Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Greata Ranch gets its own personality

Photo: Greata Ranch's lakeside winery 

You might call Greata Ranch Estate Winery a born-again winery even though it is 10 years old this year.

“We want to give Greata its own personality,” says Gordon Fitzpatrick, the president of CedarCreek Estate Winery, which owns Greata Ranch.

That means making wines there that are different from most of the wines in the CedarCreek portfolio. Darryl Brooker, who also is CedarCreek’s winemaker, has made a reserve Chardonnay and a reserve Pinot Noir for Greata Ranch.

In April, he is putting down a cuvée (70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay) for a sparkling wine that Greata Ranch plans to release for Christmas, 2015. And Greata Ranch will plant some Pinot Meunier this year, giving him another of the classic Champagne varieties.

This will be the first sparkling wine from either CedarCreek or Greata Ranch, perhaps because CedarCreek finally has a winemaker with sparkling wine experience.

Darryl Brooker

“I was making 10,000 cases a year of traditional method sparkling in Ontario,” says Darryl. The Australian-trained winemaker made bubble (among other wines) during his five years at Hillebrand Estate Winery before he moved to CedarCreek in 2010. “It has been three years. I have the itch for sparkling again.”

There is, however, a bit of déjà vu about the reserve wines. Six years ago, the winemaker then at Greata Ranch, Corrie Krehbiehl, produced first-rate reserve Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Those wines were part of a project linked to a luxury 500-unit condominium development. When the 2008 recession stopped that development in its tracks, the reserve program also died. Greata Ranch went back to offering winery visitors much the same wines that they could get at CedarCreek.

The Greata Ranch winery and vineyard are south of Peachland, on a bench overlooking Okanagan Lake. This is a storied property. The history is recounted in A Wine Journal, a privately published book about CedarCreek and the Fitzpatrick family:

The property is named after George W. Greata, a British immigrant who arrived in the Okanagan in 1895 after a short stay at Souris in   Manitoba.  After securing water rights and building an irrigation line from a nearby creek, Greata planted the first apple trees in 1901. George Greata sold the ranch in 1910 and it was run for the next fifty-five years by John T. Long, another British immigrant, and his two sons.

The Long family vastly expanded fruit production, building a large packing plant on piles extending from the shore into the lake, with a wharf so that rail cars loaded with fruit could be barged to the closest railhead. Because it was impractical to pump irrigation water steeply uphill from the lake, the Longs secured rights for water from Brenda Lake high in the mountains west of the ranch, transporting the water through a pipeline more than forty kilometres long. A 1949 article in the Family Herald and Weekly Star reported that the orchard's average annual crop totalled 485 tons of cherries, pears, apricots, plums and peaches; and the packing house also handled 25,000 cases of apples from the area each year.  The enterprise run by the Long brothers was a major business in its time, with about 75 full-time employees. “The Ranch is entirely mechanized and the barns formerly used for horses now house modern machinery,” marvelled the Family Herald reporter.

Orchardist Elwyn Cross had the misfortune to buy the ranch just in time for the very hard 1965/66 winter to kill many of the fruit trees. Over the next 28 years, the 110-acre property went through several owners until its waterfront was given over to squatters’ shacks while the rest became an unofficial dump.

Senator Ross Fitzpatrick bought the ranch in 1994. He recalled its glory days, having visited there with his father, a packing house manager who bought some of Greata’s fruit. The senator decided to plant about 32 acres of grapes, figuring that grapevines would flourish where peaches formerly had thrived.

The senator had entered the wine business in 1986 by buying struggling Uniacke Estate Winery in East Kelowna and re-launching it as CedarCreek. As that winery moved into its second decade, it needed the grapes that Greata Ranch could supply. (Subsequently, CedarCreek has developed two vineyards as well near Osoyoos.)

 The opening of a boutique winery at the ranch in 2003 was thrust upon the senator when the tourists began peeling off the nearby highway, driving through the vineyard to knock at vineyard manager Merle Lawrence’s door, looking for wine. The tasting room, with its bucolic lake views, remains a favourite stop for wine tourists, particularity since the highway was widened and a safe turn-in lane was created.

The 2006 foray into making reserve wines for Greata Ranch was intended to be a sweetener in the proposed Greata Ranch Vineyard Estates. Buyers of units in the estates would also have preferred access to the wines. About 800 cases were made in the first year, with the long term plan calling for a 5,000-case winery. The project stalled when the real estate development stalled.

While the condominium project has not yet been revived, there are plans now to put caves under the tasting room for maturing sparkling wines. As well, Darryl has begun crafting wines for Greata Ranch that are not just an echo of what CedarCreek is doing.

“We will transform the little winery under the wine shop into a little sparkling cave and release the wines under the Greata label,” Gordon says. “It will give people who drive by Greata more reasons to stop.”

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Domaine de Chaberton makes sparks with AC wines

Photo: Domaine de Chaberton's Eugene Kwan

At times, Domaine de Chaberton Estates Winery in Langley Township flies below the radar a little too much.

Last July, the winery released two ultra-premium reds with so little publicity (if any) that they did not come to my attention until year-end and then did not get tasted for a few more months.

These small-lot wines, under the new AC label, mark a significant step forward in terms of quality, packaging and price. Vancouver lawyer Eugene Kwan, one of two partners in Domaine de Chaberton, tells me there are other changes coming, including one more AC red, and a refreshing of the winery’s labels this fall.

Eugene’s partner is Hong Kong businessman and wine lover Anthony Cheng – hence the AC on the labels of the new wines.

Anthony and Eugene, who had worked together on other real estate transactions, bought Domaine de Chaberton in 2005. Anthony had been trying to buy property in Provence but the deal fell through. Eugene suggested he look at Okanagan wineries. “His initial reaction was that B.C. wines are crap,” Eugene recalls.

But Eugene discovered that Domaine de Chaberton was being sold by the founders, Claude and Inge Violet. He looked at the books, liked what he saw and persuaded Anthony to become a partner because knew more about wine.

Domaine de Chaberton, which opened in 1991, is based on a 46-acre vineyard entirely planted to white varieties. To this day, the winery is better known for its whites. Its best-selling wines are made from Bacchus, a grape that emerged in 1972 from plant breeding at Geilweilerhof, a German research station. It has proved a good cool-climate grape, producing fruity aromatic wines. Domaine de Chaberton likely has the largest Bacchus planting in British Columbia.

The winery gets its red grapes from the south Okanagan. The Violets opened the winery just as the “French Paradox” – red wine and the Mediterranean diet are good for the heart – was driving a new demand for red wines. To get red grapes, the Violets in 1995 partnered with the Toor brothers to convert their orchards on Black Sage Road to vineyard. The Toors went on to develop their own winery, Desert Hills, but they have continued to be one of Domaine de Chaberton’s main suppliers of Okanagan grapes.

From the start of his partnership with Eugene, Anthony’s ambition has been to produce premium reds patterned on the style of the Bordeaux reds he was collecting. He has also changed his mind about B.C. wines, having tasted the dramatically improved wines now being made.

“The AC Series are the first major step [for his ambitions with Domaine de Chaberton],” Eugene says. “He thinks he is headed in the right direction.”

Of course, some credit for these wines also goes to Elias Phiniotis, Chaberton's veteran consulting winemaker, and Barbara Hall, who joined 18 months ago as associate winemaker and who has just been promoted to winemaker.

The AC wines are built on a Merlot platform. The number on the label signals the percentage of Merlot in the blend. The one yet to be released is called AC 100. The first releases all are from 2008 because the wines are given at least 17 months in barrel, benefitting from long bottle aging before release.

Here are notes on two AC wines and on 10 other releases. These include some under the winery’s Canoe Cove label. Since the wines under that label have not been particularly distinctive from the Domaine de Chaberton wines, don’t be surprised if Canoe Cove is phased out during the current rebranding exercise.

Domaine de Chaberton Bacchus 2011 ($15.99). The winery makes both a dry and an off-dry Bacchus; the dry is sold out. This one has just enough sweet fruit to make superb as an aperitif. It is a veritable fruit salad on the nose and on the palate, tasting of orange, peach and apple with spice on the finish. 89.

Domaine de Chaberton Unoaked Chardonnay 2011 ($13.99). Has Chardonnay fallen so much out of fashion that it should be priced $2 less than Bacchus? This bargain has appealing tangerine and apricot aromas. On the palate, it is also a fruit salad, with flavours of peaches, mangoes and sweet grapefruit. It is crisp and refreshing on the finish. 90.

Domaine de Chaberton Gewürztraminer  2011 ($16.99). This wine begins with the classic aroma of spice and lychee. On the palate, there are flavours of lychee, sweet grapefruit and even apricot, with spice on the finish. The wine is so fruity as to seem off-dry – but it is not. 89.

Domaine de Chaberton Pinot Gris 2011 ($16.99). This is a juicy-textured white with flavours of apples, pears and peaches. There is a hint of anise on the finish. The soft acidity leaves the impression that the wine is off dry. 89.

Domaine de Chaberton Merlot 2009 ($24.99). From the Okanagan’s best vintage in that decade, here is a big, dark Merlot with aromas of blueberry, black cherry and vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of blueberry, plum and black cherry. The long ripe tannins add to the appeal of this tasty red. 89.

Domaine de Chaberton Gamay Noir 2011 ($16.99). This varietal is somewhat under-appreciated which explains why most wineries give it a moderate price. This wine has aromas and flavours of cherry with a smoky note. It seemed medium bodied on first opening it but became fuller with exposure to air. 88.

Domaine de Chaberton Syrah 2008 ($29.99). The time in bottle has given this delicious wine a polished texture. It begins with aromas and flavours of black cherry and spice, with a touch of black pepper on the finish. 90.

Domaine de Chaberton AC 50 2008 ($45 for 163 cases). The AC wines are an impressive new label for this winery. This is a blend of equal parts Merlot and Cabernet Franc. It begins with aromas of spicy black currants. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant, vanilla, coffee and tobacco. The firm but ripe tannins suggest this wine has potential to age further. 91.

Domaine de Chaberton AC 70 2008 ($45 for 139 cases). This is 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a well-crafted and complex red blend with generous sweet fruit flavours that emerge with decanting. The wine begins with aromas of blackberry, black cherry and pepper, leading to flavours of black currant, plum, tobacco, coffee and vanilla. 91.

Canoe Cove Shiraz 2007 ($22.99). Soft, ripe and juicy, this is a wine for current drinking, not cellaring. It has aromas and flavours of spicy black cherries and plums. 88.

Canoe Cove Merlot 2008 ($NA). Here is a muscular Merlot with aromas of vanilla and black currants and with flavours of black currants, black cherries, plums, vanilla, cloves and liquorice. 90.

Canoe Cove Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2007 ($19.99).  This wine needed to be open for a while so that the hint of sulphur blew away to liberate the fruit aromas. It has aromas of blackberry, vanilla and spice, with flavours of bramble berries and black cherries. 87.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Kettle Valley's Barber Cabernet: the back story

Anyone with a bottle of the Barber Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 from Kettle Valley should treat it as a tribute to the late Dave Barber.

That wine – only 864 bottles were made -  represents the last vintage grown in his Naramata Vineyard before his death in July, 2010.

The Barber Vineyard is about five acres of vines on a southwest slope just above Okanagan Lake and two kilometres from Kettle Valley.

“It is a gorgeous piece of property,” says Bob Ferguson, who owns Kettle Valley with his partner, Tim Watts. “We actually tried to buy the property for years. There are two lots, one with a house and one with land for a vineyard. The people who owned it would not sell us the bare land without us buying the house. And we did not want a sec0nd house.”

Dave Barber was a Vancouver businessman who also happened to be one of Kettle Valley’s regular customers. One day in 1999 when he was at the winery, he mentioned that he had purchased the property. His interest was in owning a summer residence for his family.

“We told him we had been trying to buy it for four or five years and had no luck,” Bob recalls. “He offered to let us farm it, so we jumped at the chance.”

The Kettle Valley team planted Cabernet Sauvignon on half of the property and equal blocks of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc on the other half. The winery has continued to farm it, buying the grapes from Dave Barber and now from his estate. And they hope it is an arrangement that will go on for a long time.

Clearly, Dave was proud of what Kettle Valley was achieving. “Dave's interest in farming,” his obituary said, “… grew into a fervent hobby; he loved doting on his vineyard in Naramata, selling his Cabernet Sauvignon grapes to Kettle Valley for almost a decade.”

Kettle Valley has comparable arrangements with other Naramata Vineyards that allow them to farm for quality wines, not for big tonnage. The Barber Cabernet Sauvignon is cropped about a ton an acre. The $38 a bottle price is certainly not high enough to make that sort of viticulture economically viable. “It is because we enjoy doing it,” Bob says. “To make money on growing late ripeners like Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot in this territory, you would have to be charging way more money than the market would bear.”

But the partners just won’t compromise. “The key in Naramata with Cabernet Sauvignon and some of those other later ripening varieties,” Bob says, “is that you have to keep your tonnage down or you get all kinds of green notes.”

There certainly is no greenness in the Barber Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact, that wine and the Syrah – two of three recent releases – each have 15.2% alcohol. That shows that the grapes were fully ripe before being harvested, benefitting from the long, warm 2009 vintage.

The robust alcohol levels are not at all obvious, which speaks to Kettle Valley’s skills at growing ripe grapes and making generously-flavoured wines.

“The fruit was really, really ripe, so the tannins were soft,” Bob explains. “The full-on berry flavours and really ripe tannins mask the high alcohol. It is in balance. That is the key: if your fruit is ripe and you have those soft ripe tannins, it tends to mask the heat that goes with the alcohol.”

Here are my notes on those three releases.

Kettle Valley Viognier 2011 ($26 for 179 cases). This wine is made with grapes from a Naramata vineyard and also from a Similkameen vineyard. It begins with a lovely aroma of honey, pineapple and apricot, leading to honeyed apricot flavours. The finish, however, is dry with a refreshing acidity that gives this wine appealing crispness. 90.

Kettle Valley Syrah 2009 ($38 for 285 cases). This is a big, generous wine with so much fruit and texture that the 15.2% alcohol is not perceptible. The aromas include pepper and black cherry, with a lifted perfume from the five per cent of Viognier in the blend. On the palate, there are rich flavours of black cherry, plum, prune, vanilla and black liquorice. There is a lingering finish with a touch of white pepper. The grapes for this wine all are from Naramata vineyards. 90.


Kettle Valley Barber Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($38 for 72 cases). This is a bold Cabernet, with 15.2% alcohol but also with so much substance that one is not aware of the alcohol. It has alluring aromas of plum, black cherry and vanilla (as it should, having spent 21 months in French oak). It has a big, luscious palate of black currant, black cherry and vanilla with a hint of mint on the finish. The tannins are long and ripe. The wine is drinking well now but has the structure to age gracefully at least to 2019. It is easy to understand why Barber is a legendary Naramata vineyard. 92.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A tasting of Signorello’s Padrone

Photo: Ray Signorello Jr., Vancouver's Napa winemaker

In 1983, when winemaker Ray Signorello Jr. was 20, his father took him to Europe. It was an experience that shaped his career in wine.

In particular, there was a dinner at a fine Paris restaurant where they shared a 1945 claret from a good Bordeaux estate; clearly, Ray Signorello Sr. knew that 1945 was Bordeaux’s vintage of the century. In fact, he was so impressed that he paid $50 a bottle for the entire restaurant stock of that wine, some three cases, and had it shipped back to North America for subsequent enjoyment by the Signorello family.

These days, the family does not need to go nearly so far for fine wine. Signorello Estate Winery on the Silverado Trail in Napa produces truly first-rate Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. The flagship wine is a Cabernet Sauvignon called Padrone (Italian for patron or boss). The name was chosen in tribute to the elder Signorello, who died in 1998.

Padrone is a very limited production wine, ranging from a low of 125 cases to a high of 650 cases, depending on the vintage. It sells for $170 a bottle in British Columbia.

Ordinarily, a collectible Napa Cabernet like this might hardly ever be offered in British Columbia. Fortunately for wine collectors in British Columbia, the Signorello family moved to West Vancouver shortly after Ray Jr. was born in San Francisco in 1963. Even after developing a winery in Napa, the family never moved back.

Numerous Vancouver charities thank their good fortune that Ray Jr. lives in West Vancouver. They often hit him up for wine and, often, he comes through. During the recent Vancouver International Wine Festival, he provided some of the wine for the Gala dinner and he hosted vertical tasting of 10 vintages of Padrone. The tasting spanned vintages from 1997, the first, to 2009, which is about to be listed in British Columbia.

It even included the 2003 vintage, the rarest of all Padrone vintages because Signorello Estate Winery was among 95 California wineries that once stored their wines in a facility called Wine Central, a former submarine repair base. In the fall of 2005, an arson fire destroyed $250 million worth of wine including 15,000 cases of Signorello wines. Four cases of Padrone survived because they had remained at the winery. Since then, Signorello has built its own storage. The arsonist, who was trying to cover up a wine version of a Ponzi scheme, got a 27-year jail term last February.

It says a lot about Ray Jr.’s generosity that he would even include the 2003 Padrone in the tasting. Indeed, the winery does not make Padrone in every vintage, only in the best years, so there will always be gaps in verticals. “We make as little Padrone, or as much, as the quality allows,” Ray. Jr. says.

The Signorello family got into the wine business because, in the 1970s, Ray Sr. bought 100 acres on Silverado Trail – a very good Napa address – and planted an assortment of varietals. Initially, the intent was to sell the grapes, since Ray Sr. was fully involved in other business ventures in Vancouver.

The grape crop was so bounteous in 1985 that the Signorello family had to start making wine. A winery was built the following year.

In 1990, by which time Ray Jr. was fully engaged in the wine business, they rationalized the vineyard, planting primarily the red Bordeaux varieties. They were fortunate in their timing. Vines that had been planted in the 1970s and 1980a in Napa were found to have been planted on roots that were not resistant to phylloxera. By 1990, the industry was using rootstock that is resistant to phylloxera.

Those who find Padrone out of reach have other options for tasting Signorello-made Cabernet Sauvignon. The winery’s Napa Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is listed in British Columbia at about $100 a bottle. As well, Edge Winery, which Ray Jr. helped start in 2001, has a $30 Cabernet Sauvignon in the British Columbia market.

In most vintages, Padrone has been a blend of 75% to 89% Cabernet Sauvignon, with small percentages of Merlot and Cabernet Franc completing the blends. Recently, Signorello has decided to drop Merlot from the blend. “It is not that it is bad,” he says. “It is just not adding anything to the blend.” Cabernet Franc, on the other hand, stays in the wine in top years.

However, the 2009 Padrone, soon to arrive in British Columbia, is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. It was also one of my favourite wines at the tasting – and believe me, it was tough pick favourites. This is a bold wine, with aromas of spice, blackberry, cherry and vanilla exploding dramatically from the glass. Rich in texture, the wine delivers all those flavours along with red liquorice and spice on the finish. I expect it will peak about 2019 and then hold for many years. 95.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Bolgheri on a budget (almost)

 Photo: Tenuta Argentiera's Jeanette Servidio

There is a small vineyard area on Italy’s Tuscan coast called Bolgheri that has more in common with Bordeaux than with Tuscany.

This appellation is dominated not by Sangiovese – as it was years ago -  but rather by Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The producers here make red wines every bit as elegant and collectible as Bordeaux’s top reds.

The fifth largest winery in the appellation, Tenuta Argentiera, recently sent its sales and marketing manager, Jeanette Servidio, to host vertical tastings in various cities, including Vancouver, of six vintages of its flagship wine, Argentiera Bolgheri Superiore, along with two other reds it makes.

They are worth seeking out as exemplars of the superb quality of Bolgheri reds. Because Tenuta Argentiera is not as well known as some other producers, its flagship wine is not nearly as expensive as Sassicaia, the wine that put Bolgheri on the map.

Tenuta Argentiera Bolgheri Superiore 2008 is available in private stores in Vancouver for about $70 a bottle. The British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch lists three better-known Bolgheri wines. Sassicaia is $199 a bottle; Ornellaia is $190; and a Bolgheri from Guado al Tasso is $94. I can’t imagine how much Gaja’s Ca’ Marcanda would sell for if it were listed.

The roots of Sassicaia go back to 1944 when Italian Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta planted Cabernet Sauvignon in the region now known as Bolgheri. It was then a variety not allowed in any Italian appellation. However, he was not producing a commercial wine but only a very fine wine for personal consumption in his household.

In time, the Marchese’s son and a nephew, Piero Antinori, convinced him to release the wine commercially, beginning with the 1968 vintage. Ten years later, Hugh Johnson and two other British wine writers organized a blind tasting of Sassicaia 1972 against a number of Bordeaux reds. Sassicaia won, drawing serious consumer and collector interest to Bolgheri.

Such were the appellation rules in Tuscany that Cabernet-based wines like Sassicaia were sold as "table wines". It was only 1994 when DOC, or appellation, was established, enabling producers to give their wines the prestige of appellation.

DOC Bolgheri takes its name from the village of Bolgheri. Many of the vineyards are on slopes between nearby mountains and the ocean. The vineyards on the mountainside grow in stony soil: “sasso” is the Italian word for stony field that inspired the name of Sassicaia. The lower slopes have richer soil, with clay and limestone. The long hang time here is ideal for maturing late-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon.

This appellation, the only one in Italy based on French grape varieties, is fairly small, with about 1,000 hectares of grapes. However, there are 48 wineries here, with Tenuta Argentiera farming 60 hectares. The winery is named for the silver mines that once operated in the hills.

Argentiera’s first vintage was 2003 and is no longer available. Ms. Servidio’s vertical consisted of wines from 2004 through 2009. Some six-bottle verticals can be purchased through the winery’s Vancouver agent, Appellation Wine Marketing.

Allowing for vintage variations, the wines have a familial and elegant personality. The aromas and flavours have an abundance of black cherry, blackberry, coffee, vanilla and, in the case of 2009, even a touch of licorice. None scored less than 91, either on my score sheet or from other wine critics.

The savoury Tenuta Argentiera Bolgheri Superiore 2008 (92 points) is a full-bodied and powerful red from an excellent vintage. The 2009, not yet in this market, is already appealing but needs a few years in the cellar to develop fully. That being said, the winery holds the wines, after 18 months in barrel, in bottle another year before releasing them. That means the impatient can enjoy the wines on release.

Argentiera makes two other reds as well which are offered by some private wine stores in the Vancouver market. These are bargain Bolgheri wines.

Tenuta Argentiera Poggio al Ginepri 2009 ($29) is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot. It also has the elegance that is this winery’s house style, along with aromas of spice, red fruit and vanilla, with flavours of red fruit and with luscious textures. There are notes on spice and licorice on the finish. 90

Tenuta Argentiera Villa Donoratica 2010 ($37). This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. The wine is bold, with brambly blackberry and cherry aromas; with black cherry and blackberry flavours and with a long, savoury and spicy finish. 91.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Stoneboat Vineyards releases its first sparkling wine

    Photo: Tim (l), Julie and Lanny Martiniuk (r) with Stoneboat Piano

The newest sparkling wine in British Columbia is Piano Brut from Stoneboat Vineyards. The winery poured the $22.90 wine, its first sparkler, during the recent Vancouver International Wine Festival.

There are interesting back stories to this wine. It was created with the help of a federal grant that enabled the winery to acquire the skill and the technology of the Charmat method.

I was a bit surprised when I read that Stoneboat had received a grant to create its new sparkling wine with a technology that is more than a century old. The explanation is that no Okanagan winery has used the Charmat method in a generation. The team at Stoneboat had to learn all over again how it works and what equipment is needed.

“We have been looking at this for about four years,” says Lanny Martiniuk, the long-time Oliver grape grower whose family opened Stoneboat in 2007.

Lanny’s decision to add a sparkling wine to the Stoneboat portfolio was accelerated last year when a winery that has purchased his grapes for years warned it might not need them any longer. There is a rising surplus of grapes in the Okanagan.

“Maybe we should look at more ways of utilizing our grapes,” Lanny concluded.

The Charmat method is named for a French scientist, Eugène Charmat, who in 1907 perfected a method of fermenting wines in bulk that actually had been invented in Italy. He was an enologist at the University of Montpellier, which is still a major wine school.

The process is sometimes also called the Martinotti method, named for Federico Martinotti, who was a director of an experimental wine institute in Asti. Here in the late 19th Century, he worked on the fermentation of sparkling wine in a tank; this is the method that was perfected by Charmat.

Today, it is used in the production of Prosecco and other moderately priced sparkling wines.

It is, in fact, one of four methods of getting bubbles into wine. The cheapest is by putting wine in tanks, pressuring the tanks with carbon dioxide and then bottling without loss of pressure. The disadvantage is that the bubbles are not very long lasting in the glass.

Two methods require fermentation in bottle. The méthode champenoise is used in Champagne and everywhere else for premium sparkling wine. The wines, with fine and long lasting bubbles, are sold in the same bottles in which the secondary ferment takes place. There is the transfer method in which the wines are fermented in bottles that are then emptied, under pressure, into tanks for racking and blending, before being transferred, still under pressure, into new bottles.

The Charmat method strikes a happy medium between the complexity of bottle fermentation and the simplicity of carbonating.

It is ironic that Stoneboat had to relearn a process that once was licensed to a Canadian winery. In 1928, Canadian Wineries of Niagara Falls, a predecessor to Chateau-Gai Wines, got a 25-year license to use the Charmat method in North America.

Chateau-Gai was so pleased with its “Canadian Champagne” that, in 1955, it arranged for a store window display of the product in Paris and then milked the publicity back in Canada. The headline on an article in the Globe & Mail Magazine was: “He Sells Ontario’s Wines in the very heart of France.” Champagne producers were outraged and litigated for the next quarter century to stop Canadians from using Champagne on the labels of their sparkling wines, especially those made by the Charmat method.

In the 1970s, Chateau-Gai was acquired by Labatts, along with Casabello Wines in Penticton. If my memory serves, Casabello had Charmat tanks. Both Chateau-Gai and Casabello were acquired by what became known as Vincor, which closed the wineries and likely scrapped the Charmat tanks. The sparkling wines made by Sumac Ridge and by Jackson-Triggs employ the traditional Champagne method.

Stoneboat calls its wine Piano Brut, no doubt inspired by the grand piano in the winery’s tasting room. Several members of the family are good musicians.

To produce the wine, Stoneboat had to import two 5,000-litre pressure tanks from Italy. Two are needed so that the wine, when it has finished fermenting, can be racked to the other tank while remaining under pressure. The capacity of the tanks limits the production to about 500 cases of wine in each production cycle. Stoneboat also plans to produce a sparkling rosé this summer.

Piano Brut is built around Pinot Blanc and Müller-Thurgau, a very good blend that yields a slightly aromatic wine with flavours of citrus and apple and with a crisp, tangy finish. The Charmat process captures fresh, fruity flavours and minimizes yeast notes commonly associated with bottle-fermented bubbly.