Photo: River Stone's Ted Kane
Once again this summer, a neighbour had a house guest from
New York who knows wines and is curious about British Columbia wines.
Once again, we organized a tasting for him and several other
neighbours around an interesting Okanagan winery. Last year, it was Moon Curser
Vineyards of Osoyoos. This year’s choice was River Stone Estate Winery of
It is a privilege for a wine reviewer to taste and rate
these wines in the company of knowledgeable palates who bring other insights to
what is in the glass. On this evening, I benefitted from the assistance of five
other palates. Several of the tasters now want to buy some of the wines they
For background on River Stone, here is what I wrote in John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide.
Like any serious wine lover, Ted Kane
would like to taste Cheval Blanc, a legendary Bordeaux red with an astronomic
price tag. The difference between Ted and the rest of us is that he has the
grapes to make a wine in that style. Cheval Blanc is primarily a blend of
Cabernet Franc and Merlot, which Ted grows along with Cabernet Sauvignon,
Malbec and Petit Verdot. “This site is great with Cabernet Franc,” he says of
his vineyard. “At some point, I am going to make a Cabernet Franc Merlot blend,
just to see what it can do. I like that Cheval Blanc idea.”
He worried – needlessly, as it turned
out – that there might be no more good vineyard sites available before he and
his wife, Lorraine, then a medical student, bought this riverside property in
Oliver in 2001. Born in Edmonton in 1962, Ted was so focussed on wine growing
that he grew grapes in a greenhouse there just to learn how. They moved to
Oliver in 2002, planting a three -hectare (seven-acre) vineyard while Lorraine,
now the mother of three, began a family medicine practice.
River Stone’s well-drained property has
ideal slopes to the south, the southeast and the southwest. The vineyard is
planted in the French tradition, in the proportions Ted wanted for Corner
Stone, the Merlot-dominant flagship blend that the winery launched with the
2009 vintage. “My Bordeaux blend is transitioning a bit,” he says after
experience gained in subsequent vintages. “My blend is still Merlot driven but
Cabernet Franc is equal to or greater than the Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend.
Cabernet Franc does better on my property than Cabernet Sauvignon.” Recently,
he grafted Petit Verdot onto a small block of Cabernet Sauvignon, not so much
for viticultural issues but to grow all five Bordeaux reds for the 450 or so
cases of Corner Stone made every year.
River Stone’s wines all are estate
grown, with the minor exception of Splash!, the refreshing summer white that
includes Viognier from a neighbour. “The
vineyard is where it starts out and what carries us from season to season,” Ted
says. “The best grapes make the best wines. I wanted to see where that was
going to take us.”
River Stone Pinot
($19.90). One member of our tasting group (a Francophile when it
comes to wine) said this wine, with its ripe flavours and slightly warming
alcohol, reminded him of Alsace. That is a high compliment, considering that
Alsace produces benchmark Pinot Gris wines. This wine begins with aromas of
peach and cantaloupe, leading to flavours of pear. It is a generous wine with
good weight and with a dry finish. 90.
River Stone Sauvignon
($19.90 for 117 cases). Our Francophile taster compared this to
Sancerre in style, with its herbal notes on the nose and palate, along with
flavours of lime and lemon. There is also a flinty note on the finish. The wine
has so much power in the glass than one wants to call it “thespian.” 92.
River Stone Malbec
($19.90 for 215 cases). This is a dark-hued rosé with intense and
luscious flavours of raspberry and cherry. The winemaking technique sets out to
extract colour, red berry aromas and flavours by letting the grapes (60% remain
whole) to cold soak on their juice for 24 to 48 hours. After pressing, the wine
is then fermented in stainless steel. This is a robust rosé
(13.8% alcohol) that calls for salmon on the grill. 90.
River Stone Cabernet
($27.90 for 150 cases). This is a bold and rustic (in a positive
way) red, with brambly red fruit aromas. There are flavours of blackberry and
black cherry with a touch of plum and tobacco and subtle notes of oak. 90.
River Stone Stones
($24.90). The blend is Merlot (78%), Cabernet Sauvignon (11%),
Petit Verdot (7%) and Malbec (4%). One might think of this as a little brother
to Corner Stone, except for the lengths the winemaker goes to in making it. The
grapes are essentially fermented as whole berries (only 20% are crushed) after
three to five days of cold-soaking. The berries are fermented in small totes
and tanks to increase the juice to skin ratio. The finished wine ages 14 months
in French oak (33% new). The wine begins with aromas of black currant, vanilla
and tobacco, leading to smoky, brooding flavours of plum and black currant. Our
tasters attributed the brooding note to the Petit Verdot in the blend. 91.
River Stone Corner
($31.90 for 339 cases). This is Merlot (57%), Cabernet Sauvignon
(21%), Cabernet Franc (14%), and Malbec (8%). The winemaking protocol is
similar to that for Stones Throw. The wine’s 18 months in French oak (33% new)
and further time in bottle has polished the tannins and added flesh to the
texture. Dramatic aromas of plum, cassis and vanilla lead to flavours of black
cherry, coffee and chocolate. While this is drinking well now, it will just get
better with another five years in the cellar. 94.