Photo: Cbaberton winemaker Andrea Lee
At Langley’s Chaberton Estate Winery, Andrea Lee, the winemaker there since 2015, has brilliantly revived Madeleine Sylvaner as an estate-grown white wine. And she is working on Madeleine Angevine, a sister variety in the Chaberton vineyard.
The late Claude Violet, the original owner of Chaberton, planted these varieties in the winery’s 40-acre vineyard in the early 1980s. He chose them, along with Bacchus and Siegerrebe, because he needed varieties that would ripen reliably in the Fraser Valley.
For whatever reason, the Madeleines were eventually dropped from the portfolio as varietals, to be relegated as constituents in blended whites. Andrea restored Madeleine Sylvaner as a named variety in 2015. She will do the same with Madeleine Angevine when she is satisfied she has mastered the grape.
You could count the wineries with these grapes on the fingers of one hand (Recline Ridge in the Shuswap; Venturi-Schulze and Zanatta in the Cowichan Valley). “If you take care even of a humble variety, you can make some incredible things,” winemaker Giordano Venturi once told me.
I described these somewhat obscure varietals in my 1998 book, Chardonnay and Friends.
Madeleine Angevine was developed in 1857 by a Loire nurseryman named Moreau-Robert. He sought to create new varieties simply by planting grape seeds and selecting the chance varieties that came, since the grape seed is genetically unpredictable in the progeny that results from this method. Three varieties emerged that are still grown, often for table grapes rather than wine grapes: the other two are Madeleine Sylvaner and Madeleine Royale.
Other sources maintain that Madeleine Angevine -- the Moreau-Robert nursery was at the city of Angers -- resulted from a cross in which Madeleine Royale (bred in 1845) was one parent. “Why do they call it Madeleine?” Domaine de Chaberton’s Claude Violet said rhetorically. “Because they are very, very early plants and they are blooming on the feast of Saint Madeleine [in early May].” This vine has the rare attribute of being almost totally “female” which means that, unlike other vines, it is not self-pollinating but must be planted near to other varieties in order to be fruitful. Madeleine Angevine is a mainstay for English wine production.
Madeleine Sylvaner was also named for the saint. Sylvaner was appended because the plant breeder believed the wine was reminiscent of an unrelated Alsace varietal called Sylvaner.
“It had not been released as a varietal since the 1990s,” Andrea says of Madeleine Sylvaner. “I brought the wine back in 2015 as single varietal. We made about 300 cases. Sales really picked up. Restaurants liked how it is lean and refreshing, and not too overtly aromatic. It is really quite delicate and it matches well with the food. As I am learning to work with this grape, I like to balance its delicacy and also build a little more complexity in the layers. I quite enjoy the fruit up front, with mouth-watering acidity. It finishes off with minerality. I like to give this wine texture.”
The quality of the 2016 Madeleine Sylvaner took me by surprise when I tasted it recently with Andrea. I had not been much of a fan of the variety in the 1990s. Clearly, there have been significant improvements in both the viticulture and winemaking.
Andrea was born in Hong Kong but grew up in Summerland after her parents emigrated there. She took a degree in molecular biology and biochemistry. She was doing a “tedious” internship with a pharmaceutical company until she was caught up in a recessionary downsizing. She travelled to New Zealand and, but for a car accident, would have worked in vineyards. Instead, after recuperating at home, she started working in the Sumac Ridge wine shop.
She helped do the crush at Chaberton in 2008 and then took a master’s degree in viticulture and winemaking at the University of Adelaide in Australia. By the time she returned to Chaberton as the head winemaker, she had accumulated several vintages of experience in both Australia and in the Okanagan.
The largest winery in the Fraser Valley, Chaberton now produces an extensive portfolio, both from the estate vineyard and with fruit from selected vineyards in the Okanagan and the Similkameen.
Here are notes on current releases. Most of the wines are labelled “reserve.”
There are no notes here on the winery’s limited production AC wines, which sell at the winery for $50 each. There are just three vintages so far and I plan on tasting them separately. AC are the initials for Anthony Cheng, one the winery’s owners. He takes a personal hand in blending. Each is based on a platform of Merlot.
Chaberton Reserve Madeleine Sylvaner 2016 ($15.75). The wine begins with floral aromas leading to flavours of apple and cantaloupe melon. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 90.
Chaberton Reserve Siegerrebe 2016 ($16.75). This highly aromatic white is a cross between Madeleine Angevine and Gewürztraminer. The aromas and the flavours are intense, with hints of lychee mingled with ginger. The wine is off-dry but well-balanced and suitable as a pairing with Asian cuisines. 91.
Chaberton Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($16.75). The grapes for this wine are from the Blind Creek Vineyard in the Similkameen Valley. It has aromas and flavours of tropical fruit with lime and herbs on the finish. A dash of Muscat in the blend lifts the aromas. The finish is crisp. 90.
Chaberton Reserve Pinot Gris 2016 ($16.75). This wine blends Okanagan and Similkameen fruit. Some skin contact has given the wine the pale pink hue of a Provençal rosé. “When you close your eyes, it still tastes like a white wine,” Andrea says. It has aromas and flavours of raspberry and strawberry mingled with citrus and pear. 90.
Chaberton Reserve Bacchus 2016 ($15.75). These are estate-grown grapes from old vines. This aromatic white wine is 86% Bacchus, 8% Pinot Blanc, 4% Reichensteiner and 2% Muscat. Slightly off dry, the wine begins with floral aromas and flavours of lime and grapefruit. 90.
Chaberton Reserve Chardonnay 2016 ($19.95). Grapes for this wine are from the Golden Mile appellation. The wine is a combination of barrel fermented and stainless steel fermented. The oak has given this is a lovely and delicate note of vanilla in the aroma. On the palate, there are buttery flavours of orange and ripe pineapple with a hint of butterscotch on the finish. A textbook example of letting the oak support the fruit, not cover it. 91.
Chaberton Reserve Gamay Noir 2016 ($16.95). This dark and spicy red is made with grapes grown in the estate vineyard. Andrea left the wine on the skins for 26 days, extracting flavours of cherries and cranberries. The low alcohol (11.8%) gives this wine a delicate footprint on the palate. The note of white pepper punctuates a lingering finish. 90.
Chaberton Reserve Merlot 2014 ($22.95). There are Okanagan and Similkameen grapes in the wine. It was aged for 21 months in second-use oak barrels. There is touch of vanilla both in the aroma and the finish, sandwiching aromas and flavours of black cherry, plum and black currant. The long, ripe tannins give the wine a long, polished finish. 90.
Chaberton Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($22.95). Grapes selected from Oliver, Cawston and Naramata vineyards were used to make this wine, which was aged 19 months in new French and American oak barrels. The aromas are bright and floral, with notes of cherry and cassis. On the palate, there are flavours of dark berry fruit, plum and prunes. 90.
Chaberton Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (unreleased). The cassis aromas give this wine a lifted, floral aroma, leading to flavours of cherry and black currant. On the finish, there are hints of vanilla and chocolate. 92.
Chaberton Reserve Cabernet Franc 2014 (unreleased). This wine, which was aged 23 months in new oak, is a classic Cabernet Franc – packed with brambly aromas and flavours: blackberry, raspberry, cherry and cassis. 92.
Chaberton Reserve Meritage 2014 ($25.95). This is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc, with grapes sourced from Black Sage and Naramata Bench vineyards. The wine was aged for 22 months in new French and American oak barrels. The wine begins with aromas of cassis and black cherry, leading to flavours of black cherry, plum and black olives. The finish is long and harmonious, with hints of sweet fruit, leather and tobacco. 92.
Chaberton Reserve Syrah 2013 ($28.95). This wine, which was aged 20 months in new French and American oak barrels, is a bold, dark wine beginning with aromas of fig and prune with a gamy note. The wine has a rich palate, with flavours of black cherry and figs. The finish is savoury, with notes of truffles and white pepper. 90.
Chaberton Reserve Ortega Dessert Wine 2016 ($N/A). The winery produced just 650 litres of wine from botrytis-affected estate grown Ortega grapes. The wine begins with honeyed floral aromas, leading to flavours recalling fruit pie. Not overly sweet, the wine is balanced to finish clean and fresh. 91.
Chaberton Tribute 2013 ($24.95 for 375 ml). This is a barrel-aged fortified wine made with Syrah. It is a rich, juicy, figgy wine with mocha on the finish. 90.