Photo: Richard Stewart (courtesy Quails' Gate)
It was sad and nostalgic that one of the wines released this spring by Quails’ Gate Estate Winery is Richard’s Block Pinot Noir 2018.
Richard Stewart, the family patriarch honoured by this wine, passed away early in May at the age of 94. He was, as the winery explains, “instrumental in bringing Pinot Noir to the Okanagan Valley in 1975.” The Richard’s Block has been in the Quails’ Gate portfolio for several vintages and, fittingly, is one of the best Pinot Noirs from a winery renowned for that varietal.
Here is the winery’s announcement on May 14:
He was a major builder of the wine industry in the Okanagan. I interviewed him at length in the mid-1990s and included a brief profile in The British Columbia Wine Companion. The book was published in 1996 and is now out of print. There are some additional details on his life.
Here is an excerpt:
Stewart, Richard: A member of a family prominent in Okanagan agriculture almost since the beginning of the twentieth century, Richard Stewart first planted grapes in 1961 on property now part of the Quails' Gate vineyards. As well, he formed a partnership with Calona Wines to establish Pacific Vineyards, which leased land from the Westbank Indian Band for a vineyard and bought land south of Oliver for a second vineyard. "We believed there was room for growth in the wine industry," Stewart recalled later.
Initially he planted what were then considered the established varieties -- such North American labrusca grapes as diamond, Campbell's early, sheridan and patricia. A nursery in Seattle, one of his suppliers, misidentified a shipment of what should have been 10,000 diamond vines. Stewart discovered when the vines were growing that he had been shipped chasselas, a vinifera vine that produces far superior fruit than diamond. "We left them in," Stewart chuckled.
In 1964 he and Joe Capozzi (in the latter's private aircraft) flew to grape-growing areas in Ontario and New York state to choose varieties for the initial Pacific Vineyards plantings the following year. At Gold Seal Vineyards in New York, one of the early vinifera growers, they found that the previous winter had devastated the vines. That convinced Stewart and Capozzi to play it safe, planting the more hardy hybrid varieties, including de chaunac, chelois, verdelet and maréchal foch. After managing Pacific Vineyards for several years, Stewart sold his interest to Calona Wines and concentrated on developing the vineyard near Westbank that now supports Quails' Gate.
Stewart was a founding member in 1961 of the Association of British Columbia Grape Growers (with Frank Schmidt and Martin Dulik), set up to lobby government for favorable policies. He was not an original member of the Grape Growers' Marketing Board but soon joined this price-negotiating body and subsequently became its chairman.
Here are notes on the Richard’s Block Pinot Noir and the other Quails’ Gate releases this spring.
Quails’ Gate Chasselas-Pinot Gris-Pinot Blanc 2019 ($18.99 for 23,000 cases). As the volume indicates, this is one of the winery’s most popular wines. The 2019 vintage is drier and crisper than earlier vintages, to the considerable benefit of the wine. The aromas of peaches, apples and pears are echoed on the fresh, zesty palate. The moderate alcohol (12%) adds to the drinkability of this delicious wine. Winemaker Ross Baker says: “I am making a wine that you will want to come back to for another glass.” 91.
Quails’ Gate Gewürztraminer 2019 ($17.99). The wine begins with delicate aromas of lychee and spice. On the palate, there are flavours of white pear, cantaloupe and spice. The soft acidity leaves the impression that the wine is off-dry even with minimal residual sugar. 88.
Quails’ Gate Dry Riesling 2019 ($17.99). The wine begins with aromas of citrus, apple and stone fruit. On the palate, the bright acidity lifts the flavours of lemon and lemon. This wine should be cellared until next spring to allow a full flowering of its flavours. 90.
Quails’ Gate Chenin Blanc 2019 ($24.99 for 3,216 cases). This is 87% Chenin Blanc, 9% Sauvignon Blanc and 4% Viognier. The wine begins with aromas of lime, quince and apple. Quite dry, the wine has flavours of citrus and stone fruit with a spine of minerality. 90.
Quails’ Gate Chenin Blanc Clone 220 2018 ($39.99 for 186 cases). The fruit was fermented 90% in a 1,700-litre concrete egg (new to the winery), the remainder in stainless steel. The wine was aged nine months in the egg. Whether it is the winemaking or the extra year in bottle, the immediate impression on the nose is of richness. There are aromas of apricot and flavours mingling stone fruit, vanilla and a hint of anise. There is good weight on the palate. 92.
Quails’ Gate Rosé 2019 ($17.99). This wine is a blend of Gamay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. It is fashionably pale with aromas of strawberries and raspberry. These are echoed in the flavours. With 12% alcohol, the wine is light and fruity. 88.
Quails’ Gate Richard’s Block Pinot Noir 2018 ($64.99). The four clones in this wine were all vinified separated in stainless steel, with the grapes benefitting from 16 days of skin contact. The resulting blend was aged 13 months in French oak (62% new). The wine begins with aromas of black cherry and raspberry mingled with toasted oak. On the rich palate, dark fruit is nicely integrated with oak. 93.
Quails’ Gate The Boswell Syrah 2017 ($69.99 for 347 cases). The name of this wine is a tribute to Richard’s wife, Rosemary, whose maiden name was Boswell. This is very likely the most northerly-grown Syrah in the Okanagan. The vines grow in a very warm block on the estate vineyard. The whole berries were pumped over for three weeks while in the fermentation tank, extracting rich aromas and flavours. This big, satisfying wine has aromas of black cherry, fig and plum mingled with white pepper. These are echoed on the palate, along with blueberry, chocolate and oak. 93.