The photograph at the head of this posting was taken in late
April at Seven Stones Winery in the Similkameen
The concrete structure is one end of the 3,000-square-foot
underground cellar that owner George Hanson added to his winery. To build it, a
massive pit was excavated. When the structure was in place, it was covered with
earth. This photo was taken the day before the final loads of earth were put in
The rationale for this project is that George has been able
to move 300 barrels from the above-ground winery into the northern half of the
cellar. There, the barrels of wine will mature in the cool ambient temperature
of the earth. A small waterfall tumbling down the north wall will maintain ideal
humidity, reducing the evaporation loses from the barrels during the hot, dry
The vacated above-ground barrel storage now is used to store
case goods, which were offsite. Seven Stones is making about 3,000 cases a
year, on the way to a target of 4,000–4,300 cases.
While utterly practical, the cellar also caresses a bit of the
winemaker’s ego. After all, George called his icon red blend The Legend from
the very first release several vintages ago.
The south end of the cellar, which connects to the Seven
Stones tasting room with a spiral staircase, includes a commercial kitchen and
a space for winery dinners. There is nothing quite like this in any of the
other dozen wineries in the Similkameen.
George arrived in the Similkameen in 1999 to buy property
for the 20-acre vineyard he planted just beside Highway 3 in 2001.
Born in Alberta
Hanson spent 25 years in the Yukon
becoming a manager in the territory’s telephone system. “I got an early golden
handshake from the telephone company and decided to pursue my dream,” he
recounts. He had already been thinking of retiring to a winery of his own by
the time he was 55, having become, by his own account, the Yukon
’s best amateur winemaker.
He planted primarily red varietals. “I remember planting
this vineyard and thinking that the reason is to make a Meritage blend,” he
says. Accordingly, he planted Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
Subsequently, he added Petit Verdot and Malbec, giving himself all five major Bordeaux reds.
He was not entirely focussed on Meritage, for he also grows
Syrah, Pinot Noir, along with Chardonnay. The Seven Stones Syrah is always a
big, generous wine. The Pinot Noirs, considering the heat of the Similkameen
summers, are remarkably elegant. The 2012 Pinot Noir, a concentrated wine with
floral aromas and cherry flavours, will have a tribute label to George’s late
wife, Vivianne, who died in 2012.
It was Vivianne, who formerly had run a Prince George health foods store, who
suggested the winery’s name. The inspiration is from seven massive boulders
around the Similkameen significant in First Nations history. Standing Rock, for
example, was a meeting place. A mural in the Seven Stones tasting room
elaborates on this history.
George hired a consultant to make the winery’s debut vintage
in 2003, but he has long since taken complete charge of the cellar.
“The Legend is my top priority,” he says of the icon. He
limits production to 100 cases a year but that wine has the effect of lifting
the entire portfolio. It is not made from special blocks in the vineyard but is
selected from best barrels in the cellar. That disciplines him to grow every
vine with The Legend as the objective.
“It is blended from my favourite barrels in the cellar – my
favourite Cabernet Sauvignon barrels and my favourite Merlot barrels, and then
I play with them,” he says. “My strategy is to make The Legend and then I choose
the next barrels to make the Meritage blend. Once I have the blends completed,
everything else is spun off as a single varietal.”
The “leftovers” are often exceptional. In a recent vintage,
Petit Verdot not needed in either The Legend or the Meritage became a solo
release of 23 cases. Visitors to the winery snapped it up in four days.
One of the best selling varietals from Seven Stones is Row
128 Merlot. It started as a small label from George’s favourite row in his
vineyard. It has become such a successful brand that George has had to plant
This spring Seven Stones also launched its first wine club.
Members commit to buying three cases a year, typically six bottles of one
variety and six of another wine in each case. The offerings, sold at a 10%
discount, occasionally include library wines.
George had expected to enrol 50 members by the end of the
year but was delighted to have 52 members after just one month. “What I learned
from that is that our brand has some traction,” he says.
Here are notes on some current releases.
Seven Stones Pinot
Noir 2009 ($28). This is a charmer, with aromas and flavours of
strawberries and cherries. There is a spiciness on the finish that recalls
black tea. The texture is silky. 90.
Seven Stones Meritage
2008 ($32). With almost five years of age, this wine has matured to be
complex and elegant, with aromas of cassis and flavours of black currant,
blueberry, plum and spice. The blend is 58% Merlot, 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3%
Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. 91.
Seven Stones Row 128
Merlot 2010 ($30). This is a remarkably ripe and concentrated wine,
considering that the vintage was cool. The winery achieved that by dropping 60%
of the crop in August so the remaining grapes would ripen. The wine has vibrant
flavours of plum and blackberry with long ripe tannins. 90.
Seven Stones Cabernet
Franc 2010 ($30). This is another vibrant red, with brambly aromas of
raspberries and blackberries and with a touch of chocolate on the finish. 90.
Seven Stones Syrah
2011 ($35). This is a juicy red with earthy plum flavours, along with
pepper in the aroma and licorice on the finish. 90.
Seven Stones Speaking
Rock Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($35). I reviewed this wine a year ago and
gave it 91. I think it is even better now, starting with aromas of cassis and
blackberry and delivering dollops of sweet fruit, chocolate and coffee to the
Seven Stones The
Legend 2010 ($45). This is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 12% Petit
Verdot and 8% Cabernet Franc. This is a bold and complex red, with floral,
spicy and berry aromas and with flavours of black currant, raspberry, blackberry.
On the finish, there are notes of dark chocolate. 94.