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Quebec’s PicBois winery making waves, plus B.C.’s River Stone wines, LCBO picks

By Rick VanSickle

The goal at Vignoble Du PicBois is to push the boundaries of winemaking in Quebec by using grapes best suited to its extreme grape-growing climate.

Also in this Canadian Wine Report: Our first look at the wines from B.C.’s River Stone Estate Winery, and our picks from the Vintages release on Saturday, including two Henry of Pelham of wines and a Chardonnay from Southbrook.

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And while that includes an array of hybrid grapes like Seyval Blanc, Marquette, and Vidal, it also incorporates noble varieties such as Quebec’s first Syrah, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Gris as climate change allows for a longer growing season.

PicBois, located in heart of Brigham in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, started with a modest production of 8,000 bottles in 2023, it has scaled up production significantly, projecting to bottle 40,000 bottles in 2024. As it increases production, it has also been racking up awards for a surprisingly well-crafted portfolio of wines.

The lineup in 2024 includes a white blend with 60% Vidal, 25% Seyval Blanc, and 15% Geisenheim, a rosé with 42% Vidal, 42% Geisenheim, and 16% Sabrevois, a “Cuvée Séduction” with 50% Pinot Gris, 30% Geisenheim, 17% Cayuga, and 3% Muscat New York, plus a red wine with 90% Marquette, and 10% Syrah, a 100% Syrah and a sparkling rosé with 45% Vidal, 45% Seyval Blanc, and 10% Syrah. The white wines are now available here with the reds to follow in July.

Andre Pollender and Danielle Cardin purchased the PicBois property in 1990, in direct view across the valley from where Pollender’s grandfather was born, and where Pollender grew up. Pollender is a partner in the vineyard and a relentless advocate for proper classifications for maple syrup in Quebec as president of the Quebec federation of maple syrup. His son, partner David Pollender, and director of operations at Vignoble du PicBois, accompanied his father who was invited to share his maple syrup expertise in Burgundy. There they participated in the harvest, and this is where David Pollender got the taste for vineyard life.

David Pollender is a master constructer spending years in charge of huge construction projects. His neighbour, friend and business partner John Baldwin, president of Vignoble du PicBois, spent 30 years running high-end restaurants, and wine education.

In 2019 they planted 1,200 plants as an “experimental patch,” where everything went well and Vignoble du PicBois was officially incorporated in March of 2021. This is when the real work began. They planted 11,000 vines in 2021 and another 5,500 in 2022, bringing the total number of vines to a little over 17,000.

Winemaker Marc Grau had previously presided over the production at the Orpailleur vineyard. His deep understanding of the winemaking process has been valuable in achieving the goal of “producing the best wines in Quebec.”

With the 2023 vintage, PicBois introduced Quebec’s first 100% Syrah wine, bottled in late August of 2023 and being released this July. With a modest production of 8,000 bottles in 2023, it marked a promising beginning.

Wines in Niagara was impressed with the first vintage from this exciting Quebec winery tasted in 2023, and the 2024 vintage builds on that debut. Here’s what we liked:

PicBois White Wine 2023 ($22, 90 points) — The blend for this summer-perfect blend is 60% Vidal, 25% Seyval Blanc, and 15% Geisenheim. The nose shows white peach, gooseberries, wildflowers, grapefruit and is as fresh as a daisy. There’s a subtle note of stony/saline minerality on the palate with peachy/citrus notes, herbs, gooseberries, and mouthwatering acidity on the bright finish. Just add the oysters for this summer pleaser.

PicBois Rosé 2023 ($22, 87 points) — The blend for this rosé is 42% Vidal, 42% Geisenheim, and 16% Sabrevois. It shows a light copper colour in the glass and has a rather savoury/rustic nose of brambly red berries, red currants, and citrus zest. It dials down the savoury notes on the palate with more fruit-forward red berries, lemon zest and a tangy, fresh finish.

PicBois Cuvée Séduction 2023 ($22 for 500 mL, 91 points) — Presented in an Alsatian-style 500 mL bottle, this is a blend of 50% Pinot Gris, 30% Geisenheim, 17% Cayuga, and 3% Muscat New York. It shows a pale salmon colour in the glass with a highly aromatic nose of pretty red berries, red apples, fuzzy peach skin, nectarine and lemon zest. There is a touch of sweetness on the palate with savoury red berries, earthy undertones, peach, tangy citrus and mouth-watering acidity on the finish. An interesting and fun wine.

B.C.’s River Stone Estate Winery

What began as a dream in 2001, River Stone Estate Winery was founded by Ted Kane who had a love for science and a fascination with fermentation. It all started with the discovery of a bare piece of land that was near perfect for growing grapes. The winery is located in the Okanagan Valley’s Oliver region and has two distinct estate vineyards — River Rock and Boulder City vineyards — and an annual production of around 5,000 cases.

Here’s what we liked from the spring release of River Stone:

River Stone Sauvignon Blanc 2023 ($24, 88 points) — This is quite reminiscent of the New Zealand style of Sauvignon Blanc with an herbaceous nose of grapefruit, kiwi, lime, star fruit and lemon zest. It’s a bit more rounded on the palate, tempered by a touch of sweetness, followed by grapefruit, kiwi, herbs and some tropical notes chiming in with a zippy, fresh finish.

River Stone Splash 2023 ($23, 89 points) — This blend of Pinot Gris (37%), Gewurztraminer (37%) and Viognier (26%) shows a light copper colour in the glass. It has a generous nose of summer peaches, melon, lychee, grapefruit and just a hint of ginger. It’s ripe and made in an off-dry style that highlights ripe notes of orchard fruits, citrus zest and passion fruit with mouth-watering acidity on the finish. Perfect summer sipper served with salads and light dishes.

River Stone Pinot Gris 2023 ($24, 89 points) — The fruit had a short period of skin contact, giving it a copper colour in the glass. The nose shows a vibrant array of melon, pear, tropical notes and peach tart. It has a rounded, creamy texture on the palate with notes of apricot, guava, cantaloupe, ripe peaches with and a touch of sweetness that’s nicely balanced on the finish from the racy acidity.

River Stone Cabernet Franc Rosé 2023 ($25, 89 points) — This is the first Cab Franc rosé from River Stone. It shows a light cranberry colour in the glass with a nose of fresh strawberries, raspberries, cherries and hinting at herbs and lime zest. All those red berries and more defined herbs come together on the palate with just a hint of sweetness on the vibrant finish.

River Stone Sparkling White Merlot 2023 ($28, 88 points) — The juice was separated from the skins to minimize colour transfer and the wine was left to age on its lees for several months before carbonation was added prior to bottling. It shows a vibrant salmon colour in the glass and a subtle bubble with a nose of fresh red berries, thyme, red currants and a touch of citrus zest. The bubbles are more robust on the palate with brambly raspberries, dark cherries, a touch of anise and a rounded finish.

River Stone Boulder City Cabernet Franc 2021 ($39, 92 points) — This single-vineyard estate Cab Franc was 80% whole cluster pressed and aged for 14 months in French oak barriques (about a third new oak). It has a highly aromatic, bright and lifted nose of wild raspberries, anise, dark cherries, herbs, touch of pepper and elegant spice notes. Ripe tannins introduce structure on the palate to go with earthy/savoury red berries, licorice, herbs, black peppercorns, integrated oak spices and a bright, lifted finish. Really nice Cab Franc built to improve in the cellar for another 5-7 years.

Niagara wines coming to
Vintages stores on Saturday

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay 2022 ($35, 92 points) — This top expression of Chardonnay from Henry of Pelham’s Short Hills Bench estate vineyard is aged in French oak (a portion in new oak) from 10 months. It has a lovely floral nose with apples, touch of peach, pear, lemon, freshening salinity, and integrated oak spices. The stony/saline note is more pronounced on the palate with richer orchard fruits, bergamot, subtle flinty accents, toasty vanilla spices and just a hint of reduction all leading to a bright, lifted finish.

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Pinot Noir 2020 ($48, 93 points) — The Speck Family Reserve wines are the top expression of the estate’s specific vineyards’ terroir in the Short Hills Bench sub-appellation. It’s quite rich and expressive on the nose with savoury red berries, cranberries, anise, and fine oak spice notes. It’s juicy, structured, and bold on the palate with fine-grained tannins, an array of dark cherries, black raspberries, woodsy/spicy notes, anise, and lovely texture all leading to a long, lifted and finessed finish. Can cellar to 2020.

Southbrook Triomphe Organic Chardonnay 2019 ($27, 91 points) — The fruit for this Chard is sourced from various organic growing partners in Niagara and is aged in 300L neutral French oak barrels for 10 months. It’s highly aromatic on the nose with ripe pear, golden apple, pear, bergamot, and freshening salinity with a touch of flint. It has a creamy texture on the palate with ripe orchard fruits, lemon curd, understated oak spices and a juicy, lifted finish. Delightful now or with a bit of cellaring. Drink through 2024+.

Other Niagara wines released, but not reviewed by Wines in Niagara:

• Hinterbrook Nomad Summer Sparkling 2021 ($23)
• Closon Chase K.J. Vineyards Pinot Gris 2023 ($25)
• Wayne Gretzky Whisky Aged Red 2021 ($20)