Sunday, October 27, 2013

Great Northern rolls down the line again

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 Northern.

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.”

All of these historic railways are now gone. (The American portion of the Great Northern was absorbed a generation ago by Burlington Northern.)

But 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.)

Several 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.)

The 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.

The current 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, Nova Scotia and the Okanagan.

The 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.


Unknown said...

John, can you point me in the right direction re: how to contact Great Northern for ordering info. They're not listed on the Similkameen Wineries Association web site, and with a generic name like great northern, nothing prominent is jumping out at me on Google.


Unknown said...

Great review John. Can you point me in the right direction re: how to contact the winery to find out about ordering or retail availability? They're not listed on the Similkameen Wineries Association web site yet and searching for Great Northern Vineyards on Google gives a ton of generic results.


JohnSchreiner at Goodgrog said...

The wines can be ordered from Kettle Valley Winery, even though they are not on that winery's website.