Thursday, March 20, 2014

Serendipity by chance and with hard work

Photo: Serendipity's Judy Kingston and Katie O'Kell

Judy Kingston, the owner of Serendipity Winery in Naramata, is someone to whom, at various times in her life, fate has been unkind and then kind.

Several years ago, a major automobile accident ended her 25-year career as one of Canada’s pioneering practitioners of computer law.

After recovering, she took a short vacation to the Okanagan in late 2006 while considering what to do next. Her other passion, aside from law, is cooking but a career standing in a kitchen had to be ruled out. She cannot spend long periods on her feet, a legacy of the car accident.

She was driving from Osoyoos to Kelowna when a map-reading error took her to Naramata where she chanced to drive by an orchard for sale.

“I just stopped the car,” she recounts. “Sometimes things happen to you; that is what serendipity is all about. I was totally open for anything in my life at this point. This inner voice said, ‘this is it’. This is as close to cooking as I can get, because I will be making wine.”

She made an offer for the property before catching her flight to Toronto. “By the time I arrived in Toronto, I was the proud owner of an apple cherry orchard,” she recalled at one of her recent Vancouver wine tastings.

It was, perhaps, not quite that casual. She is a lawyer, after all. In a 2009 interview, she told me that the offer was conditional, giving her time to retain a consultant for assurance that the property could be turned into a vineyard. The condition was dropped within a month because the consultant’s answer was positive.

Judy threw herself into wine growing with fierce determination. While the orchard was being replaced with eight acres of vines, she took the viticulture courses at Okanagan College. “When I first started, I had to go to farming school to learn how to farm,” she says. “No one in my family were farmers.”

Soon, she was the talk of Naramata Road for her diligence in the vineyard, all of which is visible from the road.

Perhaps nothing caused more talk than how she dealt with the cutworms. Each spring, these insects emerge at night to suck the life from the buds on the vines. Growers generally apply sprays to kill the cutworms. Judy was determined to avoid sprays so as not to destroy beneficial insects which are predators against other pests later in the growing season. So she strapped on a miner’s lamp and went into the vineyard each night to squish the worms.

“Later, when I got some credibility because my farm looked nice and my wines were nice, [I heard] that people were telling stories about this crazy female Toronto lawyer who was out at night, crawling on her hands and knees with a light,” she laughs now.

The unusual technique worked. She has a balanced and sustainable vineyard without the need for chemical sprays.

When her determination to be totally hands-on was becoming too big a load, fate, or serendipity, came to Judy’s aid. Her daughter, Katie O’Kell, a biology graduate who had been accepted into law school, came to help Judy while waiting for law school to begin. Subsequently, Katie became as intrigued with wine growing as her mother. She has decided against law school and in favour of the University of California’s winemaking courses.

It is not that Judy has lacked in capable winemakers. Jason Parkes, now a busy consulting winemaker in the Okanagan, made the Serendipity wines from the initial vintage in 2009 through 2012. Last fall, veteran winemaker Richard Kanazawa moved into the Serendipity cellar, making Judy’s wines as well as those for his own Kanazawa label.

Selling wine was another skill that Judy has had to master. “I have never sold anything in my life because I’ve been a lawyer,” she explained. “I never had to.”

She has obviously become good at the cold call. Last year, she took part in a Naramata Bench Wineries Association tasting event in Calgary, looking to extend her market.

On a chance – serendipity again – she telephoned the Calgary Stampede and the telephone was picked up by the food and beverage manager who agreed to taste her wines. He liked them so well that several ended up on the wine lists at Stampede restaurants.

Even better, Judy was asked to be the Stampede’s winemaker in residence. That involved several public tastings and opportunity to do some staff wine training. She had a ball and, evidently, so did the Stampede. At least two Serendipity wines have been ordered for this summer’s Stampede and Judy will bring her infectious personality back for another season as winemaker in residence.

The wines she showed to her Vancouver audiences recently included both current and upcoming releases. Here are my notes.

Serendipity White Lie 2011 ($18). This is called White Lie because the blend may change from year to year. This vintage is Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. It has an appealing herbal nose, flavours of lime and grapefruit and a crisp, tangy finish. 90.

Serendipity Viognier 2012 ($20). This is a bowl of tropical fruit – notes of pineapple, guava, apricot and lime, with a spine of minerals and acidity. 90.

Serendipity Viognier 2013 (tank sample). This wine is very expressive, with aromas of pineapple and lime that carry through to the palate. Again, there is a good backbone of minerals and bright acidity with a lingering finish. 90.

Serendipity Rosé 2012 ($18). This is a fine dry rosé, beginning with aromas of strawberry and rhubarb. Those continue to the palate, along with raspberry. 90.

Serendipity Red Handed 2010 ($18). This is a blend of Bordeaux grape varieties along with Pinot Noir and Syrah. There is probably not much Pinot Noir because, as is the case with all Serendipity reds, this is a fairly big red. There are aromas of vanilla and flavours of black cherry, vanilla and chocolate. 88.

Serendipity Devil’s Advocate 2010 ($25). This was one of the wines featured at the 2013 Calgary Stampede. In competition, it has also brought home four silver and three bronze medals. It is a blend of Bordeaux varieties with 30% Syrah. There are appealing cassis aromas. On the palate, the wine delivers black currant, black cherry and blueberry with a touch of espresso on the finish. 90.

Serendipity Reserve Serenata 2010 ($40). This is the winery’s flagship red, a blend anchored by Merlot and including the other four major Bordeaux reds. The aromas of cassis and blueberry charge forth from the glass. The wine delivers on that promise, with flavours of black cherry, blackberry supported by long ripe tannins. There is a touch of espresso on the finish. 92.

Serendipity Syrah 2010 (barrel sample). This wine is destined primarily for the Stampede. I can’t imagine a better wine with a good steak, medium rare. It begins with peppery and earthy aromas. On the palate, it is muscular, with flavours of dark plum and deli meats, finishing with a lovely dash of pepper. 92.



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