Produce a Pinot Noir? in Kenya? Impossible!
But not for my father Richard Leakey. To him this represented a challenge. And he gave it all he could.
In 1989 he bought a piece of agricultural land close to Nairobi, on the edge of the Rift Valley, south of the Ngong hills. He built his home looking westwards across dramatic and constantly changing views, with my mother Meave and my sister Samira and I. Downslope of the house on the steep slope was the beginnings of the vineyard that cut into the hill side in a series of rocky terraces.
The rocky terraces that cut into the hill side.
Below the first terrace, where fresh lettuce, spinach, artichokes, herbs and carrots grew, a variety of vine cuttings were planted out into the volcanic and stoney ground. We tried Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Cariagne, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir. We had to learn the hard way. We had to learn how to deal with drought, disease, pruning, lack of winter and baboons. Once we had produced a crop we then needed to learn how to make a wine.
We taught ourselves wine making using books – armed with plastic buckets, basins, strainers and sieves. We used glass carboys and placed them above the cupboards in the kitchen with bottle traps and I excitedly watched them bubble away. The wines always offered great potential! Needless to say the wines were only drunk at our table by ourselves. My interest in oenology was seeded while studying briefly in California during which I was fortunate to have spent a week helping prune the vines in Henry McHenry’s vineyard there.
I was married to Emmanuel de Merode in December 2003 at the vineyard, and we drank with our friends and family, two extraordinary wines. One from his family, Ladoix- les Chaillots and our own Pinot Noir. With much encouragement we have continued on our journey of growing and producing a good Pinot Noir here in Kenya.