Photo: Domaine de Chaberton's Eugene Kwan
At times, Domaine de
Chaberton Estates Winery in Langley
Township flies below the
radar a little too much.
Last July, the winery
released two ultra-premium reds with so little publicity (if any) that they did
not come to my attention until year-end and then did not get tasted for a few
These small-lot wines,
under the new AC label, mark a significant step forward in terms of quality,
packaging and price. Vancouver
lawyer Eugene Kwan, one of two partners in Domaine de Chaberton, tells me there
are other changes coming, including one more AC red, and a refreshing of the
winery’s labels this fall.
Eugene’s partner is Hong Kong
businessman and wine lover Anthony Cheng – hence the AC on the labels of the new
Anthony and Eugene, who had
worked together on other real estate transactions, bought Domaine de Chaberton
in 2005. Anthony had been trying to buy property in Provence but the deal fell through. Eugene suggested he look
at Okanagan wineries. “His initial reaction was that B.C. wines are crap,” Eugene recalls.
But Eugene discovered that Domaine de Chaberton
was being sold by the founders, Claude and Inge Violet. He looked at the books,
liked what he saw and persuaded Anthony to become a partner because knew more
Domaine de Chaberton,
which opened in 1991, is based on a 46-acre vineyard entirely planted to white
varieties. To this day, the winery is better known for its whites. Its best-selling
wines are made from Bacchus, a grape that emerged in 1972 from plant breeding
at Geilweilerhof, a German research station. It has proved a good cool-climate
grape, producing fruity aromatic wines. Domaine de Chaberton likely has the
largest Bacchus planting in British
The winery gets its red
grapes from the south Okanagan. The Violets opened the winery just as the
“French Paradox” – red wine and the Mediterranean diet are good for the heart –
was driving a new demand for red wines. To get red grapes, the Violets in 1995
partnered with the Toor brothers to convert their orchards on Black Sage Road to
vineyard. The Toors went on to develop their own winery, Desert Hills, but they
have continued to be one of Domaine de Chaberton’s main suppliers of Okanagan
From the start of his partnership
with Eugene, Anthony’s ambition has been to
produce premium reds patterned on the style of the Bordeaux reds he was collecting. He has also
changed his mind about B.C. wines, having tasted the dramatically improved
wines now being made.
“The AC Series are the
first major step [for his ambitions with Domaine de Chaberton],” Eugene says. “He thinks
he is headed in the right direction.”
Of course, some credit for these wines also goes to Elias Phiniotis, Chaberton's veteran consulting winemaker, and Barbara Hall, who joined 18 months ago as associate winemaker and who has just been promoted to winemaker.
The AC wines are built on
a Merlot platform. The number on the label signals the percentage of Merlot in
the blend. The one yet to be released is called AC 100. The first releases all
are from 2008 because the wines are given at least 17 months in barrel,
benefitting from long bottle aging before release.
Here are notes on two AC
wines and on 10 other releases. These include some under the winery’s Canoe
Cove label. Since the wines under that label have not been particularly
distinctive from the Domaine de Chaberton wines, don’t be surprised if Canoe
Cove is phased out during the current rebranding exercise.
Domaine de Chaberton Bacchus 2011 ($15.99). The winery makes both a dry and an
off-dry Bacchus; the dry is sold out. This one has just enough sweet fruit to
make superb as an aperitif. It is a veritable fruit salad on the nose and on
the palate, tasting of orange, peach and apple with spice on the finish. 89.
Domaine de Chaberton Unoaked Chardonnay 2011 ($13.99). Has Chardonnay fallen so much out of
fashion that it should be priced $2 less than Bacchus? This bargain has
appealing tangerine and apricot aromas. On the palate, it is also a fruit
salad, with flavours of peaches, mangoes and sweet grapefruit. It is crisp and
refreshing on the finish. 90.
Domaine de Chaberton Gewürztraminer 2011 ($16.99). This wine begins with the classic aroma of spice and lychee.
On the palate, there are flavours of lychee, sweet grapefruit and even apricot,
with spice on the finish. The wine is so fruity as to seem off-dry – but it is
Domaine de Chaberton Pinot Gris 2011 ($16.99). This is a juicy-textured white with flavours of apples, pears and peaches. There is a hint of anise on the finish. The soft acidity leaves the impression that the wine is off dry. 89.
Domaine de Chaberton Merlot 2009 ($24.99). From the Okanagan’s best vintage in that
decade, here is a big, dark Merlot with aromas of blueberry, black cherry and
vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of blueberry, plum and black cherry.
The long ripe tannins add to the appeal of this tasty red. 89.
Domaine de Chaberton Gamay Noir 2011 ($16.99). This varietal is somewhat
under-appreciated which explains why most wineries give it a moderate price.
This wine has aromas and flavours of cherry with a smoky note. It seemed medium
bodied on first opening it but became fuller with exposure to air. 88.
Domaine de Chaberton Syrah 2008 ($29.99). The time in bottle has given this
delicious wine a polished texture. It begins with aromas and flavours of black
cherry and spice, with a touch of black pepper on the finish. 90.
Domaine de Chaberton AC 50 2008 ($45 for 163 cases). The AC wines are an impressive
new label for this winery. This is a blend of equal parts Merlot and Cabernet
Franc. It begins with aromas of spicy black currants. On the palate, there are
flavours of black currant, vanilla, coffee and tobacco. The firm but ripe
tannins suggest this wine has potential to age further. 91.
Domaine de Chaberton AC 70 2008 ($45 for 139 cases). This is 70% Merlot, 20%
Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a well-crafted and complex
red blend with generous sweet fruit flavours that emerge with decanting. The
wine begins with aromas of blackberry, black cherry and pepper, leading to
flavours of black currant, plum, tobacco, coffee and vanilla. 91.
Canoe Cove Shiraz 2007 ($22.99). Soft, ripe and juicy, this is a wine for
current drinking, not cellaring. It has aromas and flavours of spicy black
cherries and plums. 88.
Canoe Cove Merlot 2008 ($NA). Here is a muscular Merlot with aromas of
vanilla and black currants and with flavours of black currants, black cherries,
plums, vanilla, cloves and liquorice. 90.
Canoe Cove Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2007 ($19.99).
This wine needed to be open for a while so that the hint of sulphur blew
away to liberate the fruit aromas. It has aromas of blackberry, vanilla and
spice, with flavours of bramble berries and black cherries. 87.