After two visits to Summerland winery 8th Generation Vineyards during our fall bus tours – the most recent in 2013 – the BCWAS was very pleased to welcome owner Stefanie Schales to our neighbourhood this month for a spring sit-down tasting. Stefanie and her husband Bernd have owned their oft-visited winery since 2007, after emigrating from Germany and acquiring an Okanagan Falls vineyard in 2003. The name is spot-on, as both of their families have contributed to the wine industry since the mid-eighteenth century. In fact, an ancestor of Stefanie’s born in 1691 is recorded to have served as a wine inspector, making her the tenth generation in the business. Bernd was originally scheduled to join us in Vancouver as well, but given this season’s rousing start his attention was needed in the vineyards supervising yet another early bud-break!
While Bernd received formal oenological education in Germany, Stefanie originally trained there as an architect. Her resulting organizational, detail-oriented skillset has rendered Bernd extremely grateful she serves as “the very epicenter of managing both our business, as well as our young, energetic family.” After time spent in the German, New Zealand, and South African wine industries the Schales discovered the beauty and potential of British Columbia during a 2001 vacation. As John Schreiner has detailed in his Okanagan Wine Tour Guide, plans to home-base at the initial Okanagan Falls vineyard were revised when the opportunity arose to acquire the former Adora Winery property in Summerland. Since then, 8th Generation has become an essential and obvious stop for wine fans as they pass by via the Okanagan’s most important artery (Highway 97).
With several chilled sparkling, white, and Rosé wines leading the evening’s presentation Stefanie wasted little time after introductions before detailing the portfolio and imploring sample sips. The most recent incarnations of the winery’s wildly successful Frizzante were foremost as we awakened our palates with 2014 “Confidence” Rosé and 2015 “Integrity” white. The first release of Frizzante Chardonnay in 2009 has led to the current pair of crown-capped, etched glass-bottled blends. The brand new Integrity comprises 52% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Gris, and 18% Kerner, bursting with lemon zest on the nose and fresh flavours of tropical fruits and Elderflower. What little remains of the older Confidence comes from a Limited Edition special production run of pure Pinot Noir, and showed off rich red berry aromas atop an off-dry but balanced cream soda mousse.
It should come as no surprise that 8th Generation is particularly enthused about Riesling, and various styles and vintages beckoned, but first Stefanie enticed us with her bone-dry Chardonnay. After a lengthy absence the oaked white returned in 2014 (following a 2013 Late Harvest), having spent four months sur lie in a mere six mixed age French barrels. The maturing vineyard in Okanagan Falls is yielding high quality grapes in ideal terroir that has been turning out some of BC’s most renowned Chardonnay: close neighbours include Blue Mountain and Noble Ridge. The newly released small lot was showing pleasant popcorn, stone fruit, and toasty oak aromas, while the buttery palate finished bright with a lemon meringue pie reminder.
Before they warmed up too much it was time for an in-depth examination of Riesling, including some informative German terminology tips. Stefanie had brought four wines from three vintages and three styles, all sourced from 30-year-old vines on the estate vineyard in Okanagan Falls. In 2013 Bernd added a new style to the portfolio in the form of the “Riesling Selection” and the small quantity remaining provided us the opportunity to taste the results. Wild fermentation and skin contact with a mere 8g/L of residual sugar provided a soft, lemon-lime palate with hints of starfruit and a mineral-driven finish. Stefanie was sure to suggest a few hours air, even full decanting, to best enjoy the Selection.
Last year 8th Generation was honoured to receive a Double Gold Medal at the All Canadian Wine Championships and the status of Best in Canada for their “regular” 2014 Riesling. Surprisingly some remains, despite the bargain price of $21, and it was a necessity for our tasting. A full 24g/L of sugar encourages the expression of tropical fruits but the wine was surprisingly balanced, mouth-watering in fact, with a long sweet finish – a textbook Riesling example for spicy Asian foods. From the 2015 vintage we also enjoyed the newly released “Classic” Riesling and 10g/L of sugar in a citrus-scented, fruit-forward “good table wine” as Stefanie put it. We were particularly lucky to also sample the 2015 Selection, still aging in bottle before a winter release. Plenty of citrus blossoms and tropical fruit aromas conjured Ehrenfelser comparisons at this young stage, while the tart apple flavours and soft, rich texture impressed yet again.
After a break for palate recovery thanks to generous cheese and charcuterie platters from our new best friends at Les Amis du Fromage, the wines got a little darker. Easing us in was brand new 2015 Pinot Meunier Rosé, a popular and highly sought-after wine sourced from the Summerland vineyard. The winery describes the 16g/L sugar content as a “dangerous sipper” and it clearly contributes to the creamy texture. Twenty-four hours of skin contact after a gentle pressing has again delivered the reliable strawberry-rhubarb and pink grapefruit profile, with a fresh and fruity palate of candied characteristics (but balancing acidity). Stefanie emphasized it will be sold out before summer, so the evening’s order sheet offer and complimentary shipping were to be prized.
While the whites are clearly king at 8th Generation, the Schales haven’t missed the opportunities afforded by the Okanagan’s diverse terroir. Varietal reds and blends have a smaller but significant place in the portfolio, offering something for everyone in the tasting room. Pinot Noir and Syrah from the Summerland vineyard are each bottled individually (plus Syrah icewine under the right conditions), and we were afforded a taste of both. The newly released 2013 Pinot Noir provided classic characteristics of red currants, mushrooms, and wet leaves on the nose, with a dry, spiced palate of cherries, raspberry, and an intense earthy finish. The 2013 Syrah offered similar archetypal aromas including leather and peppered sausages, plus tart red fruit flavours and a light, smooth texture.
A pair of blends showed two very different ways to enjoy red wine, with a nod to the Schales’ relaxed European traditions. New 2014 Cabernet-Merlot brings together 80% Merlot from the Okanagan Falls estate vineyard with 20% Cabernet Sauvignon from a Naramata Bench grower. Although Stefanie would have preferred further bottle aging, the demands of the tasting room required an earlier release than scheduled. The admittedly youthful but velvety palate yields rich, dark flavours with a vein of milk chocolate cherries flowing through the finish. Still, admirers with a modicum of patience will benefit from time for further integration. The new 2015 “Red One” offers more immediate appeal by design, in the style of summer sipper found at home in the Rheinhessen. Naramata Bench vineyards have provided unoaked Merlot and a touch of Syrah for a bottle best enjoyed chilled, perhaps even as the base of a spritzer or Sangria. In Stefanie’s opinion, the fruit forward sipper is the perfect remedy for hot summer days.
As evidence that Bernd and Stefanie are as serious about longevity as any German winemaker, she closed the tasting by recalling a recent evening opening the various bottles on display in the old tasting room before they transitioned to the new facility. Every wine, white and red, was excellent, with the exception of a 2008 Pinot Noir bottled under cork. Obviously a case for the durability and security of screwcaps, not to mention the clear quality of the Schales’ wines from even the early vintages. Hopefully there remains a few bottles of 2007 Riesling deep in the cellars of lucky BC wine aficionados to serve as additional evidence. At the very least quite a few of the latest undoubtedly found their way to shelter in member cellars thanks to Stefanie. Our thanks to the Schales family for sharing their very pleasant passion with us one more time.