Photo: Rafter F's Bill and Darlene Freding
There is a very good reason why Darlene and Bill Freding have no plans for a Rafter F winery on their Saddle Ridge Vineyard on
Black Sage Road.
They also raise and finish livestock here.
“I don’t think it is wise for me to have a feedlot and a winery at the same location,” Darlene says with a chuckle. “A certain number of people might think it is unique and enjoy it, but a number will not and won’t enjoy it.”
That is why they are winemaking clients of Okanagan Crush Pad Winery. It is a concession to the olfactory-challenged among us.
So far, Rafter F has released just two wines from their debut 2011 vintage: 83 cases of Pinot Gris and 95 cases of Chardonnay. In the spring, Rafter F will release three reds – a Syrah, a Cabernet Franc and a Cabernet Sauvignon. Also look for more wine production in the future because the Fredings, with 47 acres of vineyard, would like to grow the brand to 3,000 cases.
Rafter F is the brand that the family has used in ranching for several generations. Bill Freding, whose master’s degree in agriculture includes expertise in genetics, is a fourth generation rancher. His great-grandfather, John Allison, was the first settler and rancher near what is today called
Bill and Darlene began their ranching career in the Cariboo, running four different ranches until Bill, in 1988, bought a feedlot south of Oliver that had been in receivership. Here, he could better apply the genetics and the other sciences that he had learned at university.
Ultimately, the Fredings have developed a premium beef product which they sell as Okanagan’s Finest Angus Beef. The animals are fed a daily litre of wine for 90 days in the last 90 days of finishing them for beef.
“It was Bill’s idea,” Darlene says. “We had a customer from Merritt who owns a large ranch. He was acquiring the
beef as calves and
sending them to us and we were finishing them. Then his product was going to Kobe .
Of course, when BSE happened, all that came to a halt.” (BSE is so-called mad
cow disease.) Japan
“And it is fabulous,” she discovered. “As a matter of fact, I like it better. The meat is a beautiful red colour. It has its own distinct flavour. If you know it has wine in it, you can imagine it was marinated in wine. It has that bit of a flavour. It helps to tenderize the meat. And when you cook it, the meat will caramelize better.”
Before we get too far down this path, it should be said that the Fredings did not start making wine to nourish their animals. It is just a coincidence.
They grow a lot of corn for animal feed. In 1998, with Richard Cleave as their vineyard consultant, they began planting vines in one of the corn fields. Today, they grow Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Merlot, Chardonnay, Viognier and Pinot Gris.
For a number of years, fruit from their Saddle Ridge Vineyard was being sold to Road 13 Vineyards. Michael Bartier, now the senior winemaker at Okanagan Crush Pad, was then Road 13’s winemaker.
“Last year [in 2011], after Mike Bartier joined the Okanagan Crush Pad team, I decided it would be fun to see what we could do,” Darlene says. She sent OCP the grapes from 2½ acres and had Michael make the initial Rafter F wines. In 2012, she has sent double the quantity of grapes. Clearly, the Fredings are feeling their way cautiously into the wine business.
“We just plain, simple, agricultural folk,” she says.
Don’t kid yourself. This is a salt of the earth couple that grows good beef and good grapes.
Here are notes on the first two wines:
Rafter F Pinot Gris 2011 ($21). This wine begins with aromas of citrus and toasty lees. On the palate, there are flavours of green apples and lemon. The texture is flinty and the finish is quite dry. 88.
Rafter F Chardonnay 2011 ($21). This unoaked Chardonnay begins with citrus aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of white peach and citrus. It finishes dry, with a mineral note. 87.