Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Quails' Gate small lot wines spice up the portfolio

Photo: Quails' Gate winemaker Nikki Callaway

The most popular white wine at Quails’ Gate Estate Winery, year in and year out, is Chasselas Pinot Blanc Pinot Gris.

In 2017, winemaker Nikki Callaway and her team produced a stunning 18,300 cases of this wine. That is more than the total production of most Okanagan wineries.

As amazing as that number is, another interesting trend has emerged at Quails’ Gate. Nikki is adding small lots wines to the portfolio, perhaps for those looking for wines somewhat more exclusive that Chasselas and friends.

“Basically, it stems from me saying I have a tank or a few barrels of wine that are too good to go into the big blend,” Nikki says. “It could be new vineyard blocks coming on board, really impressive barrels or ferments, new winemaking styles we are trying, etc.”

Well received, these wines sell quickly from the Quails’ Gate wine shop and to members of the wine club. Some are also allocated to specific Vancouver restaurants, no doubt including restaurants that pour Chasselas by the glass all summer long.

Quails’ Gate has several blocks of Chasselas, a white vinifera variety associated with the white wines of Switzerland. The oldest block at Quails’ Gate was planted in 1963 and it was an accident. When Richard Stewart was developing the vineyard, he ordered, among other varieties, a labrusca grape called Diamond, then widely grown in Ontario and New York State. The nursery erroneously sent Chasselas vines.

A few years later, a French viticulturist who was visiting the Stewart vineyard correctly identified the vines as Chasselas. It was a fortunate mistake. Unlike Diamond, wine from Chasselas, if somewhat neutral, does not have the offensive aromas and flavours of labrusca.

The lucky Stewarts went on to plant more Chasselas in 1975, 1983, 1987 and 1989. The vineyard map I am looking at may be out of date. It would surprise me if all that Chasselas was retained but a good acreage is still in production.

Grant Stanley, the winemaker who preceded Nikki at Quails’ Gate, solved the somewhat neutral personality of Chasselas by adding Pinot Gris and later Pinot Blanc to the blend

“I can’t recall the year of the addition of Pinot Gris to the label,” Grant says. “We had been adding Pinot Gris to the blend for some time until the quantity reached a percentage that it had to be declared as multi varietal. Chasselas really has very little to offer in aromatics, so the Pinot Gris gives the blend some lovely pear aromas.”

The blend scored a home run.

“It’s funny, we could not slow down sales of that wine,” Grant says. “The liquor board was begging for more every year. I was making 12,000 cases in 2012.” That was his final year at Quails’ Gate. 

The brand has continued to flourish. At the same time, Nikki has added a number of small lot wines to the Quails’ Gate portfolio. In the current spring release, there are three. 
The Orchard Block Gewürztraminer is made with grapes planted in 1989 on a former orchard at the corner of Boucherie Road and Mission Hill Road.

The Shannon Pacific Viognier’s vineyard is not identified in the winery’s technical notes but it certainly is not the Shannon Pacific. That vineyard was planted in the 1960s on Black Sage Road by Richard Stewart in partnership with Calona Vineyards. The label is meant to memorialize that partnership. After the 1988 vine pull-out, the vineyard was sold as raw land, to be replanted a few years later by Burrowing Owl Winery, Sandhill Wines and Tinhorn Creek Vineyards.

The delightful Lucy’s Block Rosé is named for Lucy May Whitworth, a grandmother of the Stewart brothers. The grapes are from a new Stewart vineyard in East Kelowna, called Westpoint Vineyard.

Kudos to the winery for adding these and other small lot wines to its portfolio. They add spice to what is already a good portfolio.

Here are notes in the new releases.

Quail’s Gate Chasselas Pinot Blanc Pinot Gris 2017 ($17.99 for 18,300 cases). This is 60% Chasselas, 22% Pinot Blanc and 18% Pinot Gris, cold-fermented separately before being blended. The wine begins with aromas of melon and apple with undertones of lime and pear, all of which are echoed on the palate. This is a refreshing, easy-quaffing white looking for a warm summer’s day. 90.

Quail’s Gate Chenin Blanc 2017 ($19.99 for 3,000 cases). This wine begins with aromas of quince, pear and apple. It has a lively palate with bright, refreshing acidity and with flavours of lemon and melon. There is a good spine of minerality and the finish is dry. 91.

Quail’s Gate Dry Riesling 2017 ($16.99 for 3,600 cases). The racy acidity gives this wine a tangy and refreshing impact on the palate. There are aromas of lime and green apple that are echoed in the flavour, along with notes of minerality on the dry finish. The balance here between 7.8 grams of acidity and 7.5 grams of residual sugar creates an intriguing tension on the palate. I would recommend cellaring this for a year or two at least. 91.

Quail’s Gate Gewürztraminer 2017 ($16.99 for 5,900 cases). The wine begins with rose petal spice and lychee. The flavours include lychee and grapefruit with a light spice note on the finish, which is just off-dry. 90.

Quail’s Gate Orchard Block Gewürztraminer 2017 ($21.99 for 550 cases). The grapes for this wine are from a single vineyard that was planted in 1989. The aroma of lychee and ripe peach mingled with spice promises a rich wine; and the flavours deliver a bowl of tropical and stone fruit. 92.

Quail’s Gate Shannon Pacific Viognier 2017 ($23.99 for 1,030 cases). The wine begins with aromas of apricot and peach. Richly textured, the wine delivers flavours of apricot and mango with a hint of almond on the long finish. 91.

Quail’s Gate Rosé 2017 ($16.99 for 8,500 cases). The wine presents with a delicate salmon pink hue. The aromas of raspberry are echoed on the palate, along with notes of strawberry and cherry. The finish is crisply dry. 90

Quail’s Gate Lucy’s Block Rosé ($24.99 for 550 cases). This is 85% Pinot Meunier and 15% Pinot Noir. The wine has a light rose petal hue and a delicate wild berry aroma. But the juicy weight and the mouth-filling flavours of strawberry and raspberry quite take one by surprise. This is a lovely, elegant rosé. 92.

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