Thursday, May 19, 2011

Class of 2011: River Stone Estate Winery

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Photo: Lorraine and Ted Kane

Among this year’s new Okanagan winery owners, River Stone Estate Winery’s Ted Kane stands out for his intense and driven passion to be in the wine business.

“I was in second year medical school and Ted was in Edmonton and he was chomping at the bit to get out to the Okanagan and buy some land before it was all gone,” Lorraine, his wife, says, referring to the late 1990s. “We just had had a baby and we had no money.”

He curbed his impatience until she had her medical degree. It turned out that good properties were still available and, in 2001, they found 9½-acres of raw land near Oliver, wedged on a hill between Tuc-El-Nuit Road and the Okanagan River. A dense seven-acre vineyard was planted the following year, the first step in creating the winery that opened its tasting room quietly in April. There will be a grand opening in the fall when Corner Stone 2009, the winery’s flagship Bordeaux red, is ready for release.

The three wines already released – a Pinot Gris, a Malbec Rosé and a Cabernet Franc - are an impressive debut.

Born in Edmonton in 1962, Ted was making fruit wines at home by the time he was 19. “Then I got into kits and then right away into grapes.” He bought his first Okanagan grapes from Bill Eggert before Bill opened Fairview Cellars.

Ted was a respiratory therapist at the University of Alberta hospital with a burning ambition to open his own winery. “I built a small greenhouse by my house in Edmonton,” he says. “I bought grape vines from Eastern Canada and propagated and grew them, just so I could learn pruning and trellising and irrigation techniques.”

He met Lorraine at the university hospital where she nursed briefly before entering medical school. “I had to sell her on the idea of what we wanted to do and where we wanted to live, and that was going to be Oliver,” Ted says. Her medical school residency included time in Osoyoos and Ted seized the chance to look for the “perfect” vineyard property. He found the property and they moved to the Okanagan in 2002 where she is now a family doctor as well as a mother of three.

Lorraine grew up on a diary farm in the Fraser Valley. “I like farming; I like the lifestyle,” she says. “I thought I understood farming but harvest and crush is a completely different level of intensity. I could not believe it. I lost my husband there for about a month and a half.” She quips that she has started a support group for winemakers’ wives.

They have been something of 21st Century homesteaders on a property that had grown nothing but sage brush for about 30 years. The first clue that this is good dirt is the adjacent vineyard: Wild Goose’s renowned Mystic River Vineyard.

River Stone’s property has well-drained soils with ideal slopes to the south, the southeast and the southwest. The tightly-spaced vines are primarily Bordeaux reds, with a little Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer on the coolest part of the slope. The vineyard is planted in the French tradition, in the proportions needed for the winery’s red blend. The leading variety is Merlot, the foundation for the Corner Stone blend, followed by the other three varietals in the blend – Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. If there were room for Petit Verdot, Ted would grow that as well.

“I have seen people do a Meritage blend with just two of those varietals,” Ted says. “That’s not right. You have to have at least four of the five classics in the blend.”

He retained consultant Valerie Tait, who taught him viticulture at Okanagan College, to help him through his first year or two as a grape grower. Although he began making wines from his grapes in 2006, he retained consulting winemaker Jacqueline Kemp in 2009 to mentor him through River Stone’s early vintages.

“It is like an apprenticeship,” says Ted, who gave up his therapist career several years ago to concentrate on the winery. “I can fine-tune my winemaking with what she teaches and what she knows.” A New Zealand-trained winemaker with a strong résumé, she is also the consulting winemaker for Tantalus Vineyards.

Besides being an experienced winemaker, she brings the frugal values that support the limited resources of the Kanes. “New Zealand [wine growing] is really grass roots,” Ted believes. “People don’t need deep pockets to do it; they improvise and work with what they got … more of a garage-style winery, and that was what I run here.”

The River Stone winery is in a carriage house originally intended as a garage. Ted, husbanding finances, shelved a plan for gravity-fed winery amid the vines. The tasting room is on the ground floor of the house designed by Ted and Lorraine and built by Ted with help from two carpenters. “Ted has this thing where he feels the need to do everything on his own” Lorraine says.

The winery draws its name from the nearby river. “The river is a big part of our lives here, in the summer time especially” Lorraine says. “We have a great swimming hole down there; the kids spend a lot of time down there.”

The winery’s elegant label, with what looks like a courier du bois steering down river on a large maple leaf, picks up on that theme. It is surely one of the most economical label designs that any new winery has. Lorraine found a website,, of an organization that runs global contests for label and logo designs. Clients provide background on their businesses, put up modest prize money and sit back while designers compete.

River Stone’s design was created by an artist in Brazil. “It sort of evokes the place and our lifestyle,” Lorraine says.

Here are notes on the three wines now available.

River Stone Pinot Gris 2009 ($19.90). This is a satisfying wine with clean, focused flavours of citrus and pear, with good texture on the palate and with a crisp and refreshing finish. 89.

River Stone Malbec Rosé 2010 ($19.90). This wine was suggested by Jacqueline Kemp who recognized that the tasting room portfolio would be limited without it. The wine was made by cold-soaking the juice on skins for five days, extracting an intense, jewel-like colour and intense flavours of strawberry and red plums. The wine is full-bodied for a rosé, dry on the finish and altogether delicious. 90.

River Stone Cabernet Franc 2009 ($26). Only 61 cases were made. This was also not in the original plan but Jacqueline and Ted agreed that the quality of wine in one oak puncheon was special. The wine begins with an alluring aroma of red berries, mint and iodine. On the palate, there are flavours plum, black cherry, blackberry and chocolate, with a hint of cloves on the finish. 91.

River Stone Estate Winery
7148 378th Avenue,
Oliver, BC, V0H 1T0.


At June 9, 2011 at 8:24 AM , Blogger jmeakin said...

Hi Ted and Lorraine!

Looking forward to tasting your latest creations.

I've had opportunity to sample Ted's Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, very fine wine. Don't miss River Stone if you are near Oliver looking for wineries to visit.

See you this summer.



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