Kettle Valley's Barber Cabernet: the back story
Anyone with a bottle of
the Barber Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 from Kettle Valley
should treat it as a tribute to the late Dave Barber.
That wine – only 864
bottles were made - represents the last
vintage grown in his Naramata Vineyard before his death in July, 2010.
The Barber Vineyard is
about five acres of vines on a southwest slope just above Okanagan
Lake and two kilometres from Kettle Valley.
“It is a gorgeous piece of
property,” says Bob Ferguson, who owns Kettle Valley
with his partner, Tim Watts. “We actually tried to buy the property for years.
There are two lots, one with a house and one with land for a vineyard. The
people who owned it would not sell us the bare land without us buying the
house. And we did not want a sec0nd house.”
Dave Barber was a Vancouver businessman who also happened to be one of Kettle Valley’s
regular customers. One day in 1999 when he was at the winery, he mentioned that
he had purchased the property. His interest was in owning a summer residence
for his family.
“We told him we had been
trying to buy it for four or five years and had no luck,” Bob recalls. “He
offered to let us farm it, so we jumped at the chance.”
The Kettle Valley
team planted Cabernet Sauvignon on half of the property and equal blocks of
Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc on the other half. The winery has continued to
farm it, buying the grapes from Dave Barber and now from his estate. And they
hope it is an arrangement that will go on for a long time.
Clearly, Dave was proud of
what Kettle Valley was achieving. “Dave's interest
in farming,” his obituary said, “… grew into a fervent hobby; he loved doting
on his vineyard in Naramata, selling his Cabernet Sauvignon grapes to Kettle Valley
for almost a decade.”
Kettle Valley has comparable arrangements with other Naramata
Vineyards that allow them to farm for quality wines, not for big tonnage. The
Barber Cabernet Sauvignon is cropped about a ton an acre. The $38 a bottle
price is certainly not high enough to make that sort of viticulture
economically viable. “It is because we enjoy doing it,” Bob says. “To make
money on growing late ripeners like Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot in this
territory, you would have to be charging way more money than the market would
But the partners just won’t compromise. “The key in
Naramata with Cabernet Sauvignon and some of those other later ripening
varieties,” Bob says, “is that you have to keep your tonnage down or you get
all kinds of green notes.”
There certainly is no greenness in the Barber
Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact, that wine and the Syrah – two of three recent
releases – each have 15.2% alcohol. That shows that the grapes were fully ripe
before being harvested, benefitting from the long, warm 2009 vintage.
The robust alcohol levels are not at all obvious,
which speaks to Kettle
Valley’s skills at
growing ripe grapes and making generously-flavoured wines.
“The fruit was really,
really ripe, so the tannins were soft,” Bob explains. “The full-on berry
flavours and really ripe tannins mask the high alcohol. It is in balance. That
is the key: if your fruit is ripe and you have those soft ripe tannins, it
tends to mask the heat that goes with the alcohol.”
Here are my notes on those
Kettle Valley Viognier 2011 ($26 for 179 cases). This wine is made with grapes
from a Naramata vineyard and also from a Similkameen vineyard. It begins with a
lovely aroma of honey, pineapple and apricot, leading to honeyed apricot
flavours. The finish, however, is dry with a refreshing acidity that gives this
wine appealing crispness. 90.
Kettle Valley Syrah 2009 ($38 for 285 cases). This is a big, generous wine with so much fruit and texture that the 15.2% alcohol is not perceptible. The aromas include pepper and black cherry, with a lifted perfume from the five per cent of Viognier in the blend. On the palate, there are rich flavours of black cherry, plum, prune, vanilla and black liquorice. There is a lingering finish with a touch of white pepper. The grapes for this wine all are from Naramata vineyards. 90.
Kettle Valley Barber Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
2009 ($38 for 72 cases). This is a
bold Cabernet, with 15.2% alcohol but also with so much substance that one is
not aware of the alcohol. It has alluring aromas of plum, black cherry and
vanilla (as it should, having spent 21 months in French oak). It has a big,
luscious palate of black currant, black cherry and vanilla with a hint of mint
on the finish. The tannins are long and ripe. The wine is drinking well now but
has the structure to age gracefully at least to 2019. It is easy to understand
why Barber is a legendary Naramata vineyard. 92.