Quails’ Gates 2010 Spring Release Wines
by John Schreiner
Photo: Vineyard at Quails’ Gate
Tony Stewart, who runs family-owned Quails’ Gate Estate Winery, accompanied the winery’s spring releases this spring with some interesting comments on the 2009 growing season.
The Stewarts have more history with Okanagan vintages than most wine growing families. Richard Stewart, Tony’s father, was a founding member in 1961 of the Association of British Columbia Grape Growers, a grower lobby group.
Two years later, he began planting what is now the Quails’ Gate Boucherie Vineyard in West Kelowna. The following year, he and Calona Wines, partnered to develop one of the first vineyards on Black Sage Road.
Last fall, when a sharp frost snapped across the Okanagan at Thanksgiving, Tony Stewart could report that this was the earliest on record – “arriving a full two weeks ahead of our father’s earliest severe frost memory of October 26.”
Normally, one would expect a devastated vintage from an early frost which killed the leaves on the vines and stopped grape maturity in its tracks. “Fortunately, due to the unusually warm days in the summer and a very favourable September all varieties achieved or exceeded target ripeness,” Tony said in a covering letter with the wines.
After that early frost, he worried that a brutal winter would follow. That was not the case, however. There was a mild winter and an early spring. It looks like the 2010 vintage “is off to a great beginning.”
The winery’s spring release wines actually cover three vintages, all of them excellent, judging from the quality of these wines. Here are my notes.
Quails’ Gate 2009 Rosé ($14.99). The winery has released 3,200 cases of a thoroughly delicious dry rosé made with Gamay grapes. It has juicy flavours of strawberries and rhubarb with an intriguing hint of spice on the finish. Great value for one of the Okanagan’s best rosé wines. 90.
Quails’ Gate 2009 Chasselas-Pinot Blanc-Pinot Gris ($17.99). One of the winery’s most quaffable whites, this is 50% Chasselas from some old vines in the winery vineyard. The blend also includes 35% Pinot Blanc and 15% Pinot Gris. This is a big volume blend at 9,200 cases and, with a moderate 12% alcohol, is an ideal summer and luncheon white. Refreshing and light, it has flavours of citrus, melons and apples, with a juicy texture on the palate and just a hair of sweetness. 89.
Quails’ Gate 2008 Chardonnay ($$18.99). The winery has released 5,460 cases of this attractive wine. Sixty-five percent was barrel-fermented (only 20% of the barrels were new) and the remainder was fermented in stainless steel. This gave winemaker Grant Stanley the opportunity to blend a fruit-forward wine with only subtle oak, in a style deliberately different from the winery’s reserve Chardonnay. There are notes of citrus on the nose and the palate. The hint of oak and of the lees fleshes out the wine which, nevertheless, finishes with a clean, focused and refreshing crispness. 90.
Quails’ Gate 2008 Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay ($29.99). The winery released 2,150 six-bottle cases of this, its premium Chardonnay. All the stops were pulled out to make this wine: fruit from older vines fully barrel-fermented in French oak (50% new) and put through complete malolactic fermentation. The result is a rich wine, toasty and buttery on the nose, with flavours of peach, tangerine, butterscotch and with a finish that goes on forever. The wine is drinking well now but also has the structure to age for several more years, in the manner of a fine white Burgundy. 92.
Quails’ Gate 2008 Pinot Noir ($24.99). If anyone knows how to grow Pinot Noir in the Okanagan, it is the Stewart family, which has been growing it since 1975. The vineyard now boasts multiple clones, giving the winemaker superb blending options. This wine, of which 7,424 cases is released, begins with an appealing and brilliant ruby hue. The aromas suggests black cherries and raspberries, influenced by the smoky, toasted hints of French oak (only 15% new). On the palate, there are ripe flavours of spicy cherry. The texture is the classic velvet of good Pinot Noir. 88.
Quails’ Gate 2007 Merlot ($24.99). This wine (7,960 cases releases) is a remarkable example of good farming, with 90% of the fruit coming the Quails’ Gate vineyard on the slope of Mt. Boucherie and only 10% from the much warmer terroir of Osoyoos. Yet this is a fine, ripe wine with lifted berry aromas surging from the glass. On the palate, there are appealing flavours of blackberry with a hint of vanilla from the 18 months of barrel aging. The fine ripe tannins supported concentrated flavours and textures of a red that will cellar well for at least five more years. 88-90.
Just in time for the Okanagan’s Spring Wine Festival, John Schreiner’s 3rd edition of John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide, is out in book stores May 1st 2010.
Schreiner’s guides to wine offer an approachable and friendly introduction to the region’s winegrowers, winemakers and proprietors of the ever-expanding Okanagan Valley wine community in addition to the wines themselves.
In the book’s Intro, Schreiner tells you upfront that he didn’t write the book for “technicians,” but rather for people who enjoy drinking wine and for the people who make the wine that we enjoy drinking.
“Wine is not a clinical product to be separated from the people who grow it. The art in wine is what attracts both consumers and wine growers,” writes Schreiner in his Introduction to the book’s 3rd edition. The first edition was published in 2006 and already there are a good many new additions to the Okanagan winery fold, with more wineries planned and building underway.
“In most of the tasting rooms I have visited, everyone is having fun, especially during wine festival time,” writes Schreiner, reminiscing, “During the Okanagan’s Spring Wine Festival 2005, I was lounging on the deck at Jeff and Niva Martin’s La Frenz winery, savouring a glass of Shiraz…”.
This is the context, a context of place, time and people in which John Schreiner uniquely can immerse you when it comes to the distinctive regions and wines of the Okanagan. His perspective dates back 35 years when he first began touring the region in search of good wines. The Okanagan’s current vibrant wine industry really only dates back to the late 80’s/early 90’s so Schreiner’s insight is one that lends itself to developing right alongside with the then-nascent wine industry of the region itself.
The book delves into the various regions of the Okanagan. The Okanagan Lake itself is 135 km. stretching more or less N-S from Penticton up to Salmon Arm. The wine growing regions are dotted all along there and stretch down, past Skaha Lake, into the Golden Mile and Black Sage Bench areas of Oliver and then down into Osoyoos, around Lake Osoyoos which spans the U.S./ Canada Border, and then a bit West over into Keremeos and Cawston, known as the Similkameen Valley.
His book beguiles you with the charms of Naramata Bench, a wine-growing region overlooking the expansive, beautiful and pristine Lake Okanagan; delves into the people with a dream some of whom are just selling their first ’09 vintages in time for Spring Wine Festival 2010, kicking off today in the Okanagan. He gives you a brief background on valley influentials such as Elias Phiniotis, Ron Taylor, and Howard Soon. He also takes you into the past with historical anecdotes about B.C.’s oldest continually operating winery (since 1932), Calona Vineyards, and forward into the future sharing with you certain family’s plans to plant on the northern perches of Salmon Arm, where the nearest vineyard at Larch Hills is at B.C.’s highest elevation of 700 meters/ 2,300 feet.
Most importantly, however, Schreiner will introduce you to the people who have chosen to build their lives around the vine, to make the best of the hand that Mother Nature deals them season after season. With this kind of an introduction to a region’s wine, you can’t help but fall in love with the ones that please your palate, and keep returning year after year to see what magic has been bottled in this year’s new vintage.
*Note Book’s Wine Speak Glossary at the end is very helpful and is sure to make you sound like you know what you’re talking about when you’re in the Tasting Rooms.
Available in Bookstores and Online Now
Gismondi On Vancouver Food And Wine
South Okanagan Winery Association Spring 2010 Releases
Speed Dating For Wine Lovers
New and fresh at this year’s Banee’, sponsored and organized by the South OkanaganWinery Association, was “Speed Dating Wine Tasting,” an event that took place on a sunny Saturday afternoon at the Walnut Beach Resort in Osoyoos.
Fortified with a light lunch that included Farmed Fresh Bacon, cut thick and griddle-fried, Lettuce and Tomato sandwiches along with a dessert accent of wild, organic blueberry mousse prepared by Walnut Beach Resort Head Chef, Justin Paakunainen, a group of about twenty of us wine-taster-speed-daters were ushered into the afternoon of speed- dating-wine-tasting with the SOWA wineries.
I happened to get placed next to Anthony Gismondi in the circular round of 18 Wine Tasting “stations” that event organizers dubbed “the ladies,” and we tasters were the “men” who were given 5 minutes at each of the 18 wineries represented. With Gismondi, who is described as B.C.’s premier wine taster, – along with John Schreiner, Sid Cross and Tim Pawsey – it was fortunate placement. Since Gismondi, who has had a “bit of a hand” (quoting him here) in the organizing of the Playhouse International Wine Festival over the years in Vancouver, had hatched the idea of “Speed Dating Wine Tastings” which they’ve been promoting for months now, he was pleased to see that his brainchild had manifested and multiplied.
Speed Dating Wine Tasting
My afternoon of “dating” began with Desert Hills where Winery Proprietor Randy Toor poured no less than seven wines. At his Black Sage Bench property earlier that morning, he had informed the group that in the hottest part of summer he waters only once a week for 7-8 hours. Considering that last summer temperatures in the region reached into the 40’s c. we’re talking stressed vines,which, as any seasoned winemaker will tell you, yields the better fruit.
The South Okanagan is known for their reds and a couple of stars, amongst distinguished contenders, to come out of the Golden Mile this year are Fairview Cellars’ Cabernet Sauvignon ‘09 which Bill Eggert has aged 16 months in his Radoux French Oak. He’ll tell you that his best wine comes from one row of grapes, uniquely yielding because of the “pure sand seam that goes right across my vineyard,” and the “alluvial fan” that characterizes the land his vineyard sits on there in the Golden Mile. This is what he’s pulled this vintage from. Put your orders in now. He had just bottled it hours before pouring it at the Speed Dating Wine Tasting this past weekend. Price is $120 per bottle, a Valley first.
It’s All About The Terroir?
Remarkable to note is that both Randy’s (Desert Hills) and Bill’s (Fairview) properties are right next to one another there on the Black Sage Bench. As you follow along Road 22, both are nestled in the same “alluvial fan” and both have similar sandy, silty-with-very-little-topsoil ground to play with. And yet the wines are richly and distinctly different catering almost to not just a different mood or dish but almost even altogether different palates. Desert Hills’ Gewurztraminer ‘09 reflects this dynamic of thirst-quenching freshness, and keeping with the theme of summertime and bbq’ing, the Desert Hills Gamay can go down chilled though not to be missed is their ‘07 Malbec Proprietor’s Reserve, their “pride.”
Steady And Strong
Wine choices that are “fool-proof” and “fail-safe” are Burrowing Owl’s Merlot ‘07 – rich, ripe and red. As John Schreiner puts it, “it’s just damned good.” Bertus, their new winemaker, says that in another six months it will be even better when it has a chance to open up. Their Meritage ‘07 also gives a full flavor profile though, again, Bertus says you can give it another year – or 10 or 15, too, even. The structure is that solid. I find these wines to be masculine. They’re strong and vibrant and there’s virility that trembles beneath the notes.
Hester Creek’s Trebbiano and their Merlot ‘08. The Trebbiano comes from the only Italian vines planted in the Okanagan, which Hester Creek’s owners brought from Italy 40 years ago. Rob, the winemaker’s, expertise is in smoothing out the tannins in their full-bodied reds, so you get all of the flavor of a Merlot without the bite. Andrew Moon, Tinhorn Creek’s Aussie winemaker of less than a year, explains something about the tannins of the region: The tannins in the Merlot here can “blow your head off,” he says, explaining the importance of tannin management for South Okanagan winemaking, adding that “we’ll never get to the levels of a Bordeaux.” Okanagan wine educator and consultant, Rhys Pender, explains that “No other place in the world has such a short, hot climate.” Tinhorn Creek and Hester Creek wineries are next door neighbors on the Golden Mile.
Inniskillin’s ‘07 Tempranillo. There are only 200 cases. This is only the 2nd vintage. Go. Buy. It. Now.
We kid you not. This is one of the most outstanding, not to mention smooth, hearty and amiable wines to come out of the region. And it’s not a grape that anyone else in the valley plants. They’ve aged it in new French oak about 30% and then for the remainder 70% in 1 and 2 year old barrels. Bottled in May will be their ‘08 Malbec.
Cassini’s ‘07 Pinot Noir Reserve is their first pinot noir vintage. They’ve only done 115 cases. Count yourself lucky if you score yourself a bottle before it’s sold out. Their Nobilus is 100% Merlot, unusual these days when many of the winemakers are going towards blends. Casssini’s Adrian Capeneata is just simply all about no-frills good, solid wine.
People know Road 13 well for their reds. ‘Nough said. We’ll tell you, watch for their Chenin Blanc ‘09. It’s only been out two weeks now, it’s got beautiful acidic balance. Bartier, Mick and Pam have created another big hit that’s a phenomenal food wine. Don’t forget, too, that ‘09 saw significant crop damage so only half the crop was harvested. That translates into get it while the gettin’s good. [500 cases total]. Also, if you get your hands on a bottle of their ‘07 Jackpot Chardonnay, made from grapes that were, “in a word – perfect,” then pressed whole cluster, drink up!
Nk’Mip’s new release is their ‘08 Pinot Noir grown on their Black Sage Bench vines, as opposed to their Osoyoos property. Assistant winemaker Justin describes the French Oak aging process altogether too humbly. We’re fans, of course, of their Q2 Meritage ‘07 which we’ve already written about here.
Le Vieux Pin’s Apogee Merlot and Epoque Merlot are too deserving of applause not to be mentioned here. They’ve been hitting it out of the ballpark since their first vintage in ‘05, and people keep talking about LVP’s ‘06 vintage. New and not yet labeled is a Rose’ coming from their Golden Mile vineyards. Shhhh…though. Some wines are just so good, they shouldn’t even be legal to drink!
More on the Whites…
Stoneboat’s Chorus ‘09. Winemaker Tim Martiniuk, a young man, has blended a proprietary signature vintage that no one in the Valley can duplicate. He credits their soil’s calcerous deposits and heavy gravel for the juice he was able to get from his pinot blanc, pinot gris, Kerner and Viognier grapes which he used to make Chorus. This is the wine we enjoyed with our salmon and grilled vegetable dinner. A perfect pairing. Stoneboat’s Pinot Blanc ‘09 was blessed with botrytis so the 25-year old vines give notes of honey and cloves; the nose, surprisingly, is sweeter than the taste.
Oliver Twist’s ‘09 Viognier is 5 years aged, slight notes of tobacco. It’s a nice contrast to their Chardonnay ‘08 which took B.C. Gold in the Fall Wine Fest.
Quinta Ferreira’s Mistura Branca ‘08 is a Muskat Gewurz blend. Michael, by nature a reserved winemaker, showed uncharacteristic exuberance when pouring. And I’d have to agree, it’s wine worth the enthusiasm.
Gehringer does white wines well. Their Auxerrois pinot blanc is fail-safe and as the genetic sister to the more commonly known pinot blanc, it won’t throw your palate off. Private Reserve Riesling ‘09 has now been bottled from their stainless steel tanks and offers good value.
Jackson-Triggs ‘09 Grand Reserve Sauvignon Blanc offers a greener, acidic backbone; the fruit comes from the start of the Black Sage Bench Road, so the slight difference in temperatures is evident in the juice.
Let’s Talk Rose’
Rose’ is this year’s “come-back kid.” Oft-dismissed as betwixt and between, when you get your hands on the right one, it most certainly stands on its own. Rose’ beckons and celebrates summer. And we welcome summer!
Jackson-Triggs ‘09 Rose’ makes a delightful showing this Spring. It’s the first year Derek has made the wine with Merlot grapes rather than Cabernet Franc. He ferments it as you would a white and the yield is something altogether too easy to reach for – sip and savor.
Tinhorn Creek’s Sandy will tell you that she was up ’til 4 a.m. the other night bottling her 2 Bench Rose’. She’s blended 40% cabernet franc and merlot with pinot gris. They’ve done 103 cases and we recommend a try. Their Pinot Gris ‘09, at approximately 6,000 cases, makes their Rose’ vintage a Proprietor’s Reserve Blend.
Golden Beaver’s “Heart of Gold,” ‘09 is a blend of Viognier, Auxerrois and Pinot Blanc. And lest your mind starts to wander down the more imaginative path, Bruno and Stella explain that they are both music lovers and enthusiasts, – their neighbors describe their living room walls as “covered” with guitars and music paraphernalia. Stella has named their next release, “Heartbreaker,” after one of her Led Zeppelin favorites, since Bruno named Heart of Gold after the Neil Young hit song. Their Late Harvest Pinot Blanc ‘08 has 20g. of sugar in it but really it tastes only medium sweet. It’s worth a try and as a foodie it allows you to get creative with the pairing. It will be out in May.
Silver Sage has some unique offerings. Their Sunset ‘08 has the look and feel of a rose’. It’s a blend of white wine and berries with aromas of cranberry and raspberry. This is a brunch with the girls wine; it’s their “golfer’s special,” and it’s also great to have a few bottles on hand for the girlfriends’ mani-pedi-spa day. Their Flame ‘09 is a dessert wine and it’s spicy! These are cocktail wines.
Rustico Farm and Cellars is the new kid on the block and Bruce has crafted stories for each of his wines. He’d love to tell you all about his Gewurztraminer “Farmer’s Daughter,” when you stop by the winery there in the South Okanagan for a sample.
Speed Dating Summary
Speed Dating for Wine Lovers offered fantastic insight into the complex variations of a region’s wines and winemakers. One of the most informative take-homes was how grapes grown in the same soil, with the same sun, even on the same or neighboring alluvial fan, can yield such different vintages. The South Okanagan has, of course, the difference of the two sides, the “right bank” and “left bank” with significant variations of sun exposure and even slight temperature variation from the north part of the acreage to 20 km. or so to the south of the SOWA region. It does give you a glimpse into the tremendous input that a the winemaker has on the final outcome of a vintage.
We’re definitely in keeping with the consensus of the other Speed Daters, Tim Pawsey, Sid Cross, Christina Burridge, Anthony Gismondi, John Schreiner, Terry David Mulligan and the rest: that it’s a great way to taste nearly a hundred wines in just under an hour and a half and and that it’s absolutely most effective when the wineries keep their selections to a range of no more than three wines.
Screw caps, also known as “Stelvin” caps, provide the best seal for bottled wines. Surprised? There have been hurdles in the perception of a wine’s value based solely on whether it has a cork or a screw cap, but the fact remains that traditionally sealed bottles of wine risk developing a case of being “corked.”
The term “corked” refers to the taste a wine can develop, which is actually an oxidation problem, from corks due to the substance used to sanitize the cork prior to use for bottling. The substance is referred to as TCA (2,4,6-Trichloroanisole). A “corked” bottle of wine has a musty or mouldy taste to it that has nothing to do with the wine, but rather its reaction to the cork. Stelvin caps allow for consistent aging and keep the wine’s freshness.
Wine lovers who enjoy more complexity in their wines may still reach for a traditional bottle with a cork, but those who enjoy a fresher more “fruity” taste to their wines will opt for the screw cap. Tinhorn Creek, an Okanagan winery who uses Stelvin caps, explains the aging process of a wine:
“Most wine aging reactions occur within the bottle and have very little to do with any oxygen getting through the cork. It is just a matter of molecules bumping into one another in a small container that allows wine to age. The tannin molecules collide and form larger molecules and eventually get so heavy that they fall down to the bottom of the bottle. Once these tannins fall out the wine becomes smoother tasting. This reaction occurs with or without a cork.”
Australia, Spain, South Africa, South America, Canada, the U.S. and France are all major winemaking regions who are adopting the Stelvin caps for their wines. Some of the best labels, such as Bonny Doon, have been early adopters of the screw cap. The synthetic “cork” is what most wine afficionados recommend avoiding when possible. Winemakers say these stifle the maturing process of a wine. Some wineries even say that bottles over five years old with a synthetic cap start to acquire a synthetic taste to the wine. More pluses for Stelvin caps (courtesy Tinhorn Creek):
- The bottles are easier to store (they can be on their side, upside down or standing straight up in your cellar).
- You will not encounter bottles that leak through the cork.
- The fruitiness of the wine will stay preserved for longer, thus allowing you to age wines for longer.