Photo: Chaberton winemaker Barbara Hall
A harvest of spectacular quality is underway in the largest
and oldest Fraser Valley
vineyard – the 40 plus acres behind Chaberton
Estate Winery south of Langley
The vineyard was planted in 1982 by Claude and Inge Violet.
They planted only early-ripening white varietals like Siegerrebe, Madeleine
Angevine and Madeleine Sylvaner, all
suited to this cool terroir. The winery’s red varietals have always come from
sun-bathed vineyards in the south Okanagan.
The Violets emigrated from France in 1979. When they opened
the winery in 1991, they named it Domaine de Chaberton for the farm that Claude
(who had been a wine grower and wine merchant) had owned in France.
The winery was purchased in 2004 by Vancouver
lawyer Eugene Kwan and Hong Kong
Anthony Cheng. With the wines released within the past year, they quietly
dropped “Domaine de” from the labels.
Retaining Chaberton indicates that the owners value
continuity in a brand that sells about 40,000 cases a year. They also have
maintained the bistro started by the Violets. This is one of the most popular
and best country restaurants in the Fraser
However, Eugene and Anthony have also made some key changes,
including the hiring in 2011 of Barbara Hall, a rising star among Okanagan
winemakers. Dr. Elias Phiniotis, the consulting winemaker here since 1990,
continues to offer some consulting services but Barbara was promoted to chief
winemaker in 2013.
Born in Ontario
she acquired her passion for wine as a sommelier in Whistler. “I would go home
after serving wine at Araxi’s,” she recalls “and I would research the wines
that I had just sold: where they were from, areas where they were grown,
everything that I could get to know about them.”
To learn winemaking, she moved to the Okanagan in 2002. She
enrolled in studies at Okanagan University College
subsequently transferring to the University
of British Columba
degree in biochemistry. She supported her studies with a succession of jobs in
the wine industry. That including vineyard work at Quails’ Gate Estate Winery,
sorting table work during the crush at Mission Hill and retail work at Discover Wines
, a VQA store in Kelowna.
In 2006, she went back to Quails’ Gate where Grant Stanley,
the winemaker then, put her to work in the laboratory. He also assigned her to
participate in a research project on wild yeast strains in Pinot Noir
fermentation. The work, which helped her graduate, has been continued by
several Okanagan winemakers and by academics at UBC Okanagan.
“One of the reasons I went to university to become a
winemaker is I saw what kind of a winemaker I wanted to be and I knew that
would require a science degree,” Barbara says. “With biochemistry, I understand
a plant’s needs to survive and produce seeds; I see a fermenting yeast’s needs
to stay alive. We are putting them under conditions they are not used to. I see
things metabolically rather than just chemically sometimes.”
After graduating in 2009, she worked the crush that year at Red Rooster Winery
, took time off to go to Chile
back to the Okanagan. While working at Volcanic Hills, she learned that a
winemaking job was open at Chaberton.
“When I came for my interview, I first went to the wine shop
to try the wine,” Barbara says. “I did not want to work at a place where I
didn’t like the wines. I tasted some of the wines. At that time, they had the
2006 Canoe Cove Shiraz on the shelf. I recognized there was an international
palate behind the wine. It stood out.”
Her interview with Anthony Cheng led to a six-month contract
that evolved to a permanent post. Shortly after, Anthony involved her in a
blending project for a premium red modelled on Cheval Blanc, his favourite Bordeaux red. Those
limited wines, all from the 2008, have since been released under the AC label.
“2008 was a fantastic year,” Barbara says. “We will work
toward making AC wines from newer vintages. For wines like that, you have to
organize your barrel program and source the fruit for it. That is just part of
the journey. It is good that something like that has started to emerge after
eight years” [under the new owners].
Chaberton is not the most modern of wineries but Barbara,
after 10 years of “crawling around vineyards,” has never been happier.
“I think you have to have a sense of pride in what you do,”
she says. “It was really important when I got here and I saw that sense of
pride of everyone that was working here; and a sense of family among everyone
Here are notes on her wines.
($17.95). This may be the first time I have seen this varietal
released as a “reserve” – which speaks volumes for the care that winemaker
Barbara Hall gives to the estate-grown grapes. This wine shows the typical
floral and spicy aroma of the variety. The wine delivers intense flavours of Muscat
and apricot. The slightly off-dry finish gives the wine a rich texture. 90.
Chaberton Dry Bacchus
($17.25). Made from Fraser
grapes, this is
95% Bacchus with 5% Sémillon to add complexity. The wine has appealing aromas
of rose petals, green apples and spice. It is crisply dry on the palate, with
intense flavours of grapefruit and apple. 91.
($17.95). This is 88% Gewürztraminer, 12% Pinot Blanc. The
wine has rich aromas of spice and orange peel, leading to a rich palate, with
flavours of tangerine, peach and apricot. The slightly off-dry finish adds a
honeyed note. 90.
Chaberton Valley Chardonnay 2012
($14.95). This is 90%
Chardonnay, 10% Viognier. It begins with aromas of pear and citrus. On the
palate, there are flavours of apple and tangerine. 88.
Chaberton Valley White 2013
($14.95). This is 50%
Madeleine Sylvaner and 50% Sauvignon Blanc. The wine begins with citrus aromas,
leading to flavours of lime, honeydew melon and pineapple. The finish is
crisply refreshing. This light-bodied white was great with summer salads. 89.
Chaberton Valley Pink 2013
($14.95). This off-dry wine
is 95% Zweigelt and 5% Viognier. Dark in hue, it has aromas that recall bubble
gum and strawberries. On the palate, there are flavours of raspberry,
strawberry and cherry candy. 87.
Chaberton Valley Cab 2010
($15.95). This is 84% Cabernet Franc, 16% Cabernet
Sauvignon. The spicy blackberry aromas reflect the Cabernet Franc in this
blend. The aromas carry through on the palate, with black cherry, brambly and
minty flavours, a hint of tobacco and pepper on the finish. This is
astonishingly good value. 90.
Chaberton Valley Gamay 2012
($17.95). There is five
percent Merlot added to this Gamay. The wine is full-bodied for a Gamay, with
jammy cherry and strawberry flavours and a spicy finish. Give this wine a few
minutes on opening – it has a screw cap closure – for the whiff of sulphur to
Chaberton Reserve Meritage
2011 ($25.95). This is 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc and 25%
Merlot. The wine saw 12 months in French and American oak barrels. It begins
with aromas of black currants, cherries, vanilla and cedar. On the palate, the
wine has flavours of spicy red berries. The tannins are ripe but the firm
texture suggests cellaring this another year or two. 90.
Merlot 2011 ($25.95). The wine, which was aged 12 months in French and
American oak and which has had the benefit of additional bottle age, has an
elegantly silken texture. It begins with aromas of cherries and red liquorice,
leading to flavours of cherry and lingonberry with a hint of spice on the
Syrah 2011 ($31). Dark in colour, the wine begins with meaty aromas
incorporating red berries and pepper. On the palate, there are flavours of
black cherry and blackberry crisply wrapped up with notes of black pepper and
vanilla on the finish. The texture is medium to full-bodied, with a a long
Chaberton AC 50 2008 ($47.50
for 163 cases but sold out). The AC
series of wines – named for winery owner Andrew Cheng, who assists in blending
– all are based on Merlot. This is a 50/50 blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The
wine begins with aromas of spice, black cherry and blackberry. On the palate,
there are flavours of black currant, black cherry, vanilla, espresso coffee and
dark chocolate. Prolonged barrel aging
has contributed to a firm and ageable tannin structure. 91.
Chaberton AC 70 2008 ($47.50
for 139 cases). This is 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet
Sauvignon. The wine begins with aromas of vanilla, black cherry and cassis,
leading to flavours of black currant and vanilla with a touch of sage on the
finish. The Cabernet Sauvignon has lent a firm, ageworthy texture to the wine.
Chaberton AC 100 2008
($47.50 for 282 cases). This elegant, full-bodied wine is an excellent
expression of Okanagan Merlot. It begins with aromas of black currant and
vanilla, leading to flavours of black currant, black cherry and dark chocolate.
The ripe tannins give this wine a generous weight and a long finish. 91.