8th Generation Vineyard champions frizzanté
Photo: Bernd Schales with Seitz filler for sparkling wine
One of the trendy wine styles in recent years has been Prosecco, the refreshing sparkling wine from northern Italy, popular on its own and also as a cocktail ingredient.
In the Okanagan, Bernd and Stefanie Schales, the owners of 8th Generation Vineyard in Summerland, spotted the trend and decided to make something comparable. Their modest first release, a Chardonnay Frizzanté 2009, proved to be a big hit.
In the 2010 vintage they plunged into frizzanté production in a big way. Last month the winery released two such wines, a white called Integrity and a red called Confidence. Beautifully presented in “bowling pin” bottles made in Italy (similar to Prosecco), these elegant products will displace more than a few bottles of Champagne. One or two other Okanagan wineries have begun to make frizzanté wines but none has adopted comparable luxury packaging.
“The whole thing took us almost three years to develop,” Bernd says.
Three years is a blink of an eye compared with this couple’s wine history. Bernd is the eighth generation of his family to grow grapes; ancestor Christopher Schales began growing grapes in 1783 in Germany, according to family records. That is why this couple named their Okanagan winery 8th Generation – only to discover later that one of Stefanie’s ancestors was growing grapes 10 generations ago.
Bernd was born in 1972 in Germany. Following in the family tradition, he studied winemaking at Weinsberg. He was given a job in the family winery but, since it already employed numerous family members, there was limited scope for career growth.
“I was not really satisfied because my part was actually to grow grapes,” he remembers. “I did that for nine or 10 years. After a while, it got a little boring.”
So he and Stefanie, trained in architectural drafting, began considering the New World wine industry. They were impressed with the Okanagan. After spending 10 days here in 2001, they filed immigration applications and scoured the Okanagan again in the summer of 2002, buying an Okanagan Falls vineyard in 2003.
Stefanie had begun working on the drawings for a winery there – the house on the property commands a breathtaking view – when, in the summer of 2007, they were able to buy the building that formerly housed the Adora winery.
Stefanie undoubtedly could have designed something better looking than this cavernous plain-jane shed. But it is a terrific location for retail sales since it is right beside a speed-limited section of Highway 97 south of Summerland.
The building was also empty when they took over. Bernd spent a frantic month arranging the delivery of winemaking equipment before that vintage. He made do with his grandfather’s wine press, a near museum piece that had been shipped from Germany with their furniture a few years earlier. He has since updated some of the winery’s equipment.
The frizzanté project meant a trip back to Germany for specialized equipment needed to bottle the sparkling wine. When colleagues advised against purchasing expensive computer-controlled fillers, he looked for mechanical filler. At a German winery, he found a 1961 filler made by Seitz. It was no longer in use but it is so reliable that the winery was reluctant to sell it. Now, it sits in the middle of the 8th Generation winery, hooked to a pressurized wine tank (circa 1969) that Bernd found in the yard at Ripley’s, the Summerland wine tank supplier.
It is ingenious but slow. When Bernd and his staff bottled 3,500 bottles of Confidence in March, it took them more than 12 hours, not counting clean-up. But the Seitz filler worked flawlessly both for this run and for the bottling of Integrity in April.
The Italian-made frizzanté bottles have the winery’s signature stylized figure 8 etched into the glass. The winery’s other wines have paper labels, all with elegant variations of the figure 8, a very effective label change made during the past two vintages. The 8th Generation wines are much more visible in wine stores and in restaurants than under the previous black label, shown below.
The quality of the wines is nothing less than what one expects from eight generations of experience. Here are notes on the current releases.
Confidence 2010 ($22.50 for a total production of 418 cases). The wine, made largely with Pinot Noir, presents with a lovely cranberry hue. It has strawberry aromas, flavours of strawberry and raspberry and enough bubbles to give the impression of a creamy texture before the wine concludes with a crisp and refreshing finish. Even though the wine is bottled at a third the pressure of Champagne, there is a fine display of bubbles. The moderate alcohol, 12.2%, adds to its refreshing quality. 89.
Integrity 2010 ($22.50 for 533 cases). This is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc. With fruity aromas and flavours of citrus and peach, this is a crowd-pleaser: lots of bubbles, creamy on the mid-palate and sweet on the finish. 87
Pinot Gris 2009 ($19.99). This wine was partially barrel-fermented and a third was barrel-aged for additional complexity. The fruit flavours, apple and pear, remain out front, where they should be. This is an appealing white with a rich mid-palate and a crisp finish. 88.
Chardonnay 2008 ($18.99). This is a lightly oaked Chardonnay, with notes of vanilla mingling with the melon flavours and the hints of butter and nuts on the finish. 88.
Sauvignon Blanc 2010 ($18.50). During a crush in New Zealand, Bernd fell in love with Sauvignon Blanc. He was able to buy some of that variety last year from a Naramata grower and is thinking of planting some in one of his own vineyards. Again, a third of the wine was fermented (but not aged) in barrel. It is a tangy and refreshing with, with flavours of lime and gooseberry that would do New Zealand proud. 88.
Riesling 2010 ($19.99). In 2010, the winery did not have enough grapes to make its usual two styles of Riesling (dry and off-dry). This is the off-dry version with 16 grams of residual sugar but so well balanced that it seems almost dry. It has aromas and flavours lemon and grapefruit, with a long and refreshing finish. 90.
Pinot Meunier Rosé 2010 ($19.99). This is certainly one of the best of the 2010 rosé wines from the Okanagan, beginning with a lovely hue and delivering a fruit basket of strawberry and rhubarb, apple and grapefruit. The residual sugar gives the wine flesh on the palate and the acidity ensures a refreshing finish. There is even a hint of white pepper on the finish. 91.
Merlot 2009 ($21.99). A wine with good concentration, this has aromas and flavours of blueberry, lingonberry and currants, with spicy berries on the finish. 90.
Syrah 2009 ($23.99). Made with estate-grown fruit and aged in French oak, this wine has aromas of pepper and red fruit, flavours of plum and leather with pepper on the finish. 88.
Syrah Icewine 2010 (about $65 for a half bottle when released this fall). This is 8th Generation’s first icewine. They intended to make one in 2007 but rushed to pick the grapes for late-harvest wine after deer got into the vineyard. There is a story to this wine as well. At the very end of vintage in 2010, the Syrah was still on the vines for table wine and Bernd decided to take the weekend off before picking. When an unexpected freeze settled in after the weekend, icewine was his only option – and, he thinks, his best. While the table wine might have been average, the icewine is excellent, with a lively acidity balancing the plum jam flavours and giving the wine a clean, fresh finish. Only 180 cases of 375 ml bottles were made. 90.