Photo: River Stone's Ted Kane (courtesy of winery)
River Stone Estate Winery’s flagship wine is a Bordeaux red blend called Corner Stone.
It was one of the wines chosen for my 2017 book, Icon: Flagship Wines from British Columbia’s Best Wineries. The wines were selected for overall quality and also for their potential to age gracefully in a cellar. The object of the book was to encourage readers to buy a few bottles of a favourite wine, or two, each year, and to develop a vertical.
Corner Stone ticked off those boxes. It was, and remains, reasonably priced for a collectible top quality wine.
The following except from Icon tells the story of that wine.
Ted Kane had Corner Stone in mind back in 2003, when he began planting the River Stone vineyard on Tucelnuit Drive, just outside Oliver. In the French tradition, he planted Bordeaux varietals—Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec—in the proportions he believed he needed for his blend.
“I knew at the beginning it was going to be a Merlot-forward, Right Bank Bordeaux style because of our cool-climate growing conditions,” Ted says. “Merlot is the most reliable ripener as opposed to Cabernet Sauvignon, which I knew would be the last to ripen.” Consequently, Merlot was the biggest block on the well-drained south-facing slopes. Subsequent experience led him to increase the planting of Cabernet Franc, another reliable ripener. He also replaced five rows of Cabernet Sauvignon with Petit Verdot in order to grow the full suite needed for a Bordeaux-type blend.
Ted says some have drawn parallels between Corner Stone and Bordeaux’s Château Cheval Blanc, although in the latter’s vineyard, Cabernet Franc takes the lead, followed by Merlot. While he does not mind the compliment inherent in that comparison, Ted says that Corner Stone is made in the New World style, closer to reds from California or Chile. “I wanted to produce wines that had concentration and weight,” he says. “I also found after a short time in France that what I didn’t want was the astringency that was still there after year six on some of the wines.”
Ted, who was born in Edmonton in 1962, began making wines from tree fruits when he was 19. Even as he began a career as a respiratory therapist, he was obsessed with wine-growing. “I built a small greenhouse by my house in Edmonton,” he says. “I bought grapevines from Eastern Canada and propagated and grew them, just so I could learn pruning and trellising and irrigation techniques.” By the late 1990s, while his wife, Lorraine, was completing a medical degree, Ted was anxious to find an Okanagan property before, in her words, “it was all gone.” Good properties were still available in 2001, when they found 3.8 hectares (9.5 acres) of raw land near Oliver, on a hill beside the Okanagan River. They moved there in 2002, planting a 3-hectare (7.5-acre) vineyard while Lorraine began a family medicine practice.
After selling grapes for several years, Ted took advantage of the superb 2009 harvest to make River Stone’s debut vintages. He was mentored in his first vintage by a consulting winemaker, New Zealand–trained Jacqueline Kemp. She remains on call when another palate is needed, but Ted is now comfortable in his ability to grow grapes and make wine.
The individual varietals are fermented in small lots that are aged separately in French oak barrels for 14 to 18 months. By blending time, Ted has identified the best barrels of each varietal. Wine not needed for Corner Stone is blended into Stones Throw, which, in the French tradition, is made for earlier consumption. He also bottles modest volumes of single varietals, offering them in the wine shop and to his wine club.
Perhaps the most notable of these single varietals is the Cabernet Franc, which grows very successfully in the River Stone vineyard. “If I knew back when I planted what I know now, I would have planted more Cabernet Franc,” Ted admits. Much like Cheval Blanc.
Because Ted makes more wines than just Corner Stone, here are notes on the winery’s current releases.
Riverstone Pinot Gris 2019 ($20.90 for 258 cases). Very slightly off-dry, the wine delivers a fruit bowl of flavour: peaches, pears and apples. The texture is full and the finish lingers. 91.
Riverstone Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($21.90 for 555 cases). This is a delicious Sancerre-style of Sauvignon Blanc, with aromas and flavours of lime, lemon and herbs. The bright acidity, well balanced with a bit of residual sugar, leaves the palate refreshed. 91.
Riverstone Cabernet Franc 2018 ($31.90). The wine, aged 14 months in French oak, begins with classic aromas of blackberry and red currant. On the palate, the flavours are redolent with dark berries including cherries and blueberries. The texture is full and ripe and the finish is long. 91.
Riverstone Merlot 2018 ($25.90). This wine was aged in French oak barrels (33% new) for about 18 months. The wine begins with aromas of cassis and vanilla. On the palate, it delivers flavours of black cherry, black currant and plum. The wine benefits from decanting. 91.
Riverstone Stones Throw 2017 ($29.90). This is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot, aged 14 months in French oak (33% new). The wine benefits from being decanted. That opens the berry aromas and the ripe texture. There are aromas and flavours of black cherry, black currant mingled with chocolate and vanilla. 92.
Riverstone Corner Stone 2017 ($38.90). This is 33% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Franc, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Malbec, 4% Petit Verdot, aged 18 months in French Oak barrels (33% new). The wine is elegant and complex. It begins with aromas of cassis, black cherry ands blueberry. Rich on the palate, it delivers flavours of black cherry and black currant with a note of chocolate and vanilla on the finish. 94.