Like maturing a fine wine, it’s taken time for Kettle Valley Winery to reach its level.
The Naramata Bench winery is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, though its origins trace a little farther back than that.
“When my wife and I moved to Penticton, we were buying local grapes, usually a tonne at a time, and making wine in the apartment Janet and I had in Penticton,” said Tim Watts, co-owner and co-winemaker at Kettle Valley.
They soon bought property in Naramata “up the road a little bit” from the present location of the winery, tucked away at the foot of Hayman Road, with incredible views over the vineyard to Okanagan Lake.
“When Janet and I bought our place, we planted grapes. When they started to produce, we found the grapes we were growing were head and shoulders above the grapes we could buy,” said Watts.
At the time, quality was not the focus for grapes, volume was, according to Watts. That small vineyard soon expanded with another piece of land above Manitou Park.
“At this point, we had probably about eight acres planted. We had no real plans to sell the grapes, and we didn’t have a winery licence,” said Watts. “As it turned out, just about the time that all these big pieces came on stream, winery licences became available. Luckily, because otherwise, we were making all the wine for ourselves.”
Partnering with accountant Bob Ferguson, Kettle Valley Winery was the third winery licence granted on the Naramata Bench, and the 23rd in the province.
“We were quite lucky in that we started slowly. We did a lot of reading, went to workshops, things like that, but we learned by making every mistake known to winemakers, and hopefully only making them once,” said Watts. “We were able to start with small lots and over the years, eliminate some of our mistakes and learn how to do things better. It’s been a long process.”
Nowadays, Watts said they have about 42 acres under cultivation, and still buy grapes to reach their target of 10,000 cases.
“We’ve been up to about 230 tonnes, which is about 13,000 cases. That wasn’t comfortable, it changes all kinds of things about the business. We made a conscious decision to back off a little bit and get closer to 10,000 cases,” said Watts. “You tend to have to hire other people to do the jobs that you are passionate about. You find you are just managing people rather than doing the things that you got into business to do. Now we are back to doing the farming and all the hands-on stuff.”
Watts, a geologist, worked at Nickel Plate Mine for a dozen years.
“I worked four days on, four days off, and the four days off allowed me to get the farm started. Bob was an accountant,” said Watts. “Between the business background and a little bit of a technical background, it was a good partnership. I don’t think either of us would have been able to do it without the other.”
Watts said the pace has slowed over the years as they got the hang of running the winery.
“It has been incredibly busy for years and years, the hours were ridiculous, but that is having a business. You tend to let that happen,” said Watts. “But now we are getting to the point that we are a little bit better at doing it, a little more relaxed about it, so we are starting to actually take holidays and things like that, which we didn’t for many years.”
Watts said he doesn’t have any big regrets about the life he chose.
“Little things to be sure, but not a whole lot. Overall, it’s turned out really well for us,” said Watts. “I wasn’t a farmer before, but farming I have found to be very enjoyable. Farming is a nice lifestyle if you can make a living and that is the tough part.”