Photo: Quails' Gate winemaker Nikki Callaway
Winemaker Nikki Callaway at the Quails’ Gate Estate Winery has revived the tradition of “nouveau” wine in the Okanagan.
On the third Thursday in November, the winery released a 2016 vintage Gamay Noir under the name, Cailleteau, which means baby quail. This mirrors the historic practice in Beaujolais where nouveau wines made with Gamay are rushed to market on that date.
The tradition likely arose from the desire of vintners to celebrate the end of the harvest. Nouveau wines are uncomplicated, easy to drink reds that are guzzled down with rustic artisanal meals.
To my knowledge, no Okanagan winery has made a nouveau-style wine since the late 1990s.
The first one of which I have a record was Calona Wines Okanagan Vin Nouveau 1983, made with Maréchel Foch grapes. There likely was no Gamay grown in the Okanagan while Foch as abundant. Calona made 250 cases and the wine, ready to drink six weeks after harvest, was sold for $5 a bottle.
Fred Quance, the president of Calona at the time, said in a news release: “With the introduction of 1983 Okanagan Vin Nouveau, Calona joins the ranks of international wineries which participate each year in this mid-November celebration of the harvest.”
As it happened, a Beaujolais Nouveau frenzy had developed. Here is how Wikipedia summarized the history: “A few members of the UIVB [a wine industry organization] saw the potential for marketing Beaujolais nouveau. Not only was it a way to clear lots of vin ordinaire at a good profit, but selling wine within weeks of the harvest was great for cash flow. Hence the idea was born of a race to Paris carrying the first bottles of the new vintage. This attracted a lot of media coverage, and by the 1970s had become a national event. The races spread to neighbouring countries in Europe in the 1980s, followed by North America, and in the 1990s to Asia. In 1985, the date was changed to the third Thursday in November to take best advantage of marketing in the following weekend.”
In British Columbia, the fleet-footed Anthony von Mandl – the owner of Mission Hill Family Estate Winery – jumped on the trend in the early 1980s. The Mark Anthony Group, his wine marketing agency, began importing Beaujolais Nouveau in 1981. That year, agency personnel rushed some of the wine from France by air to tastings in Toronto and Vancouver. In 1982, it sponsored a race by 25 restaurant employees in Vancouver to rush the wine to their restaurants on release. By 1983, Mark Anthony was importing Beaujolais Nouveau from five producers.
Mission Hill itself began making an Okanagan Valley Vin Nouveau, also with Foch grapes, in 1987 and perhaps earlier. The news release from the winery in my files on the 1987 wine (which sold for $5.70) also says that “nouveau wines from Mission Hill Vineyards have previously been awarded at the prestigious International Eastern Wine Competition in New York.”
Eventually, the nouveau frenzy burned itself out. The Liquor Distribution Branch had difficulty selling wines which, because they were shipped by air, were overpriced for the quality. And Okanagan wineries stopped make Foch Nouveau after most of the Foch vines were pulled out in 1988.
Kudos to Nikki for reviving the tradition – and with Gamay Noir.
Here is a note on that wine and other recent, or future releases from Quails’ Gate.
Quails’ Gate Cailleteau Gamay Nouveau 2016 ($19.50 for 250 cases). This is 100% Gamay Noir in the easy-drinking nouveau style. It is a fresh and lively wine with aromas and flavours of cherry and strawberry. The texture is silky. 90.
Quails’ Gate Dry Riesling 2015 ($17 for 5,300 cases). The wine begins with aromas of lime. On the palate, there are citrus flavours framed by mineral notes. Reflecting the hot 2015 vintage, the acidity is somewhat soft, but not so soft that it will impede the wine’s ability to age. Petrol aromas and flavours will development in a few years. 90
Quails’ Gate Rosemary’s Block Chardonnay 2015 ($40 for 476 six-bottle cases). Barrel-fermented and aged for 11 months, this wine has appealing toasty notes of hazelnut mingled with the citrus aromas. That leads to flavours of citrus and brioche with a suggestion of saltiness, likely reflecting the terroir of this particular Chardonnay block. 92.
Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay 2015 ($35). This is a lush and seductive Chardonnay with aromas and flavours of peaches and citrus and a hint of vanilla on the long finish. 92.
Quails’ Gate Merlot 2014 ($21.99 for 5,090 cases). Aged 18 months in barrel, this begins with aromas of cassis, blueberry and vanilla. It is full-bodied with a core of sweet berry flavours but a long, dry finish. The tannins have enough grip to enable to wine to age well. Impatient consumers should decant it for current drinking. 90.
Quails’ Gate Old Vines Foch 2014 ($19.31 for 3,750 cases). This wine is made with fruit from 36-year-old vines planted in the winery’s Osoyoos vineyard. The terroir is not nearly as suitable for Foch as that of the estate vineyard and the wine, while good, lacks the intensity of the Foch Reserve. It has aromas and flavours of cherry, along with black coffee and leather. 88.
Quails’ Gate Old Vines Foch Reserve 2014 ($37.64 for 1,550 six-bottle cases). This is the 20th vintage, and one of the best, of this cult wine, made with fruit for 50-year-old vines in the estate vineyard. The wine is big and rich, beginning with aromas of fig, plum and chocolate and continuing with flavours of black cherry, plum and chocolate. A hint of oak winds it way through the flavours. The ripe tannins give the wine a svelte texture. 92.
Quails’ Gate Clone 828 Pinot Noir 2014 ($56.62 for 300 six-bottle cases). Legend has it came to the Okanagan in a suitcase of cuttings from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. That is unlikely because Quails’ Gate planted this clone only in 2006. Whatever the truth, this is a very pretty wine. It has floral aromas along with aromas of strawberries and cherries that are echoed on the palate. The silken texture adds to the impressive elegance of the wine. The winery releases a Clone 828 only when it is exceptional; the last one was made in 2010. In most years, the clone makes its contribution as a blend in other premium Pinots. 92-93.
Quails’ Gate Richard’s Block Pinot Noir 2014 ($53 for 490 six-bottle cases). A blend of clones 115, 117 and 667, this wine is made intentionally in what the winery calls an “old world” style. It begins with aromas of plum, cherry and so-called forest floor notes. The structure is concentrated. The flavours are savoury and spicy, with notes of cherries and dark fruit. The wine is available only at the Quails’ Gate wine shop. 93.
Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir 2014 ($45 for 1,948 cases). This is the flagship Pinot Noir, aged for 10 months in premium French oak barrels (50% new). It begins with aromas of cherries and plums leading to flavours of spice, plum and dark fruit. The seductive flavours are framed a concentrated texture. 94.
Quails’ Gate Boswell Syrah 2013 ($52.19 for 860 six-bottle cases). The wine begins with aromas of pepper and ripe berries, leading to concentrated meaty and dark fruit flavours. The finish lingers. 94.
Quails’ Gate Boswell Syrah 2014 ($52.19 for 1,140 six-bottle cases). This wine begins with spicy aromas of red fruit. It is full-bodied with a luscious texture and layers of dark cherry and spice cake flavours. 94.
Quails’ Gate The Connemara 2014 ($55.65 for 200 cases). This is 55% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc. This blend is at once elegant and powerful. It begins with red berry aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of black currants and figs with hints of licorice and chocolate. The 18 months of aging in French oak have polished the long, ripe tannins. 93.
Fortified Vintage Foch 2014 ($18.17 for 410 cases of 375 ml bottles). Suitably dark for a Port-style wine, this begins with aromas of spiced plums and dark Christmas fruits. The flavours are a luscious mix of spiced fruit, licorice and chocolate that linger on the finish. 91.