La Dolce Vita December 13, 2013


And the winner is…


Regular readers will know I don’t rate wines. I think numerical assignments are arbitrary, inconsistent and not very helpful. The enjoyment of wine is contingent on a number of factors and a very important one for me is the connection to the winery itself.

I have spent considerable time in recent weeks thinking about our winery experiences. Why? Because, after about 8 years of writing a regular wine column, I have decided it’s time to announce an award. The first ever La Dolce Vita award (which comes with no hardware or prize money) is Winery of the Year. And the winner is Serendipity Winery, a small producer on the Naramata Bench.

It was only a couple of years ago that I was given a Wine Trails magazine writing assignment on a winery I hadn’t heard of. It was a bit of a struggle as I had to arrange a telephone interview and I hadn’t, obviously, met owner Judy Kingston. But when we, along with Judy’s daughter, Katie O’Kell, did finally talk I was immediately drawn to their intellect and passion.

Kingston was a corporate lawyer by profession and she had, along the way, taken a time out to study in France to become a chef. A serious car accident led to her decision to shift priorities and she purchased an orchard in Naramata. She went right at it, this lawyer cum farmer, and soon was learning about working land and how to transform it from fruit tree farm to vineyard. She did a remarkable amount of work herself, including the planting of vines.

With her lawyer’s analytical mind, Kingston had a clear vision of what she wanted to accomplish. Making the best possible wine that her vineyard will allow was her obsession from Day One, and that hasn’t changed in the ensuing years.

My recent Wine Club shipment from Serendipity included a letter explaining some of the selections in the six-bottle box.

“For the first time, we are able to give you a vertical tasting of wine, now that we have three vintages of Serenata under our belt. We dug into our library stocks and found the last few bottles of 2008 Serenata and I am thrilled to be able to share it with you. It was the first wine I ever made, and I daresay it made quite a splash in the industry when it took home the coveted double gold at the San Francisco wine competition. The 2009 Serenata was the first harvest of the grapes that I planted when I came to BC, and will always be a very special wine for me. Since it was first harvest, we had a very low yield on grapes, and we only made 21 cases of the 2009 Serenata. Lastly, you’ll notice that the 2010 Serenata has quite a different label. This wine is going to be specially featured at the Calgary Stampede this year (2014), and we wanted to commemorate that with a special logo. Newton is now wearing cowboy boots and a Stetson hat, with a rope that wraps around to a horse on the back.”

Serenata is a Bordeaux blend, by the way. There is a lot of information in that paragraph—history, awards, small producer, innovation and, most of all, passion. Since that first telephone interview, Angela and I make a point of dropping in for a visit whenever we are in the Naramata area and I have written about the winery numerous times since. We have learned of the trials and tribulations of getting wines into the marketplace, the frustrations of our provincial regulatory regime and of Judy’s exciting plans for the future. And we have got know more about the beautiful Katie, who was only weeks away from heading off to university to pursue a law degree when she decided to stay on at the winery with her mom and begin wine and vineyard studies.

Last week, as we prepared to make thin crust pizzas for dinner, Angela and I clinked our wine glasses, which were charged with 2010 Devil’s Advocate, a Syrah blend that has won numerous awards, as have many other Serendipity wines. That first sip of wine immediately transported us back to Naramata and our last visit, when we stood chatting with Judy, dripping wet in her rainwear, having crawled out from beneath the bladder press she was cleaning to greet us.

Ordering wine from Serendipity is as easy as going onto the winery’s web site, where one can also join the Wine Club. But, fortunately for Kootenay residents, Devil’s Advocate can now be purchased locally at BC liquor stores. I know it is stocked in Cranbrook and Nelson, and others will bring it in on request.

Serendipity Winery has everything Angela and I are looking for in a winery—wonderful people, beautiful location and consistently superior wines. It is a very fitting choice for La Dolce Vita’s Winery of the Year.

– Lorne Eckersely