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
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
Here is a note on that wine and other recent, or future
releases from 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
($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
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
($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.
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.
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
($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
($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
($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.