River Stone Estate Winery should be on your radar by now. If you haven’t been able to try their wines, any of them, then you are missing out on the authentic boutique B.C. wine experience.
I featured them on a podcast way back in 2011 but had met owners Ted and Lorraine Kane some time before that at a dinner function. He told me about his vineyard and winery that he had been working on and I told him about this site and the podcasts that I was then planning to do. I gave him my contact information and told him to contact me when he was going to release his wine.
It was a bit of a surprise when I received a phone call a year and a half later from Ted asking if I’d like to record a podcast with his wines. We set a time and I brought my recorder over to his house to chat and taste through 4 wines that he had ready at that point – Pinot Gris, Malbec Rosé, Cabernet Franc, and Corner Stone. I have interviewed Ted often for other articles, attended parties at the winery, brought tour groups to visit the winery, performed music at events, and had some great chats with him in the years since. Ted and Lorraine came to my birthday vertical party in 2018 that featured the 5 vintages of Corner Stone that I had saved in my cellar. Ted’s birthday present was two subsequent vintages of Corner Stone – one that had just been released and the other that had just been bottled – which made a complete set of wines to taste! It was a great way to celebrate.
Now in their 10th year of production, River Stone is clearly on a high-quality path of consistency. In the decade that I’ve been experiencing River Stone wines, Ted has brought consistency to his wines without trying to gloss over the variations that come naturally from different vintages. Like great works of art, they appeal to a lot of people on many different levels. That is not easy to do.
My top picks for River Stone are:
- Corner Stone – An iconic Meritage wine of the Okanagan.
- Pinot Gris – Classy, elegant, and smooth version of this variety.
- Malbec Rosé – My “Canada Day Rosé”, mostly because of its beautiful colour. Excellent flavours.
- Cabernet Franc – Can’t get enough of this one, mostly because they don’t make very much of it.
- Milestone – a small production Cheval Blanc-style blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. I’ve never tasted it but if anyone has a bottle of this, I have an invitation to my next birthday vertical party for you…
Excerpt from the recently published Okanagan Wine Tour Guide (published by Touchwood Editions):
What makes River Stone unique is the vineyard. Visitors drive up a steep and narrow vine-hugged road to the wine shop on the hilltop. The hill that driveway climbs, and on which the vines are planted, is a mound of gravel deposited in a former geological time by the postglacial flow of the Okanagan River. This is what River Stone has in common with some of the grand cru châteaux of Bordeaux, which are also located on top of river-strewn gravel deposits.
The winery is owned by Ted and Lorraine Kane. Ted, who’s from Edmonton and was born in 1962, was so focused on wine growing that he grew grapes in a greenhouse there just to learn how. He and Lorraine, now a family physician, moved to Oliver in 2002 to plant a 2.8-hectare (7-acre) vineyard on land that, for all of its excellent viticultural qualities, had been fallow for 30 years.
Emulating Bordeaux wineries, Ted planted grape varieties needed for blending. The aspect of the vineyard—rows descend down the hill in three directions—enabled Ted to plant each variety on the most advantageous slope. The wine that Ted envisioned is called Corner Stone and debuted with the 2009 vintage. It was dominated by Merlot for the first four vintages, peaking at 59% of the blend in 2010. Since 2014, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc have taken over the lead roles in Corner Stone.
That change reflects the ongoing refinement of the wines. “For me, the most fun is to think about a new experiment that I’m going to try,” Ted says. That sense of discovery led to two additional wines: Stones Throw, a Merlot-dominated blend, and Milestone, an exclusive small-lot blend of equal parts Cabernet Franc and Merlot inspired by Bordeaux’s Château Cheval Blanc. Milestone is produced only in exceptional years and in very limited volume.
The hilltop is crowned with the Kane family’s home and the garage that functioned as a winery until 2015. Production was moved in that vintage to a new building at the bottom of the property’s eastern slope. The expansion freed up Ted’s garage for the first time. But, he notes, “it just fills up with stuff, like everyone’s garage.” The wine shop, however, still occupies the basement of the house. It leads to an expansive picnic area and a beautiful garden that is surrounded by vines.