There are many adjectives that could be applied to Adarsh Shah: adventurous, maverick, determined, daring… and just a tad curious. Unsurprisingly, beyond being a winemaker, Adarsh is also a foodie and consummate traveler whose vast array of ‘adventurous portfolio’ makes for a great interview.
Read on as he gave us an insight on what it takes to succeed as a winemaker, his travels, adventures and more …
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Who is Adarsh Shah?
I am a native born and bred Nanyukian. Nanyuki is located northwest of Mt. Kenya, 3.5 hours north of Nairobi. I grew up with an agricultural upbringing; our family farms wheat and barley, definitely far from anything related to grapes and wine. My childhood days were spent playing outdoors, exploring the wild fauna and flora that laikipia generously offered which would explain my deep affection for nature; camping, hiking, climbing trees, catching snakes or growing tadpoles in the fish tank. One can easily describe me as curious, adventurous, and undoubtedly an approachable individual. Most importantly I am an avid dog lover. To sum it all up, take me rock-climbing and you would have a friend for life.
Scaling a nice cliff face on Muizenberg Mountain, South Africa
Tell us a little about your background as a Wine Maker.
My job as a winemaker can be very complex at times because we constantly have to be in tune with everything that is concerning the vineyards not to mention what is in the cellar. At times it feels like we are continuously running around like a headless chicken, especially during the peak of harvest season. In the vineyard, we have to make sure that we only acquire the highest quality and optimum quantity of grapes. In the cellar we have to ensure that the right techniques are being utilized for different styles of wine; whole bunch pressing for wine destined to become champagne, monitoring the rate of fermentation, and monitoring the right inoculation of yeast.
Another important aspect in my occupation is analyzing and interpreting the lab results of either juice or wine lab samples. It is very important to understand the chemistry behind the structure of the wine; microbial stability, correct wine pH and appropriate sulphur levels. My philosophy is to create a wine that truly reflects the terroir, “complex in structure yet gracefully balanced”. Wine is a personal experience, like an elegant piece of art, or a retired ballerina who puts those sassy cheerleaders to shame.
What influenced and sparked your interest in Wine Making?
I cannot exactly pinpoint what influenced or stimulated my passion to become a winemaker but I guess one of the many stimuli would be the pairing of good food and wine. Looking back, I can recall all the garden parties our family would host and the incredible food served. The succulent slow cooked free-range leg of lamb cooked on a spit braai, complimented with roast potatoes, and fresh salad picked from our garden. The wine only enhanced the experience and breed what would become a true passion of mine. I chose to be a wine maker because it is a remarkably fascinating profession, where creativity, science and the passion for wine come together in joyous harmony. Although tremendously challenging at times, it is a superbly rewarding occupation.
Are there any specific challenges you face as a Wine Maker?
Plenty! What determines the quality of wine begins in the vineyard. There are a number of factors that will influence the grape quality thus affecting the quality of wine. Such factors include; the environment, labor, the type of yeast used for fermentation, and the wine-making techniques incorporated in the production process.
What is one of the most rewarding things about Wine Making?
Creating some incredible wine from what once was grapes, is truly one of the most rewarding aspects of being a wine maker. It is through team effort and a true love of wine that produces an everlasting liquid art.
Do you have any wine-making tips for those for those interested in studying wine?
Drink lots of different wine. I know…. it sounds crazy but it is the only way to understand wine, and each of its’ unique flavors. You must have a passion for what you do, remain open-minded, think outside the box and be ready to get your hands dirty…. oh, and did I mention the necessary over time involved and crappy pay. You will always begin at the bottom and it is up to you to determine your way to the top. One last thing to mention, having a good educational background in chemistry and biology will take you a lot further in your wine making profession.
Some of the beautiful Sauvignon blanc vines in KENYA
Tell us about your favourite food destination(s), and why.
France: the perfect place for food and wine, which is a known fact. I was brave enough to try escargot for the first time (snails) fresh from the market. It had an interesting texture and flavour, depending on how you cooked it. I guess you can say it tasted like fatty chicken skin but lost its’ savoury when drowned in too much butter and garlic. I was inspired by Gordon Ramsey to forage for garden snails. They are cheap because their free but you will pay a fortune in restaurants for snails. Their free range and have a better taste to them. Oh, I also tried frog legs. They taste like tender chicken legs.
Malawi: if I were to retire I would definitely travel to Malawi. There I got the opportunity to try different type of fish. Locals diet together with Nsima, like ugali, it is made from either maize or died cassava. The fish is either fried whole served with chips and salad or made into a stew/soup that goes well with Ndiwo, like Sukuma, green vegetables such as kale, pumpkin or sweet potato leaves.
Namibia: land of the brave. When I was in Windhoek, I visited Katutura Township famously known for their Kapana, which is grilled meat on an open fire similar to our nyama choma, but the beef taste different. The vibe there is wonderful; live music, small market stalls creating a great experience to another side of Windhoek.
South Africa: lots of mixed emotions here. Cape Town is the scene for foodies and food bloggers alike. I was lucky enough to accrue the dining experience at two of the best restaurants in Africa, “The Test Kitchen” and “La Colombe”. The food presentation was like artwork on plates. You literally eat with your eyes, allowing the food to stimulate your senses, creating a complimentary sensory overload, paired with amazing wine.
Texas, USA: authentic Texan BBQ was delicious. I got the chance to try brisket, which was cooked for 10 to 13 hours. The meat would literally melt in your mouth, and was smoked with the right moisture. The flavours came from a variety of woods used in different cooking methods comparable to nyama choma.
What inspires you to travel?
I honestly do not plan my trips. They are spontaneous and random moments like when lightning strikes. I prefer it that way because it makes the experience more enjoyable. It starts with a joke and before you know it, the open road is before me.
For example, a friend and I hitch-hiked from Cape Town to Lake Malawi, passing through Zimbabwe and Zambia and it all happened when I saw him looking at maps and pictures of Lake Malawi. I decided to tag along and before you know it, we were on an amazing adventure. Another random road trip was with another friend. It started with a conversation about Namibia and their beautiful sand dunes. Before you know it, we grabbed for whatever we found useful and set out to Namibia for the week.
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
I prefer to travel light as possible; makes it easy to move around and the less you have the less you have to worry about. I usually have a small rucksack packed with the bare essentials and a sleeping bag.
Hiking at the Mathews Range, Samburu in Northern Kenya
What types of places call to you?
Places that call out to me the most are usually remote, untouched and off-the-beaten-path destinations. My recent trip to North Kenya included wandering into the Mathews mountain ranges also known as Lenkiyio Hills and Lossos Oldonyo.
Swimming in the turquoise blue pools of Ngare Ndare with my Bros
How often do you get to travel?
I travel as often and frequently as possible. I believe that if an opportunity presents itself, you should take it. For example, mid-June of 2017 I was in Mpumalanga, hiking, then in December I was on a 5-day hike in the Drakensberg mountain crossing over to Lesotho with friends, spent New Years’ in Namibia working for free with an adventure company called Amanzi Trails. They offered canoeing and rafting trips on the Orange River. I offered my services by assisting around the camp area and guiding clients down the river, and in exchange, I was provided food and housing accommodations.
Hiking in Mpumalanga, South Africa
Exploring the Sudwala caves in mpumalanga, South Africa
Rafting trips on the Orange River, South Africa
On our descent from summing Mt. Mafadi on the border of South Africa and Lesotho. At a height of 3,450 metres, it is the highest mountain in South Africa
Do you have any favorite destination(s), tell us a couple of places that you just loved or surprised you – a place(s) you find yourself going back to.
There is something magical about Malawi. The lake there not only captivated me but the people there are so friendly and down to earth. The landscape is so stunning and changes dramatically as you move down towards the lake. The lake is larger than the country itself. Nkhata bay literally stole my heart. One of the most spectacular places I have ever visited, with its’ prominent harbour comprised of sheltered bays with forested rocky headlands, beautiful beaches with crystal blue water teaming with colorful fish called cichlids.
Different types of fish caught from the lake
Small village at Cape Maclear, Malawi
I will never forget how fishing light was used at night to lure the fish into the nets. If you are looking over the lake in the dead of night, the impression of the light gives you a complete town etched in the middle of the lake. It reminds me of dancing fireflies’ glimmering over the water.
Kayaking in Lake Malawi
Cape Maclear, Lake Malawi
Are there places you’ve always wanted to explore, but haven’t yet had the opportunity/time?
Yes, there are plenty. If traveling were free you would never see me again.
- Botswana, I would love to explore the Okavango Delta.
- Countries in West Africa such are Senegal, Nigeria
- Morocco for their wine
What’s does the future hold for you? Any final words of advice?
I can only dream and imagine where my life will be in the upcoming year. That is the beauty of the future, you never know what is entailed for you. Yesterday, my life was headed in one direction, and today another. Yesterday I believed I would never had done what I did today. I look forward to exploring South America, specifically; Argentina and Chile. Ideally for their amazing wines and incredible rock-climbing destinations.
Check out more about Adarsh Shah, his wine-making, travels, and adventures on Instagram @dutchadarsh