Photo: Winery owners Tim Watts and Bob Ferguson
The slogan of Ravenswood Winery in California
is “no wimpy wine.”
If the slogan were not trademark protected, it could also
apply to Kettle Valley Winery’s Great Northern Vineyards in the sun-baked Similkameen Valley
Ravenswood made its name with bold Zinfandels. The winery’s
website is a particularly good resource for information on the varietal.
There is not much Zinfandel planted in British Columbia. I am aware of two blocks
in the south Okanagan and two in the Similkameen. No doubt there are more but,
because the variety ripens unevenly, some growers shy away from it.
The variety’s uneven ripening often results, paradoxically,
in wines with robust alcohols. The reason: by the time all of the berries are
ripe, a significant part of the bunch has turned to high-sugar raisins.
Recently, I tasted the impressive Mt. Boucherie Family
Reserve Zinfandel 2010 made with Similkameen grapes. Even though 2010 was a
cool vintage, the wine still has 14.1% alcohol and is packed with robust fruit.
The Great Northern Zinfandel 2012 is from quite a warm
vintage and has a body-warming 15.5% alcohol, with even more fruit. It tastes
like Zinfandel has a future in the Similkameen.
The Great Northern Vineyard is owned by Colleen Ferguson and
Janet Watts, whose husbands – Bob and Tim - grow the grapes and make the wine
for Kettle Valley
. The 2012 vintage was only the
second for Great Northern. The winemaker for some of the Great Northern wines
is Andrew Watts, the New Zealand-trained son of Janet and Tim.
opened in 1996, is named after the legendary rail line that once operated in
the Okanagan. The former rail bed, now a walking and biking trail, runs along
the top of the Naramata Bench and can be seen from Kettle Valley
When the Kettle
the first Great Northern wines last year, they found a railroad that once
operated in the Similkameen. Conveniently, they allowed them to design labels
with a locomotive on them that look very much like the Kettle Valley
labels. That is clever branding.
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.”
There is even
less of the Great Northern rail bed remaining.
Here are notes on
the three wines.
Vineyards Viognier 2013
($21 for 162 cases). The wine begins with bold
aromas of ripe apricots and hazelnuts. The wine presents a rich and warming
palate (alcohol is 15%), with flavours of stone fruits. A portion of this was
barrel-fermented and put through malo-lactic fermentation. That probably
accounts for the almost buttery texture. The finish persists. 90.
Vineyards Syrah 2011 ($24 for 150 cases). This concentrated wine has 13.5%
alcohol, reflecting that 2011 was a cool vintage. The vines were cropped only
two tons an acre and even then, the fruit was not picked until October 25. The
wine begins with aromas of spicy plum and blueberry. The 22 months aging in
French oak has polished the tannins. Juicy on the palate, the wine has favours
of plum and black cherry, with a touch of spice and pepper on the finish. 90.
Vineyards Zinfandel 2012 ($24 for 191 cases). This wine begins with earthy
aromas of plum and leather, leading to robust flavours of plum, black cherry
and blackberry. The wine presents a huge dollop of ripe sweet berry flavours to
the palate. If Ravenswood had made this wine, you know what the tag line would