Thursday, March 22, 2018

Grant Stanley takes over at SpearHead

Photo: SpearHead general manager and winemaker Grant Stanley

East Kelowna’s SpearHead Winery is now firmly committed to Pinot Noir with its announcement that Grant Stanley has been named its general manager and winemaker.

Grant’s dedication to Pinot Noir is legendary. He once told me that he spends 80% of his time thinking about Pinot Noir.

Grant was born in Vancouver in 1967 to parents who had emigrated from New Zealand. He developed his passion for wine while working in the restaurant trade in London and in Whistler.

Excited by the wines of New Zealand, he and his wife, Annabelle, moved to New Zealand in 1991. A horticulturalist, she began propagating vines at the storied Cloudy Bay winery while Grant went to work at Montana Wines, one of New Zealand’s largest producers.

Montana made it possible for him to take a two-year diploma course in winemaking. From there, Stanley sought out smaller wineries, eventually spending six vintages at Ata Rangi, one of New Zealand’s best producers of Pinot Noir.

In the fall of 2001, he was sent to Oregon to make Pinot Noir with two wineries there. Before returning to New Zealand, Grant did a quick tour of the Okanagan. He was astounded at how much Okanagan wines had improved in the years that he had been in New Zealand. He did not hesitate to return to Canada when Quails’ Gate Estate Winery offered him the winemaking job just before the 2003 vintage.

He moved to 50th Estate Parallel Winery in Lake Country in 2013. He made four vintages there and consulted with his successor, Matt Fortuna, in the 2017 vintage.

He also made the 2017 vintage at SpearHead, the smallest of the Okanagan wineries Grant has been associated with.

“One of the rationales for me getting involved here is that we definitely want to stay small,” Grant says. “A lot of the producers I admire around the world put a limit on their production and their growth, and concentrate on quality instead of quantity.”

SpearHead produces about 4,500 cases. Production this year moves to a new building with a capacity that would allow it to double in size, depending on the supply of grapes and on the market for its wines. At this time, 8,000 or so cases would be SpearHead’s maximum.

The winery, which opened with the 2010 vintage, originally was called SpierHead, a name inspired by its location on Spiers Road in East Kelowna. The name has just been modified to SpearHead to avoid a trademark dispute with Spier Wine Farm, a South African winery founded in 1692. It has several listings in British Columbia.

SpearHead had three founders. The instigator was Kelowna photographer Brian Sprout (who subsequently left the partnership). He enlisted a high school classmate, lawyer Bill Knutson, and a semi-retired investment dealer, Bruce Hirtle. Knutson, who still has a busy Vancouver law practice, and his wife, Marina, (right) now are majority owners.

The partners bought the Spiers Road property, a former apple orchard, in 2007 and began planting it in 2008. There are now 12 acres in production, with three more planted. The vines are predominantly Pinot Noir, with smaller blocks of Riesling and Chardonnay.

SpearHead’s early vintages included two well-received Bordeaux reds made with grapes from a vineyard on Black Sage Road. This was a measure to get the brand into the market but not a long-term strategy.

“We don’t grow Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon and I don’t think it would make sense to plant those varietals in our area,” Bill told me a few years ago.  “I think a wiser course is to focus on Pinot Noir and do a good job with it.  As you know, the Kelowna area is emerging as a pretty strong region for Pinot Noir, so I’m hoping that we can play a role in strengthening that perception.”

Serious hail damage in 2013 led the winery to find additional sources of fruit, notably the Golden Retreat Vineyard in Summerland where, David Kozuki, a meticulous grower, has Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.

SpearHead’s estate vineyard grows multiple clones of Pinot Noir. “One of the things I hope we can develop a niche with is a significant variety of Pinot Noir clones, in the hopes that will allow for different bottlings,” Bill told me last year.

Grant, who brings his 2 ½- acre Pinot Noir vineyard in West Kelowna to SpearHead, is clearly on the same page as Bill and Marina.

“Over this last year, I have gotten to know Bill and Marina and I have settled into a nice spot here,” Grant says. “They are authentic in what their vision is. We are in this for the same reason.”

He intends to produce several single vineyard Pinot Noirs and a few blended Pinots, including a wine called Consensus. This Pinot Noir was begun several years ago when members of SpearHead’s wine club were invited to create their own blend. Several vintages of Consensus have won gold medals at competition. Grant would like to increase production slightly and offer some to the public.

Grant says that SpearHead consumers should not expect to see dramatic style shifts in the wine. “The fruit is the same and, in my view, fruit speaks louder than winemaking. I think you will see the thread of similarity running through the wines.”

Here are notes on Grant’s first releases from SpearHead. Prices do not include tax.

SpearHead White Pinot Noir 2017 ($24 for 500 cases). White Pinot Noir is rarely made but when you taste this crisp and aromatic white, you will wonder why more is not made. It is made from essentially free run juice after gently pressing whole bunches. It begins with aromas of apples and white peaches, which are echoed on the palate. The lively acidity, balanced with a touch of residual sugar, gives lift to the savoury flavours. 91.

 SpearHead Riesling 2017 ($20 for 500 cases). The Germans would call this a racy wine and would cellar it five to 10 years. The 7.8 grams of acid are balanced with eight grams of residual sugar, just enough to give the wine the palate tension one looks for in a good Riesling. It has aromas and flavours of lime, along with a steely spine of minerals. 91.

SpearHead Pinot Gris 2017 ($19 for 1,000 cases). Ten percent of the juice was fermented in two-year-old French oak barrels while the rest was cold fermented in stainless steel.  It has aromas and flavours of peaches and pears with a crisp and dry finish. The winery says drink this “now or cellar for 3 to 5 years.” I would rest it for two or three months for optimal development of aromas and flavour. 90.

SpearHead Pinot Noir Rosé 2017 ($21 for 500 cases).  This wine was made with subsequent pressings of the grapes used for the White Pinot Noir. The wine’s delicate rose petal hue is the result 48 hours of skin contact. It begins with aromas of raspberries and has flavours of raspberry and strawberry. It is balanced to finish dry. 90.


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