Books and Wine Club

A Books and Wine Club meeting in Nairobi on August 12, 2023.

| Pool

Sipping words: Where wine and book lovers meet for a perfect pairing

There is an undeniable magic in flipping through the pages of a book, savouring the mastery of words, while sipping wine.

In 2019, Wendy Njoroge, a book and wine lover, started a group that would bring together Kenyans who want to pair the two. This fusion takes place in elegant corners of luxurious suites in Nairobi, creating a captivating experience for fans of both worlds.

“I have a passion for both books and wine. This made me want to have a space where book lovers come together, learn, and appreciate wine. I wanted to share my love of wine so that others can see what I'm seeing, appreciate what I’m appreciating, and of course, the books come naturally to me, so it's a very natural marriage," she says.

Ms Njoroge’s love for wine spans years, but the growing number of tasting events that have seen sommeliers and importers organising events in Kenya aroused her appetite.

"They [wine tasting and pairings] opened my mind to the world of wine, and I knew I had to create a space for people to connect over their shared love for wine and literature," she says.

Wendy Njoroge

Wendy Njoroge, the founder the of Books and Wine Club, a Nairobi-based group that organises meet-ups for books and wine lovers.

Photo credit: Pool

Ms Njoroge, who co-owns the African bookstore, Soma Nami, in Nairobi, says the club's first meetings received an overwhelming response.

"It's amazing how the love for wine and books brought people together. At the club meetings, there's no pressure to talk or to know each other beforehand," she says.

Her love for books began in childhood. Over the years, she has become more deliberate about her reading choices, challenging herself to pick diverse genres and authors. This year, she set an ambitious goal of reading 52 books, encouraging others in the club to embark on a similar journey.

Maryjane Oote, 41, is one of the book and wine lovers that Ms Njoroge has courted.

A learning facilitator, she says her love for wine began with a glass shared with her father. And for books, she loved reading from a young age, be it magazines, or articles.

"However I took wine for the taste, but when I joined the Books and Wine club, I started hearing words like notes, balance, body, blends, and tannins. My curiosity towards knowing wine deeper was awakened. We get to have a BOTM (Book of the Month), read it across a full month, and then meet to discuss it over wine! Quelle joie [how joyful]!" she says.

When asked about the favourite books that she has paired wine with, she lists "His Only Wife" by Peace Adzo Medie, “Finding Me" by Viola Davis, "The Light We Carry" by Michelle Obama, "The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” by Taylor Jenkins Reid, and "On Black Sisters Street" by Chika Unigwe.

Ms Oote says the club holds a special place in her heart because of the banter, and the continuous exploration of literary treasures.

"The fact that one book ending is the opening of another is a never-ending source of delight for me. We also have Books and Wine retreats!" says Ms Oote whose taste for wine has evolved to lean towards Merlots, Malbecs, and Tempranillos. She is also currently exploring the realm of white wines, particularly Pinot Grigio.

For books, so far, her top three book recommendations are "Work Won’t Love You Back" by Sarah Jaffe, "Everything is Figureoutable" by Marie Forleo, and Wangari Maathai’s "Unbowed."

As an aspiring connoisseur of both wine and literature, Ms Oote has a few items on her bucket list.

"I would love to try a good Bordeaux, preferably of an older vintage," she muses. On the literary side, she has her eyes set on "A Long Walk to Freedom" by Nelson Mandela.

Her book collection reflects diverse tastes, with memoirs forming the majority, and her love for fiction and child development books expanding. So far she has about 30 hardcover books and 40 soft copies.

“I just handed in measurements for a fancy bookshelf," she says.

Karimi Wamai is another club member. Her initiation into the world of wine was marked by cheekiness. The 34-year-old says her love for books, on the other hand, began with a love-hate relationship, but her heart found solace in African literature that felt as tangible as listening to her grandmother's captivating tales by a fire. Her father asked her to read William Shakespeare. She and her siblings did not like it. Then they discovered Ngugi wa Thiong’o, John Kiriamiti, Majorie Oludhe, and Chinua Achebe.

"I was hooked. Addicted. There's a way I remember the details of books I read years ago from African authors. It felt as though I was sitting by the fire listening to my grandmother's stories as I read the books,” she says.

Karimi Wamai

Karimi Wamai, 34, a member of Books and Wine Club, a Nairobi-based group that organises meet-ups for books and wine lovers.

Photo credit: Pool

Ms Wamai's tryst with wine began in a Catholic school, where she playfully referred to it as “the blood of Jesus.” As an altar girl, she and her friends could not resist tasting the leftovers from the goblets and wine bottles. Years later, she tasted sweet house wines with her friends.

It was during a lunch date with her now-husband that Ms Wamai’s wine journey took a significant turn, when she ordered a bottle of sweet wine.

“My husband opened my eyes to top-shelf wines,” she says.

Joining the Books and Wine Club has introduced her to new literary gems, she says. She also treasures the camaraderie and spirited discussions during club meetings. Each meeting, she says, is a celebration of friendships, wine-tasting experiences, and hidden gems throughout Nairobi, a pastime that has enriched her life.

Ms Wamai says her literary favourites range from the intriguing stories in the Bible to profound self-help books like "How to Do the Work” by Dr Nicole LePera, Yaa Gyasi's "Homegoing", "You are Badass at Making Money" by Jen Sincero, Wangari Maathai’s "Unbowed" and Benazir Bhutto’s "Daughter of Destiny." 

“These have left a lasting impact,” she says.

As a wine enthusiast, Ms Wamai's palate remains open to discovering new flavours. Her favourites include a Terra Linda Syrah.

“In books and wine, I have found a delightful harmony that fuels my soul and enriches my experiences. I eagerly await the next chapter,” she says.

For Mwihaki Mundia, 35, her appreciation for wine started at a tasting in Stellenbosch, South Africa. 

“The experience exposed me to the diverse characteristics and flavours of wine,” she says.

Her current favourite wine is the Chianti Superiore from Italy.

A bookworm, she started reading at the age of 7. Over the years, she has immersed herself in hundreds of books across various genres and the club has helped introduce her to new authors.

"Growing up, everyone around me called me a bookworm. I can’t even count the books I've read,” she says, adding, but my top reads so far are "The Way of Integrity" by Martha Beck, "How to Do the Work" by Dr Nicole LePerra, "Many Lives Many Masters" by Dr Brian Weiss and "Conversations with God," by Neale Donald Walsch.

Mwihaki Mundia

Mwihaki Mundia, 35, a communications specialist, and a member of Books and Wine Club, a Nairobi-based group that organises meet-ups for books and wine lovers.

Photo credit: Pool

Ms Mwihaki says the club is not just about books and wine.

"The sisterhood is hands down,” says Ms Mwihaki who discovered the Books and Wine Club through a poster at Nairobi’s Village Market.

For Andrew Kimeu, 23, from a mesmerising wine-tasting experience in Sicily to being immersed in the world of bedtime stories as a toddler, his journey into the realms of oenophilia and literature has been nothing short of captivating.

"I have been obsessed ever since the wine tasting in Sicily and as a toddler, my mum used to read me bedtime stories, and I couldn't get enough," he says.

The camaraderie and sense of belonging he found among fellow bookworms enriched his literary journey.

"The book club has helped me meet fellow bookworms, and I feel a sense of belonging," he says.

I ask about the number of books he has read so far, he estimates, "over 100 books."

His top picks are “Pretty Little Liars” by Sara Shepard and any book by Ernest Hemingway.

Among the many pleasures he derives from the book club, Mr Kimeu’s answer to what he loves most about it is unequivocal: The camaraderie.

“That’s without a shadow of a doubt. Then the connections and shared passion for literature,” he says.

Andrew Kimeu

Andrew Kimeu, 23, a Public Relations practitioner and a member of Books and Wine Club, a Nairobi-based group that organises meet-ups for books and wine lovers.

Photo credit: Pool

When it comes to wine, his palate gravitates towards the Screaming Eagle Cabernet from Napa Valley.

Mr Kimeu, who discovered the book and wine club through a friend, says his book collection has grown to such an extent that he had to make a significant decision – moving houses to accommodate his treasures.

"I had to move houses just to accommodate my books. That should tell you how many I have. Poetry holds a special place in my heart, and my collection of hard copies reflects the deep emotional attachment I have to my literary companions,” he says.

Another member of the group is Eleanora Turdubekova, 31, a revenue accountant. As a young girl, she says, she was always drawn to the enchanting world of books.

"I always loved the smell of the library, sitting with other people, and just reading," she says. Her literary journey began with Russian classics during her teenage years and eventually expanded to include French and other literary treasures.

However, it was her move to Kenya that led her to the Books and Wine Club, which proved to be a serendipitous turning point. She saw a poster of the Books and Wine Club, she says, and thought "the universe was sending her a message." 

“The very next day, I reached out to the organisers and joined the club. The club helped me connect with new people and find friends who share the same love for reading, and get to know about different types of wine," she says.

Eleonora Turdubekova

Eleonora Turdubekova, 31, a revenue accountant and a member of Books and Wine Club, a Nairobi-based group that organises meet-ups for books and wine lovers.

Photo credit: Pool

When asked about her favourite books, she lit up with excitement.

"The first things coming to my mind are 'Angelique,' a series of historical novels written by French author Anne Golon, and 'Never Let Me Go,' a dystopian novel by Kazuo Ishiguro," she says. “I like hardcopy books rather than soft copy. Open pages and put marks.”

For Ms Njoroge, an introvert, the club's success has enabled her to interact with people beyond her usual circles, and soon beyond Kenya.

"I never thought I'd connect with so many wonderful people through books and wine. It's been an incredible journey of new experiences. Our next plan is to go on a wine retreat. We want to immerse ourselves in wine culture in Africa and Europe, enjoy group activities, and create unforgettable memories," she says.