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