Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Langley's Chaberton Estate Winery rebrands - slightly

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 businessman 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 Valley.

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 for a 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 and came 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 working here.”

Here are notes on her wines.

Chaberton Siegerrebe Reserve 2013 ($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 raisins, grapefruit and apricot. The slightly off-dry finish gives the wine a rich texture. 90.

Chaberton Dry Bacchus Reserve 2013 ($17.25). Made from Fraser Valley 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.

Chaberton Gewürztraminer Reserve 2012 ($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 dissipate. 87.

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.

Chaberton Reserve 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 finish. 89.

Chaberton Reserve 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 finish. 90.

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. 90.

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. 

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