John Schreiner is Canada's most prolific writer of books on wine. Since his first book in 1984,
The World of Canadian Wine, he has written 15, including multiple editions of The Wineries of British Columbia, British
Columbia Wine Country and John Schreiner's Okanagan Wine Tour Guide
The house style at Kettle Valley Winery has always been distinctive. Bob Ferguson and Tim Watts, the winemaker owners, make wines that are full of flavour and long-lived.
It flows from the way they grow their grapes, usually with low tonnages that concentrate flavours and textures. Then when they bring the fruit in, they set out to capture all the flavour that nature gave them.
One example is the winery’s gloriously eccentric Pinot Gris. By coincidence, nearby Nichol Vineyard is the only other Okanagan winery that handles Pinot Gris quite like this.
Pinot Gris is a white wine grape that, at maturity, develops a pink hue to the skins. Most wineries chose to crush the grapes and press them quickly so as not to extract colour. A lot of excellent Pinot Gris wines are made this way.
At Kettle Valley, the grapes are crushed and then left to soak for two days on the skins before being pressed. That extracts a lot of colour. Crucially, it also extracts a lot of aroma and flavour. The result is a bold Pinot Gris that pairs admirably with food.
The winery has just released that wine, along with two of its Pinot Noirs.
The reserve Pinot Noir, with grapes from four vineyards in the central Okanagan, is the classic bold and ripe Kettle Valley style. The more floral Hayman John’s Block Pinot Noir, which is made from a single vineyard and a single clone.
“The Hayman Pinot Noir is Clone 13, commonly referred to as the “Washington State” clone, due to its popularity in Washington State in the mid-1980s,” Bob explained in an email. “It is a thick skinned, late ripening clone. Due to its tendency to late ripening, it is not so popular any more and much of the original plantings in Washington State have been pulled out and re-planted with either clone 72 (French clone 667) which is somewhat similar, or to clone 105 which is earlier ripening and thinner skinned.”
Clearly, Bob and Tim have learned to work with the clone, preferred to have older vines than to replant and wait for years for the concentration of flavour that older vines give.
I could not decide which of these Pinot Noirs I liked better because I enjoyed both. Here are my notes.
Kettle Valley Pinot Gris 2013 ($24). The wine begins with an appealing bronze pink hue. This wine has aromas and flavours of strawberries, with a touch of white pepper. A portion of the wine also was fermented in barrel, adding texture and complexity. The finish is dry and lingering. 91.
Kettle Valley Pinot Noir Reserve 2012 ($38 for 215 cases). This reserve is a selection of the best barrels of Pinot Noir made with grapes from four different vineyards. The wine, which was aged 20 months in French oak, begins with aromas of ripe plums, black cherries and vanilla. This is echoed by the ripe, even slightly porty, fruit flavours along with savoury hints of truffles. The tannins are elegant and silky, with a lingering finish. The powerful wine is appealing now but also should cellar very well at least until 2022, developing further Burgundian complexity. 92.
Kettle Valley Hayman “John’s Block” Pinot Noir 2012 ($38 for 96 cases). This is a single vineyard wine from Kettle Valley’s Hayman Vineyard. It has been renamed John’s Block in memory of the legendary wine lover John Levine, who was Kettle Valley’s first customer and who died in 2012. This wine also has spent 20 months in French oak. However, it is a prettier, lighter and more feminine wine that the Reserve. It begins with aromas of raspberry and strawberry that are echoed on the palate. The wine has a graceful weight, with a silky texture and a seductive finish. 92.