Chris Wachira Celebrates Kenyan Culture

Wachira Wines is a woman-owned winemaker, distributor, importer, and exporter with a tasting room slated to open later this year in Alameda.


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Photo by Clayton Mitchell

For Chris Wachira, the first Kenyan-born winemaker in California, pairing her two great passions has yielded some remarkably fruit-forward results. A native of Nairobi, she said the Wachira surname translates to “one who deals with cases,” as in a judge or attorney. Wachira’s journey to broaden this definition has been a long time coming.

Wachira has lived in the United States for 20 years, but her path to winemaking has been circuitous and fortuitous, having first obtained her nursing doctorate in health care systems leadership from the University of San Francisco. Since 2006, she has worked for Stanford Health Care in Palo Alto, building a career around her first passion: improvement science methodology, a field in health care that focuses on improving patient outcomes. She is also the founder and executive director of the Institute for Clinical Excellence-Africa, a nonprofit dedicated to improving health care delivery.

Athirst with a fascination for wine, Wachira has found her commitment to improvement science and exploring cause and effect spilling over into viticulture, the study or science of grapes and their culture. This journey unearthed her second passion: cultivating community.

As Wachira developed an interest in the art of winemaking, she began to envision a collection of varietals that celebrated Kenyan culture, Kenyan values, and her dual heritage. She hope to create an “experience” that would help build cultural bridges through sharing a bottle of wine and one that evoked memories of special moments shared with family and friends in her homeland, as well her chosen home in the East Bay.

With mentoring and support from close friends in the winemaking business and after several years of testing, Wachira founded Wachira Wines — a woman-owned winemaker, distributor, importer, and exporter — where she serves as CEO. Based in Alameda (with a tasting room slated to open in late 2019), Wachira produces five varietals reminiscent of Kenyan wines, which are lighter, fruitier, and usually served chilled. To produce the chardonnay, muscat, sparkling wine, cabernet sauvignon, and zinfandel black label wines, she sources her grapes from Napa, Paso Robles, and Lodi.

Each wine is associated with the “Big Five” safari animals in Kenya and other African countries: the elephant, rhinoceros, buffalo, lion, and leopard. “We like to say that we’re taking Californian grapes on an African safari,” said Wachira with an exuberant smile. Wachira Wines recommends chilling its varietals for and savoring in good company al fresco on a balmy day.

“Our wines don’t necessarily swing with the California pendulum,” offered Wachira. “They are similar to European wines, and we place the emphasis on sipping rather than pairing.”

Wachira’s professional track record in improvement science and extensive research in viticulture is evident in the quality of her wines as well as their fast-growing popularity. She and her fiancé (and company COO) Chadwick Spell are frequently found pouring their wines at local East Bay or other San Francisco Bay Area events. Not only does she deal with (wine) cases, but Wachira and the Wachira family are more akin to cross-cultural ambassadors, building community bridges and cultivating memorable experiences worth savoring. To experience Wachira Wines, as well as the founder’s warm and familial hospitality, visit WachiraWines.com to view a calendar of upcoming tastings and events.

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