I first met Moraine Winery winemaker Jacqueline Kemp in the spring of 2010 when I moved to Naramata for a short-term stay over the summer, so I could observe the day-to-day life of a vintage close up. On the town’s old main road, conveniently called Old Main Road, I was staying with friends in “The Yellow House,” while Jacq and her husband, winemaker Chris Carson (of Meyer Family Vineyards) lived in “The White House.” Addresses hardly matter in this small patch of Naramata, where the only other structures of note on Old Main Road are “The Orange House” and “The Stone House.”
When we’d bump into one another pleasantries were always exchanged, often about the weather of course - 2010 was a rather chilly vintage. I always appreciated it when winemakers would take the time to chat with me, this city guy just dipping in to town for a season, so I could glean a little knowledge. She and Carson were just starting their young family, and she was doing some consulting around the Valley. There were rumblings around about her pedigree, and it wasn’t rare to hear someone refer to her as one of the most unsung winemakers in B.C. She has a charming, quiet and calm demeanor, so one could understand part of the reason why she could be under the radar to B.C. wine fans. Let’s face it, sometimes it’s the winemakers who are loud and not afraid to wave their own flag that are more likely to get ink, screen time and, well, even sales.
And the pedigree, that was there for sure. Along with stints in Burgundy and Western Australia, Kemp made an international name for herself in New Zealand, her home country, harnessing the terroir and natural expression of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir at Central Otago’s renowned Akarua Winery.
In the years since then, she’d consulted in the Okanagan, often with some of our most acclaimed wineries. Something that speaks volumes to me is an anecdote from a winemaker friend, who grabbed the reins of one of our region’s most-lauded wineries from a previously-departed winemaker. Kemp had been brought in to ensure consistency and quality through the transition and, once things had stabilised, she told the winemaker that they were probably good to move forward without her assistance.
The winemaker then asked if they could actually retain her for an occasional meeting and tasting, simply for a second set of eyes on things, or more importantly – an extra respected palate on hand. Hey, most winemakers would immediately say “Yeah, I got this,” but to this winemaker, Kemp is such a gem that why wouldn’t you want her around if you could have her?
When I’ve brought up this story with Kemp, she rolls her eyes and shrugs her shoulders, humbly amused, “Oh, they’re totally FINE without me!”
Which brings me to Moraine Estate Winery, situated near Kemp’s home on the Naramata Bench. A few months back I asked her why she made the move from consulting to becoming the official, card-carrying winemaker of a winery, in this case Alberta expats Oleg and Svetlana Aristarkhov’s new venture that began only a few years back. “Actually, I’ve had my eye on that piece of land for a long time,” she’d told me. “So when Moraine was starting up and they needed a winemaker, it just all came together perfectly.”
It certainly has, and I couldn’t be more stoked for Kemp’s wine from Moraine to now be available to wine fans from coast-to-coast here on My Wine Canada. Like I said, harnessing terroir is a specialty of hers, with a good amount of restraint that prevents her from getting in its way. You won’t get over-extracted, heavy fruit-bombs, nor will you find their wines overly-oaked. Whether you want a plummy and elegant Pinot, a bright and juicy Chardonnay framed with just the right amount of French oak, or a Malbec plush with purple fruit, Moraine Winery (guided by Kemp’s steady hand) leads the way. I’m glad she’s finally found somewhere to hang her hat - we’re lucky to have her!
Kurtis Kolt is a Vancouver-based wine consultant, writer, competition judge and enthusiast. Track him down at KurtisKolt.com, or on Twitter and Instagram @KurtisKolt.