Mention British Columbia wines to a wine enthusiast and you’re likely to engage in a conversation about the Okanagan Valley east of the Cascades. This region, after all, contains around half of the 250-plus wineries in the province. When coupled with the vineyards in the adjacent Similkameen Valley, the area is responsible for over 90 percent of the wines produced in British Columbia.
But situated west of the Cascades is another significant provincial wine region: the Fraser Valley. And within the valley is a hidden gem, of sorts, at Chaberton Estate Winery in the township of Langley, British Columbia. Chaberton Estate is home to the region’s oldest and largest vineyards, and the facility also includes a tasting room, retail store, and world-class restaurant.
“There are a lot of people in Vancouver (BC) that still feel they have to drive 4-1/2 hours to get to the wineries,” notes General Manager Brian Ensor, when in fact, Chaberton Estate is only about 30 miles southeast of metropolitan Vancouver. From stateside, it takes just a short, one-hour or so drive from Bellingham (depending on border wait times), and the winery is easily accessible from either the SR-543/Blaine or Lynden/Aldergrove crossings.
Chaberton produced its first vintage in 1991 and current owners, Eugene Kwan and Anthony Cheng, purchased the winery in 2005. Since that time, they’ve expanded the estate vineyards to approximately 50 acres, while production from all vineyard sources now totals about 48,000 cases annually. That currently makes it the fourth largest winery in British Columbia.
Winemaker Barbara Hall brings a wealth of experience to Chaberton, having worked at a number of British Columbia wineries including Quail’s Gate, before assuming head winemaking duties in 2013.
Described by Ensor as somewhere “between passionate and obsessiveand we wouldn’t have it any other way,” she is joined by Elias Phiniotis, Ph. D., a consulting oenologist who has been with the winery since its inception. Even owner Cheng lends a hand in the winemaking process, working with Hall and Phiniotis to produce the winery’s “AC series” of Merlot-based, Bordeaux-style wines.
In addition to Merlot, the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys provide Chaberton with its warmer weather grapes including Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris, to name a few. Ensor notes that winemaker Hall “makes several trips to the Okanagan every year and walks the vineyards with the growers. (Even) as much as she hates snakes, she’ll put on her boots and double check on things” by monitoring the progress of the grapes and working closely with growers.
The winery also prides itself on its estate vineyard wines, particularly those produced from the Siegerrebe and Bacchus grapes.
A hybrid of Riesling, Müller-Thurgau and Sylvaner, Bacchus is, “without a doubt, the wine we do bestand it’s Fraser Valley wine at its best,” notes Ensor. A perennial gold medalist and favorite of many, “I would call it Chaberton’s DNAwe sell so much of it. It’s beautiful, aromatic, easy to drink and great with food.”
Bacchus grapes account for over one-third of those grown at the estate vineyards and the wines it yields are floral, spicy, and somewhat full-bodied. The winery currently produces about 6,000 cases a year of Bacchus in an off-dry style and 1,000 cases a year in a newly released dry style (up from last year’s production of 450 cases that sold out in just three months, according to Ensor).
Planning a visit to the facility can be approached from a number of different angles. One suggestion is the self-guided, Langley Circle Farm Tour (circlefarmtour.com), which gives visitors a sample of the rural flavor they’re likely to find in the Fraser Valley. The tour includes wine tasting at participating wineries, local dairy tours and artisan cheese tasting, and a chance to visit a few of the many nearby nurseries and garden centers.
If you want to keep your focus on wineries only, Ensor points out that there are, “seven or eight in the area and if you add in fruit wineries, that number is closer to ten or eleven. It’s really easy to make a day of it,” he says.
So what makes Chaberton Estate stand out in comparison to other wineries in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest? For starters, Ensor notes that the wine tasting is still complimentary. There’s also a spacious, beautifully landscaped area that can accommodate large groups and where wine purchased on the premises can be enjoyed by the glass or bottle. The tasting room is also open late; until 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Then there’s the added feature of the estate’s adjacent Bacchus Bistro. Executive Chef Ashley Chisham started there as a sous chef and has now been with the Zagat-rated “excellent” restaurant for eleven years. “He’s incredibly creative,” says Ensor, “and does a phenomenal job. He’s probably best known for his beef bourguignon. And his duck confit is also amazing.” Chisham and Hall join forces to plan a number of winemaker dinners at the restaurant each year to showcase the complimentary and contrasting features of the food and wines available at the winery.
Ensor adds, “The restaurant Ashley runs is impeccable. If I get a complaint, it’s because someone can’t get a table.” Needless to say, reservations are highly recommended.
There’s also usually a wait during the spring and summer months for the outdoor patio tables that overlook the Bacchus vines planted next to the restaurant. And with the exception of a sparkling wine, everything on an extensive wine list is produced at the estate. That gives diners the option of purchasing a favorite bottle or two at the tasting room to take home with them on the way out, time permitting.
Delicious, varied, and affordable wines, a bucolic setting, and first-class dining: Chaberton Estate winery provides all this and more at its Fraser Valley location. It’s enough to make it the topic of conversation during your next discussion about British Columbia’s wine country; rewarding wine enthusiasts and casual passersby alike with a food and wine experience they won’t soon forget.