Kettle Valley Winery is just up the road from me in Naramata. If this isn't a solid winery, I don't know what is. They have been growing grapes and making wine from their properties for over 20 years, which is pretty much since the beginning of good wine in the valley!
So while we writers are always under pressure to write about "what's new," the success story of a 20-year-old-and-counting winery is just as exciting to me as a new venture launching itself into the fray.
Last summer, I sat down with Kettle Valley Winery co-owner / co-founder / co-winemaker Bob Ferguson. It was my opportunity to ask the former accountant from West Van how he saw the potential of Narmata before most other people, and what his particular perspective of the growth of the local wine idustry was over the past two decades. We sat near the winery tasting room looking west over the vineyard with Okanagan Lake sparkling in the background. I taped a full one-hour interview bursting with the history of the Naramata Bench, recent history of winemaking in the Valley, and a story of how a family-owned and -operated business is just happy to keep making excellent wines, and keeping the personal connection with many of their retailers and customers.
First of all, Bob explained, that when he and his brother-in-law Tim Watts (former geologist and the other co-owner / co-winemaker at Kettle Valley) started thinking about buying land to grow wine grapes, it was a bit of blank slate of what would grow in certain spots. They decided to buy land in Narmata in 1987, deciding that it was the place to grow grapes.
"Nobody wanted to live in Naramata at the time," Bob laughs. "It was The Outback. We started with [planting] pinot noir and chardonnay in 1987, two varieties that the [Summerland] Research Centre said you couldn't grow," he tells me. (The Summerland Research Centre has been an agricultural resource in the area for over a century.) Soon they bought a second property on Hayman Road and planted it in 1988. Then another in 1990. What they found was that every individual piece of land in Naramata had its own microclimate. And by keeping the tonnage down on the fruit production, the varietals that were otherwise not thought to be viable, were. Healthy vines could overwinter, even in those days when Naramata actually had cold snaps in the winter. But still at the time, the laws were such that they were too small to officially make commercial wine. The laws were grossly slanted towards bulk producers of bulk wine.
"Then the rules changed in 1992, which allowed for small wineries," says Ferguson. They had the jump as their grapes had been planted a number of years ago and were already producing very good fruit. "We did our first harvest in this garage," he continues pointing toward the home's garage which is now a dedicated tasting room. They ended up doing eight harvests out of this home garage in fact.
I ask Bob what the future of Naramata winemaking is, since it just seems to be on its upswing of quality and with some of the most expensive vineyard land now in the world. "There isn't much more land to develop on the Naramata Bench," Bob replies. He hints that maybe some of the land that really isn't suitable for grapes and that has been planted will turn out to be expensive experiments for some growers. But the quality just keeps rising, and will keep rising due to the collegial, collaborative, yet slightly competitive nature of the winemakers in the area. "It's friendly competition," he says. When a neighbour raises the bar on quality, it pushes others to do the same.
I had heard that Bob still delivers most of his wine orders personally to retail clients and restaurants in Vancouver, Banff and Calgary. It's true, he confirms. It's the only way he finds he can stay in touch with "what's happening out there." (Naramata is a little bit isloated, which is part of its charm.) Bob says that 92 percent of Kettle Valley's wine is sold in BC, and about 8 percent of it goes to the Alberta market. The Banff Springs in one of his best clients, and I'm sure it's a great excuse to make a few trips to Banff every year. But for those who make a trip to Kettle Valley Winery, they get to taste the full roster of wines, and on those hot, hot days of July and August, have a gewurztraminer slush from the tasting room.
And here's the 2012 spring release wines from Kettle Valley Winery, from the press release May 10, 2012:
When we celebrated our 20th Anniversary last year people asked us what we were going to do next. The answer is simple. Since we still love making great wine, and sharing it with our friends, that is exactly what we are going to continue doing.
Right now we are rolling out some of our first vintages for this year, see our list below, including our popular fortified blend of Malbec and Petit Verdot which now has a new name, "Caboose." Known for years by its former name "Starboard," why the name change? A Napa Valley winery recently informed us that they held the North America wide trademark for the name Starboard, and politely asked if we would please change the name for the next release. We thought Caboose was a fitting name for a wine that goes well at the end of the meal.
What hasn't changed over the past twenty years is our families' commitment to farming full flavoured grapes, and to wine-making that brings out the best of those flavours and subtleties for you, our friends, to enjoy.
Watch our website for updates on winemakers' dinners, library tastings and tasting events throughout the year.
Stay tuned for more information on our upcoming releases including 2009 Malbec, 2009 Petit Verdot, and 2011 Viognier. Our new commemorative T-shirt will be available with the next wine release.
Current Wine Releases
Adra 2007 Chardonnay Reserve
The grapes for this wine come primarily from the Hayman vineyard located on the Naramata Bench. The grapes were hand picked on October 17, 2007 at 25.5 brix. The grapes were crushed and left on the skins to cold soak for three days prior to being pressed off, clarified and then inoculated with yeast. Approximately 30% of this wine has been barrel fermented in new French oak. $30.
2011 Pinot Gris
The grapes for this wine come from the vineyards of Thibault, Lerchs and Varisco in Summerland, Cole and Cossentine on the Naramata Bench, Elgert and Ganhao in Okanagan Falls, Dhaliwal in Oliver and Secord and Pereira in the Similkameen Valley. The grapes for this wine were hand picked between October 14 and November 4, 2011 at approximately 23 brix. A portion of this wine has been barrel fermented before being blended with wine that was fermented in stainless steel tanks. $24.
The grapes for this wine come primarily from the Harvey vineyard in Naramata. They were hand picked between October 23 and November 1, 2011 at approximately 20.8 brix. This wine was tank fermented. $26.
Barber 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon
The grapes for this wine come from the Barber vineyard in Naramata. The grapes were hand picked on October 28, 2008 and October 29, 2008 at approximately 24.8 brix. The wine has gone through a full malolactic fermentation and was aged in French oak for 23 months before bottling in 2010. $35.
Crest 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon
The grapes for this wine come primarily from our Crest vineyard in Naramata. This Cabernet Sauvignon was farmed at just over one ton to the acre resulting in very intense fruit flavours. The grapes were hand picked on November 3, 2008 at approximately 24.3 brix. This wine has gone through a full malolactic fermentation. $38.
The grapes for this wine come from the Trovao, King, Beichman and Old Main vineyards in Naramata. This wine is a blend of 95% Syrah and 5% Viognier. The vineyards were farmed at two tons to the acre resulting in very concentrated flavours. The grapes were hand picked between October 27, 2008 and November 8, 2008 at approximately 24.0 brix. The wine has gone through a full malolactic fermentation and was aged in French oak for 21 months before being bottled. $38.
NBR 2009 Extra 4079
This wine draws its name as a tribute to the last train, 'Extra 4079', to climb the summit of the Coquihalla Pass on the Kettle Valley Railway, November 23, 1959. Four major washouts had occurred that day and the railway line was closed for repairs. On January 9, 1961 after being closed for nearly fourteen months the CPR announced they would not re-open the railway line through the Coquihalla Pass. This brought an end to all direct rail service between the coast and the Okanagan Valley and to the rail line itself. The grapes for this blend come primarily from the Hancock vineyard and Oh vineyard in Naramata. They were hand picked on October 26, 2009 at 27.3 brix. $26.
Caboose (formerly Starboard)
This wine, formerly called Starboard, is a fortified blend of Malbec and Petit Verdot grapes from our King Drive vineyard on the Naramata Bench. The grapes were hand picked at approximately 24 brix. The wine was barrel aged in French oak. $24.
For a complete list of available wines please visit our web site www.kettlevalleywinery.com
Whether you've known us for all twenty years, or if we are just meeting you for the first time, we welcome you to climb aboard and join us, as we roll forward into our third decade and raise a glass to fine fruit, family and friends.