21 Questions: Nairobi’s Newest Wine Shop Delivers In A Different Kind Of Way
Wines & Bubbles is a wine shop in Nairobi with two differentiating factors. One, they specialize in French wines and champagnes. Two, and most importantly, their product is transported and stored in climate-controlled conditions. A detail that may sound highbrow, but makes all the difference to avid wine drinkers.
The company was started by Tarek Bichara, a Dakar-born Frenchman who recently moved to Nairobi from New York with his wife. The company’s first store located at The Office Park on Riverside Drive has been open since last September. It has become somewhat of a hidden fountain that more and more wine aficionados in the city are flocking to for an authentic taste of France.
We spoke to Tarek, a life-long wine drinker who until six months ago had only ever sold automobiles and is now making a living out of his pastime.
Tell us about Wines & Bubbles.
We noticed there was an opportunity for good wine, correct quality, with good prices. I was disappointed when I arrived here four years ago and couldn’t find quality transported wine. That’s why I decided to open this company. Also, there weren’t too many French wines in Kenya. There was a lot of South African wine of course, which is amazing wine. But the problem for me is that it’s not the best wine. France is the best country for wine.
You speak with a bit of bias of course.
Maybe I’m not objective, but it’s not just according to me that France has the best wines in the world. I tried the Californian wine while in New York. I even tried the Long Island wines that they do in New York. I was really disappointed but didn’t want to tell the guys there! [Laughs]
Your background was in the car business, but was a career shift to wine something that you always had in mind?
Yes. Actually, I wanted to grow grapes when I first came to Kenya. But I found it would be difficult because of the fact that there is very little variation in the climate, there is no real dormancy period so you would have to create it. This would mean creating a micro climate artificially and you could only do this on a small scale. so I decided to import instead.
Yet you had no prior experience in this business.
I was an amateur in wine so it wasn’t difficult for me to find my way.
What’s the importance of climate-controlled storage?
It is very important to maintain a constant cool temperature during transportation and storage. That’s what we do here. I really think there is a difference when you transport correctly, in refrigerated containers. The soul of the wine stays in the bottle. While in France I used to drink certain wines from Chile, Italy and Spain that I have also found here, and the taste is completely different. Same wines, same grapes, same years. The only way I can explain it is the transportation conditions.
Why don’t other shops do the same?
Because it is more expensive.
Why do you do it?
I just respect what I am selling. And it’s not just that it is wine. If I was in the meat business, I would also want people to enjoy the product at its best condition. That’s my way of doing business. I had a supplier who when I said I was going to import by refrigerator was very happy– because that is the way to do it, but generally not done. I’m willing to make my profits lower out of respect for what I’m selling. It is very important.
What’s your clients’ reaction to the extra effort?
I think people like it. We even put stickers on our bottles that say the wine is transported in refrigerated containers.
How many wines and champagnes do you stock?
34 wines and two champagnes. We have A large number of French wine regions represented; Bordeaux, Côtes du Rhone, Languedoc, Provence. And we’re going to expand with more regions.
What’s the best French wine?
I like the Rhone Valley wines, mostly from the Syrah and Grenache grape. But that’s very subjective.
Do you take custom orders?
Of course, as long as it makes business.
Should I buy wine from the supermarket shelf?
Guess what? My wines are in the supermarkets! Chandarana and Carrefour. We also sell to hotels and restaurants.
Which do you prefer more, wine or champagne?
Wine. My wife prefers champagne.
When is champagne more appropriate than wine?
Actually, there are daily drinkers of champagne. It’s just about preference.
Which would you recommend for someone undertaking a mental task. Say a police detective, or someone filling in a crossword puzzle?
I would say, finish your work and then drink.
Which would you recommend for a sad occasion. Say after a breakup or funeral?
I would never recommend for someone in a bad situation to drink. I would say, “Don’t replace sadness with a drink.”
What is it like selling wine in a beer country?
I was surprised. I find that an increasing number of Kenyan men are coming in to buy wines. Usually it’s women and expatriates. Now some of my regular clients are Kenyan men who want to share a good wine over dinner with their wives. I like beer and whiskey too but you know you can’t have it with your food, it fills you up.
Is champagne meant to be wasted like sports people do?
[Laughs] With taxes and everything we have to pay on importation, that’s a great waste.
How do you feel seeing all that fine champagne go to waste?
I mean, those guys have lots of money. For celebration, what is a bottle of champagne to the Formula One?
How much champagne is enough to get a grown man drunk?
To get drunk on my champagne would be a real waste of such a fine champagne!
Wines & Bubbles is located at The Office Park, Riverside Drive. Open Monday to Saturday, 11:00am-7:30pm.
Like their Facebook page: facebook.com/winesandbubblesltd