“I was born in the cellar” chuckles Brilliant Mathelumusa, as he ushers me into Capital Club, one of Nairobi’s most exclusive members clubs. I glance around, catching my breath as I take in the 360 degree aerial views of the city. If Mathelumusa wasn’t there with me, I probably wouldn’t have been let out of the elevator much less past the hostess and into this refined space.
Mathelumusa is the Head Sommelier and Food and Beverage Manager at Capital Club and he knows a thing or two about wine. His father, he explains, was a well- travelled man who, for as long as he could remember, had a passion for collecting fine wine. “From about age 15, at dinner, my dad would give me a tiny sip of wine with a drop of water. He would tell me that this is a Cabernet or a Merlot or a Bordeaux blend. I was totally lost! ” Little did he know that this was a flavorsome debut to a life dedicated to mastering the knowledge of grapes.
There’s a general misconception that any person at a restaurant who helps you pair a wine with your meal can be called a sommelier. In a nutshell, a sommelier is a knowledgeable wine professional who is qualified to serve, sell, pair, suggest and teach about wine. A Master Sommelier is the highest possible ranking in this regard. The only difference between a sommelier and a winemaker/viticulturist is the application of their knowledge and studies: sommeliers choose to work in the hospitality/service space and winemakers choose to produce wine.
According to The Court of Master Sommeliers – one of few sommelier examination authorities in the world – since their first examinations in 1969 up until 2013, there were only 214 Master Sommeliers certified through their body. Having himself been certified as a sommelier through this very prestigious organization in March last year, Mathelumusa is now working towards attaining the esteemed and notoriously challenging ranking of Master Sommelier. He definitely has come a long way since his earlier wine days, working part-time as a glass-washer at a popular French restaurant in Krugersdorp, South Africa.
The majority of Mathelumusa’s “down-time” (one day a week) is spent studying. “I work 14 hour days here at the club but I love it.” He says he’s not a wine snob and that when it comes to a good bottle of wine quality means more than the price tag. “The best part of my job is sharing wine knowledge with the members. I do masterclasses and host monthly wine tastings. I also do private lessons with anyone interested in learning more about wine – non-members included.” Part of his decision to move to Nairobi just over a year ago was rooted in wanting to help grow the industry around the continent. “Times have changed. Wine has nothing to do with rank, anyone can drink and appreciate wine.”
I leave inspired with notes, lessons and images of the setting sun coating the city’s buildings and arboretums. With a name like Brilliant, it goes without saying which word one would use to describe his knowledge, taste and future in the wonderful world of wine: simply brilliant.