Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Chaberton: The Fraser Valley's anchor winery

Photo: Winemaker Andrea Lee 

In July 2015,  Andrea Lee returned as chief winemaker at Langley’s Chaberton Estate Winery where she once had been a cellar hand.

It was a bit of a rush for the petite Summerland native. The 2015 vintage was one of the earliest in British Columbia. It was a scramble to get ready to receive the 600 tons of grapes that the winery processed last fall. 

“It has been a roller coaster ride,” she said in November. “As soon as I came, wines had to be cold stabilized. Then I had to put them to sleep in the finished products cellar. And I also had to bottle 100,000 litres to make room, to get the capacity for harvest. It was just full on since July.”

 She also arrived at a time when the winery, which opened 25 years ago as Domaine de Chaberton, was streamlining its image.

The winery dropped “Domaine de” from its labels. The original owners of the winery, the first in the Fraser Valley, had emigrated from France. The family of founder Claude Violet once had a property there called Domaine de Chaberton and the name had resonance.

Vancouver lawyer Eugene Kwan and Hong Kong businessman Anthony Cheng, who bought the winery in 2004, retained the name in respect for the founders. But after eleven years, they decided that a little updating was in order.

They also reduced a confusing array of labels. Canoe Cove and North Bluff, which they had created after buying the winery, have now been dropped. The Chaberton wines now come primarily in three tiers: the House Wine tier, the Valley tier and the Reserve tier.

On top of that, there is a super-reserve tier called AC for the pricey, limited release reds that Anthony Cheng and the Chaberton winemakers blended in several vintages since 2008. Andrea had a hand in making some of the blending components during her first stint at Chaberton. She was a cellar hand here during four vintages from 2007 through 2010.

Born in Hong Kong, she was nine years old when her parents immigrated to Summerland and opened a Chinese family restaurant.

Andrea did not set out on a wine career when she enrolled at Simon Fraser University to study molecular biology and biochemistry (something “very boring,” she says now). On graduating in 2006, she took a research internship with a pharmaceutical firm until the company, amid a business downturn, laid off staff.

She took the opportunity to travel, ending up in New Zealand until a car accident prevented here from continuing in a vineyard job. She came back to Summerland and, after recuperating, went to work in the wine shop at Sumac Ridge Estate Winery and then at Chaberton. To upgrade her wine skills,  she enrolled at the University of Adelaide in Australia for a master’s degree in enology.

On graduating in 2012 she turbocharged her career by making wine in both hemispheres. She worked with three different Australian wineries, including Josef Chromy Wines, a distinguished producer in Tasmania. Back in the Okanagan, she made the 2014 wines for two Summerland wineries, Sage Hills Winery and Saxon Winery.

She returned to Chaberton in 2015 when her predecessor there, Barbara Hall, moved to Burrowing Owl Estate Winery in the south Okanagan.

The current releases from Chaberton have Barbara’s capable fingers on them even if Andrea finished some of the 2014s.

If Andrea joined just in time for a rushed and hectic vintage, she also came in a very good vintage, especially for the Fraser Valley. While Chaberton sources grapes from both the Okanagan and the Similkameen, it also has a 40-acre estate vineyard, by far the single largest vineyard in the Fraser Valley.

And it happens that Andrea is something of a Fraser Valley booster.

“That is the beauty of the Fraser Valley,” she says while pouring a glass of Chaberton’s superb Dry Bacchus Reserve. “The sugars do not usually reach more than 20 brix, but it is such a delicate aromatic wine. The acid is still preserved because we do not get that many heat degree days. I am very happy that the Fraser Valley has this flagship grape. I have to say that the Fraser Valley has not been praised like the Okanagan. It is still up and coming. It is a good grape variety and it is suitable to growing here, versus the Okanagan.”

Here are notes on the wines.

Chaberton Siegerrebe Reserve 2014 ($15.95). As white wines go, this is the thespian wine that steals the scene with dramatic aromas and flavours: lychee, lime and grapefruit. It is balanced to finish dry. The blend is 95% Siegerrebe, 3% Gewürztraminer and 2% Viognier. 90.

Chaberton Dry Bacchus Reserve 2014 ($15.00). Made from Fraser Valley grapes, this wine is crisply dry on the palate, with intense flavours of lime and lemon. The tangy finish is refreshing. 90.

Chaberton Bacchus Reserve 2014 ($15.00). This is the off-dry version, with just a touch of residual sugar still well balanced with fresh acidity. It has aromas and flavours of grapefruit. 89.

Chaberton Gewürztraminer Reserve 2014 ($15.95). The wine has rich aromas of spice and orange peel, leading to a rich palate, with flavours of tangerine, peach and apricot. The finish is slightly off-dry. 89. 

Chaberton Riesling Reserve 2014 ($15.95). The winery changed the style from the previous vintage when the Riesling was off-dry. This is dry although the fruit concentration on the palate has a pleasing sweetness. The wine has floral aromas and flavours of citrus and peach. 90.

Chaberton Pinot Gris Reserve 2014 ($15.95). Made with Similkameen grapes, this fleshy wine begins with fruity aromas that lead to flavours of apple and peach. 89.

Chaberton Valley Chardonnay 2013 ($13.30). This unoaked white is 86% Chardonnay, 14% Viognier. It has aromas of pear and citrus, leading to flavours of apple, tangerine and vanilla. 89.

Chaberton Valley Gamay 2013 ($14.75). The blend here is 85% Gamay Noir, 7% Merlot and 8% Syrah. It is a delicious wine with aromas and flavours of cherry, strawberry jam and spice. 90.

Chaberton Valley Cab 2013 ($15.95). This is 85% Cabernet Franc, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a quaffable wine with a soft, juicy texture. It has aromas and flavours of cherry and blackberry. 88.

Chaberton Valley Red 2014 ($13.30). Another quaffable medium-bodied red with a fruity aroma, this wine delivers flavours of black cherry and liquorice.  88.

Chaberton Reserve Merlot 2012 ($22.60).  This wine has an elegant, seamless texture. It has aromas and flavours of cassis and blueberries, with a lingering spicy finish.  90.

Chaberton Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($21.99). This wine, a blend of Naramata and Oliver grapes, was aged 27 months in French oak. This wine is svelte and elegant in structure. It begins with aromas of cassis and vanilla and delivers flavours of black cherry, fig, plum and vanilla. The wine benefits from decanting and will also benefit from another four or five years of cellaring. 91.

Chaberton Reserve Syrah 2011 ($27). 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  long finish. 90.

 Chaberton Reserve Meritage 2013 ($24.30). The blend is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc. The wine, which was aged 16 months in oak, begins with bold, ripe aromas of red fruit. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry, plum and cassis with notes of cassis on the lingering finish. 91.


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