Saturday, April 13, 2019

Quails' Gate is 30, and expanding

Photo: Quails' Gate president Tony Stewart (courtesy Quails' Gate) 

This year is the 30th anniversary of Quails’ Gate Estate Winery.

The winery has come a long way from its start as a farmgate winery producing a few thousand cases. Today, Quails’ Gate flirts with producing 100,000 cases a year. The winery also is embarked on a major expansion on a 200-acre property in East Kelowna.

“The road from when we started to where we are today was a long one, with a lot of ground-breaking activities in the industry,” Quails’ Gate president Tony Stewart says. “There were only 14 wineries when we started.”  Today, there are more than 300 wineries in British Columbia.

Quails’ Gate is still very much the family winery that it was in 1989. The Stewart family came to the Okanagan from Ireland in 1906 and became leaders in agriculture.

“My dad [Richard] was a grape grower,” Tony says. “He started growing grapes in the 1960s. He also grew apples. He would sit around the dinner table and say, ‘We have to build our own packing house, so we could store apples and bring them to market at a different time and get a better price’. Then it would switch to, ‘Maybe we should have a winery.’ He would tell my brother, Ben, that he could make the wine.”

Tony had been working as an investment dealer. “I knew nothing about wine. But after working 10 years in vineyards, my brother was making homemade wine. With my dad’s encouragement, he started the winery.”

Ben [now a member of the B.C. Legislature] hired Elias Phiniotis, a trained winemaker, to ensure that Quails’ Gate got off on the right foot. Since 1994, when Australian Jeff Martin took over the cellar for five vintages, Quails’ Gate has almost always had winemakers from Australia or New Zealand, or trained there.

The current vice-president of winemaking is Susan Doyle, who was born in Tasmania. The resident winemaker is Ross Baker, a Canadian who has worked in New Zealand, and is a protégé of Nikki Callaway, the French-trained Canadian winemaker who ran the Quails’ Gate cellar for about six years before moving last year to Laughing Stock Vineyards.

Susan Doyle, who has spent most of her career since 2000 in California, is passionate about Pinot Noir and sparkling wines. At Quails’ Gate, she will oversee the development of the East Kelowna winery and the development of a serious sparkling wine portfolio.

The property in East Kelowna previously was operated as a plant nursery by another branch of the Stewart family. When that business closed, Tony and his siblings acquired it a few years ago. It is being planted with a large block of Pinot Noir and with the white varieties now grown on the estate vineyard on Mount Boucherie in West Kelowna. In the latter vineyard, some 26 acres of white varieties will be replaced almost entirely with red varieties.

The East Kelowna vineyard will be the largest in the area. “We have already planted 84 acres,” Tony says. “Another 30 is going in this year and another 15 next year. The final planted number will be around 165, 170 acres. The 40 acres that is suitable for Pinot Noir is still part of that slope that Tantalus is on.”

The new winery being planned for this property is expected to be ready to handle a vintage in 2022. That winery, which has yet to be named, will take some production pressure off the Quails’ Gate facility. “We will bring the capacity down at Quails’ Gate,” Tony says. “The quarters are very tight. We are crushing about 1,200 tons there now and we probably want to be about 700 tons.”

Here are notes on the current releases from Quails’ Gate. The wines were made by Nikki Callaway and Ross Baker.

Quails’ Gate Chardonnay 2017 ($22.99 for 10,600 cases). The wine begins with aromas of citrus, baked apple, butter and vanilla. Those are echoed on the palate where subtle oak frames the lively fruit. 90.

Quails’ Gate Chardonnay 2017 Stewart Family Reserve ($39.99 for 2,400 six packs). The wine presents with an attractive golden hue and aromas of orange and vanilla. On the palate, the wine is a rich vinous version of marmalade modified with buttery oak that supports luscious fruit. 93.

Quails’ Gate Rosemary’s Block Chardonnay 2017 ($ 44.99 for 685 six packs). The grapes are from two mature blocks at the estate vineyard. The wine was fermented and aged 11 months in French oak (a portion was new). The wine begins with aromas of stone fruit and toasted hazelnuts. On the palate, there are flavours of ripe apples mingled with oak. Bright acidity gives the wine a fresh, bracing finish with a spine of minerals. This is a very complex Chardonnay that should be laid down to age in the manner of a fine Burgundy. 95.

Quails’ Gate Pinot Noir 2017 ($29.99 for 3,400 cases). You might call this the winery’s “fighting” Pinot, with a volume big enough for wide distribution. The wine begins with bright cherry notes in the aroma. On the palate, there is a medley of red berry flavours mingled with a hint of the French oak barrels in which it aged for 10 months. 90.

Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir 2017 ($51.99 for 2,300 six-packs). The wine begins with aromas of cherry and raspberry. These red fruits are echoed on the palate along with notes of spice and an earthy undertone. The finish is savoury and long. 93.

Quails’ Gate Richard’s Block Pinot Noir 2017 ($54.99 for 500 six packs). The fruit for this wine (clones 667, 117 and 115) come from the oldest vines in the Quails’ Gate estate vineyard. That likely accounts for the muscular intensity of this rich wine. It begins with aromas of spice and dark fruit leading to flavours of dark fruit mingled with savoury notes. Hints of forest floor add to the complexity. 93.


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