sold! She took us through their #winesafari tasting from a fun, crisp sparkling wine to a soft and smooth Chardonnay to the bold Zinfandel. Every one of the wines we sampled were amazing and the stories behind them (including the labels – read more below) were so intriguing.
I could talk all day about how awesome their wines are, but let’s get into the Q&A so you can meet Chris and learn more about her unique wines and her contribution to wine making. Then, I’ll tell you more about my favorites.
Q. I see that science was actually your first career, so what drove you to get into wine making and owning a wine business?
A. I can honestly narrow this down to two interests – a love for science and research (cause & effect in this case) and a desire to address a gap in the Kenyan wine market with Californian wines that I could also pair with my mother’s and grandmother’s cooking. I have also always been fascinated by how terroir impacts the notes in wine varietals. For example, how you can have the same exact grape but with completely different notes simply based on factors such as where the vines are grown, how old they are, how deep their roots are, and what side of the hill they grow on.
Secondly, I took a trip to Nairobi, Kenya about six years ago and wanted to order a glass of Californian Chardonnay at dinner, but they didn’t have any on the menu. I did some digging while on that trip and discovered a budding wine culture but a big gap in the market. I figured I should do something about it…hence, Wachira Wines.
Q. You are clearly unique in that you are a female, Kenyan-American vintner – and the ONLY one I should note. Can you tell us a little bit about how your Kenyan roots influence and/or inspires your wine making?
A. This is also two-fold. First, my philosophy about wines in general and second, the celebration of my Kenyan heritage through my wines. I strive to craft inclusive yet high quality wines in the sense that they appeal to a broad range of palates without compromising the quality of the grapes I use. I don’t ascribe to the ‘upscale exclusivity’ that is typically associated with the wine industry, or the notion that high quality grapes are not for mass production wines. I want my community to enjoy the same high-quality products that others enjoy but at affordable prices.
Secondly, I get to showcase my Kenyan heritage through my wines. Each of our five varietals features one of the big five of a Kenyan Safari on the front label. They are:
Chardonnay = Buffalo (social nature – the crowd pleaser)
Cabernet Sauvignon = Rhino (surprisingly light on its feet)
Zinfandel = Elephant (gentle boldness and lingering memory)
Muscat = Leopard (versatility and adaptability to any season)
Sparkling White = Lion (king of any event)
The flavor profiles of each of the wines complement memories of either my favorite childhood dishes or moments shared with childhood friends. For example, I crafted the Muscat while envisioning a wine I would share with my childhood girlfriends, sitting outdoors in warm Nairobi afternoons, reminiscing with deep-belly laughter. Funny enough, years later, a customer at a San Francisco event commented that the Muscat tastes like ‘girlfriends in a bottle’!
I love the sense of community that our wines and #winesafari tastings create. That’s what intrigued me about this industry as a young immigrant in Californian years ago.
Q. You’ve undoubtedly produced a lot of wine in your career thus far, but if there were one or two wines you could pick to highlight as your most unique creation or proudest accomplishment, which would they be and why?
A. Of our White wines, I would say our Chardonnay for its balance. Chardonnay was my first wine love when I came to California but over the years they slowly got too oaky and buttery, so I stopped drinking them. When I crafted our Chardonnay, I wanted one that reminded me of my that first wine love. Our Chardonnay has an incredible balance based on our aging technique. Most customers who have turned away from California Chardonnays over the years, as I did, are thrilled by we produce.
And, as far as our Red wines, the Cabernet Sauvignon for its balanced complexity. Our Cab is lighter than our Zinfandel which is atypical but still maintains the rich, robust characteristics associated with Cabernets. It is bottled young and has a fruit forwardness that renders it a great sipping red. I wanted to craft a Cab that I could enjoy a glass of without needing to eat a steak first.
Q. I understand you have an urban winery located in Alameda, California. What is the best way for people to try and/or purchase your wines if they are not in the local area?
A. Our business is located in Alameda, California, but anyone can shop our wines on www.wachirawines.com. We can ship anywhere in the country that accepts wine. And, we’ll be having special discounts through the holidays, so definitely look out for them!
For those of you who may be planning a visit to the Oakland area, we are in the process of building out a tasting room in Oakland, projected to open in February 2020. So next time you’re in our neck of the woods, be sure to stop by and get your #winesafari experience!
In conclusion, here are a few of my final ‘notes’: While I loved every wine I tasted, a few of my favorites are the Chardonnay (one of Chris’ picks!) for it’s soft and light notes – simply smooth and delicious. I also really loved California Sparkling and I plan on opening it up on Thanksgiving. My other favorite, so far, is their Cabernet Sauvignon (another one of Chris’ picks) which is not pictured because I already drank it!! The Cab is truly a delight to sip on and pairs well with an evening spent among friends and family.
Thanks again to Chris and her team at Wachira for their time. Now, go check out their website and follow them on Facebook and Instagram, and go place your orders for some amazing wines.