Photo: Tim Watts (l) and Bob Ferguson
Steven Spurrier, the British wine expert, has visited the Okanagan several times in recent years, favouring the region with perceptive observations.
For example, he suggests “buying the house” rather than choosing Okanagan wines by terroir. The Okanagan terroir is incredibly complex due to the complexity of the soils, the complexity of the exposures and the general lack of homogeneity of the vineyards. There is much to explore about the terroir.
Some wineries have figured out the viticulture better than others. If the wines from certain wineries satisfy your palate, just keep buying those wines regardless of the appellation or sub-appellation on the labels. It may take another century or so to identify our Coonawarras with certainty.
Spurrier’s advice comes to mind when tasting wines from Kettle Valley Winery at Naramata. The house style seems to be quite settled. And so it should be: owner/ winemakers Bob Ferguson and Tim Watts have been growing grapes and making wine on the Naramata Bench for more than 25 years.
They make single vineyard wines, such as the Hayman Vineyard Pinot Noir, which reflect the terroir well.
They also make wines with grapes from several vineyards. The Pinot Gris grapes are from vineyards in four distinct vineyard regions. The terroir is blurred in favour of a specific house style.
Kettle Valley’s followers know what to count on. The reds, whatever the varietal, are bold, muscular wines that can easily be aged for 10 years and almost certainly longer.
The whites also are distinctive, with ripe fruit flavours. This winery likes to leave grapes on the vine until a ripeness of around 25 Brix is reached. They are not left to hang to achieve high alcohols but rather to achieve flavour. High alcohol is a tolerated consequence.
The bottom line with Kettle Valley is that the style of the wines is consistent vintage after vintage. It makes the case for buying the house.
Here are notes on three recent releases.
Kettle Valley Pinot Gris 2015 ($24). The deep magenta hue of this wine is the result of soaking the crushed grapes on the skins for two days prior to fermentation. A portion of the wine was fermented in barrel; the rest was fermented in stainless steel. This is a robust dry wine that mainline Pinot Gris stylists would consider eccentric. It has aromas of ripe plums that lead to robust fruit on the palate. This is a versatile wine with a wide array of foods. 90.
Kettle Valley Pinot Noir Reserve 2014 ($38 for 200 cases). Grapes from one vineyard in Summerland and two on the Naramata Bench are in this wine, which is a selection of the best barrels. The wine aged 19 months in French oak. It is a dark and intense wine with cherry, plum and vanilla on the aroma and the palate. The structure still has some grip. Decant the wine if you are impatient; age it at least five more years if you can. 90+
Kettle Valley Hayman Pinot Noir 2014 “John’s Block) ($38 for 88 cases). This wine is an homage to the late John Levine, a connoisseur of Okanagan wine in general and of the Pinot Noir from this one block in the winery’s Hayman Vineyard. Aged 19 months in French oak, the wine begins with deep aromas of cherries and toasted oak. On the palate, the flavours of cherry and plum mingle with dark fruit and oak. There is a hint of vanilla on the finish. The depth and concentration of this wine reflects a great vintage. The wine is approachable now with decanting but has structure to age well into the next decade. 92.