It was a big day in July 1907 when the first Great Northern
Railway train pulled into the station at Keremeos.
The Great Northern was a railway company founded in 1889 in Minnesota
by a group headed
by James J. Hill, a legendary name in railroading. Its major lines ran between Minnesota
and the Pacific Coast
The line that came through the Similkameen may have been the
Vancouver, Victoria & Eastern Railroad but it was owned by the Great
According to the Wikipedia entry on the Kettle Valley
Railroad: “The Kettle
Valley] railroad was built primarily in a mile-for-mile battle with the Vancouver,
Victoria and Eastern Railroad (VV&E). The VV&E was actually owned
by Great Northern Railway. The
competition between the KVR and the VV&E during constructions of both
railways was intense and resulted in many areas within the Southern Interior
being serviced by two railways, when one would have been sufficient.
Eventually, the hatchet was buried between the KVR and VV&E, as they both
were forced to collaborate when constructing their railways through the Coquihalla Valley.”
of these historic railways are now gone. (The American portion of the Great Northern
was absorbed a generation ago by Burlington Northern.)
by a remarkable coincidence, both Kettle
Valley and Great Northern
now live on wine labels. The Kettle Valley Winery opened in 1996 near Naramata
and was named the railway whose right of way between Penticton
and Kelowna ran
high above what is now Naramata
Road. (Today, it is a popular hiking and cycling
route with access to numerous wineries.)
years ago, Bob Ferguson and Tim Watt – the owners of Kettle Valley Winery along
with their wives – bought a vineyard just southeast of Keremeos, close to the
former right of way of the Great Northern. (Technically, the Great Northern
Vineyard, as it is called, is owned by spouses Colleen Ferguson and Janet
Watts, who happen to be sisters.)
first wines from this vineyard, which have just been released, carry the Great
Northern label. Like the Kettle
Valley wines, the Great
Northern wines also have a steam locomotive on the labels, keeping historic
railroading in the family.
vintage with the Great Northern grapes is being handled primarily by Tom’s son,
Andrew. His title still is assistant winemaker but, given his resume, a
promotion should be in the offing. He completed enology studies at Lincoln University
in New Zealand
in 2010. Subsequently, he has gained experience doing vintages in Chile, New Zealand,
and the Okanagan.
first releases from Great Northern, of course, were made by Bob and Tim. Here
are notes on the wines. The wines are available at $22 a bottle in mixed cases
– four bottle each of the three wines.
Great Northern Viognier 2012 (101 cases). This has the
classic Viognier aromas and flavours of apricot, peach and ripe apple. The
texture is rich, reflecting the fact that a portion of the wine was fermented
in older French oak. But the flavours and the finish are crisp and tangy,
reflecting the tank-fermented portion of the blend. 90-91.
Great Northern Zinfandel 2011 (46 cases). Think California ripeness! The
wine has 15.6% alcohol. It is a big, almost porty wine with vanilla and black
cherry aromas; spicy brambly flavours; and – as you would expect – a touch of
heat on the finish. 89.
Great Northern Syrah 2010 (47 cases). Reflecting a cool
vintage, this is a medium-bodied Syrah with notes of plum and with a touch of
white pepper on the finish. The relative lack of intensity is due perhaps to
the youth of the vines at the time. This would have been the first fruit from a
vineyard which was just a year old when the Kettle Valley
owners took it over a few years earlier. It could also be that this vineyard wants
deliver elegance rather than power – although that seems unlikely, judging from
the muscular Zinfandel. 87.