Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Grant Stanley moves to 50th Parallel

 Photo: vineyard at 50th Parallel Estate Winery

After 10 years as winemaker at Quails’ Gate Estate Winery, Grant Stanley is moving to 50th Parallel Estate Winery as an investor, partner and winemaker.

50Th Parallel is a new winery near Carr’s Landing in Lake Country. It opened its tasting room for the first time this week. The major plantings in the 30-acre vineyard are seven Dijon clones of Pinot Noir.

“The focus exclusively as a premium Pinot Noir producer had me absolutely salivating at the opportunity,” Grant said in an interview. “I can tell you it is very tough to stay on focus when you have so many different varietals you are working with. As you know, Pinot Noir is near and dear to me. I just felt that I wanted to be working at a winery that had nothing but Pinot at stake.”

That is not entirely accurate. The 50th Parallel vineyard also has blocks of Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewürztraminer but these are supporting actors in a drama that is all about Pinot Noir.

Grant, who is leaving Quails’ Gate this month on good terms, was also attracted by the chance to become an owner in 50th Parallel.

“The investment aspect was hugely attractive to me going forward,” he says. “I wanted to be more involved in making the quality decisions that affect the winemaking and the viticulture. I bought a significant share – my wife and I – in the business and it will put us in a board position and able to be there, making those calls. I will have a director role along with day to day winemaking and viticulture.”   

At 50th Parallel, Grant, a New Zealand-trained winemaker, takes over from Adrian Baker, a New Zealand-born winemaker. Adrian has moved to another winemaking project, so far not announced, in the Carr’s Landing neighbourhood.

Photo: Grant Stanley

50th Parallel is a winery launched by Albertan Curtis Krouzel and his wife, Sherri-Lee Turner-Krouzel, who bought this lakeshore property in 2008 and began planting vines in 2009. The property has been a vineyard for Jordan & Ste. Michelle cellars until the vines were pulled out in 1988.

The Krouzels, with backing from other investors, plan a destination winery with buildings designed by a leading architect.

“We are going into construction of a winery in the next few weeks,” Grant says. “We have a new winery design and a plan to accommodate close to a 100 ton vintage this year. I will be involved. That is another reason I want to be involved at this stage, so I could be involved right from the get-go, at the planning of the winery and making sure it is a facility designed specifically for high quality Pinot Noir.”

Grant was born in 1967 in Vancouver, the son of a printer and a dental technician, both of them New Zealand immigrants and neither particularly interested in wine. He developed his wine passion while working at restaurant and hotel jobs in London, England, New Zealand, and the Whistler resort.

He and his British-born horticulturist wife, Annabelle, moved to New Zealand in 1992, with exquisite timing: the boom in New Zealand wines was just beginning. She got a job with the Cloudy Bay winery while Montana Wines, then New Zealand’s biggest producer, gave him a job and then sponsored him to train as a winemaker. In 1998, after a few vintages with small wineries, Grant joined a legendary New Zealand Pinot Noir producer called Ata Rangi, where he did six vintages, plus guest winemaking in Oregon and France.

“Ata Rangi opened doors for me,” Grant says. On two occasions, Ata Rangi Pinot Noirs won the Bouchard Finlayson Trophy for the top Pinot Noirs in the International Wine & Spirits Competition in London.

Grant continued to pile up awards since joining Quails’ Gate in 2003. Over the past decade, his wines have won 45 gold medals, 84 silver medals and 89 bronze medals.

Those awards have included many varieties in addition to Pinot Noir. While that is the flagship variety at Quails’ Gate, the winery’s annual crush – now close to 1,000 tons – encompasses many other varieties. The single biggest release from Quails’ Gate this year is 14,500 cases of an excellent white blend, Chasselas-Pinot Gris-Pinot Blanc.

“I have made my reputation in this valley making Chasselas and I am not too happy about it,” Grant jests.

“We hired Grant based on his interest in Pinot Noir,” Quails Gate president Tony Stewart once told me “If Grant had it his way, we would probably make only Pinot Noir.”

Quails’ Gate has just begun recruiting for a new winemaker. “As you know, it is a pretty awesome position, so they will have no trouble filling it,” Grant predicts.

One expects the winery will search both domestically and internationally. In the decade before hiring Grant, the winery had employed three Australian winemakers in succession, starting with Jeff Martin in 1994.

Martin now operates La Frenz Winery on the Naramata Bench and, by coincidence, is just about to hire a senior winemaker from Australia.

50th Parallel has released three white wines and its first Pinot Noir, a mere 100 cases made in 2011 by Adrian Baker. He came to the Okanagan after making wine at Craggy Range, another top New Zealand Pinot Noir producer.

“I have only really managed to look closely at what I see in barrel,” Grant says of the 2012 Pinot Noir.  “Knowing Adrian and his style, it is a hands-off approach. The fruit is speaking really loud and clear.”

 Photo: Adrian Baker 
Going from Quails’ Gate to 50th Parallel will be a bit of an adjustment. “To my mind, the real fundamental difference will be vine age,” he says. “I have been working with some real old vine material here at Quails’ Gate. I will have some young vines to work with for a few years; and the clonal mix is different as well.”

Somewhat like the Quails’ Gate vineyard, the 50th Parallel vineyard is a long slope toward Okanagan Lake. Where Quails’ Gate slopes to the southeast, 50th Parallel slopes southwest to west.

“I think the soils, the topography, the whole package up there are perfectly suited” to Pinot Noir, Grant says. “I really like the soils. They are completely different to here; a little deeper in the top soils but still not very vigorous; and there is some cool mineral content as well. There are plenty of sunlight hours, and judging from the color I see in the barrels, they are getting great ripening on the skins.”


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