Quails’ Gate is Steaming Ahead at 35

Order a Specially Curated Quails’ Gate Mixed Case (see below).

By David Lawrason

This feature was commissioned by Quails’ Gate Winery.

This year marks the 35th harvest at Quails’ Gate Winery, making it one of the oldest wineries in Canada, and in my view, one of the most respected and reliable in terms of wine quality as well.  And it is a winery that keeps evolving and innovating.

The much photographed winery site sits above Lake Okanagan on the east-facing lower slope of Mt. Boucherie, the dormant volcano landmark of West Kelowna. It has been in the Stewart family hands for three generations. Richard Stewart Sr first ran a nursery business on the property, after emigrating from Ireland in 1908. His son Dick and wife Rosemary established Quails’ Gate in 1956 then planted the first vines in 1961. Dick’s son Ben Stewart stepped in to help open the winery in 1989. Today brother Tony Stewart is the CEO, and with his son Rowan Stewart having joined the winemaking team in 2020, four generations have been involved.

Ben and Tony Stewart

Throughout this time the family has been rooted in their 150-acre Boucherie Road vineyard, leading the way with viticultural developments and achievements.  Last year the vineyard was granted sustainable certification by Wine Growers BC, and this year the entire estate received sustainable certification, applying to all its business practices, including the winery and the very popular Old Vines restaurant.

This year Quails’ Gate put its reputation to the test by hosting a global chardonnay blind tasting showdown. Top Canadian wine critics were invited to blind taste three Quails’ Gate chardonnays among 18 prestigious international chardonnays from Burgundy, the USA and other non-European wine regions. This was a brave move to show their wines belonged among the world’s best. And indeed, the three Quails’ Gate chardonnays fairly placed in the middle to upper range.

In another global outreach that signifies a sense of adventure still going strong, Quails’ Gate has teamed up with Irish Distillers to produce a Green Spot Irish Whiskey (limited amount available at the LCBO) in the Okanagan. It’s a complicated tale, so I will let a paragraph from a Quails’ Gate media release explain: 

“Green Spot Quails’ Gate joins a prestigious line-up of expressions including Green Spot Château Leoville Barton (Bordeaux) and Green Spot Chateau Montelena (Napa). The series is a celebration of Ireland’s historic contribution to the wine world and is a tribute to the group of Irish families known as ‘The Wine Geese’ who left Ireland and set up wineries around the world. Finished in Quails’ Gate pinot noir barrels, Green Spot Quails’ Gate represents the coming together of two heritage Irish families and the dedication to their craft that inspired this special-edition whiskey.”

I am more interested, however, in the evolution and improvement of the wines, which is has been significant in the past five years, even longer. It is best captured by the recent introduction of the Distinction Collection. But first to explain the evolution.

The Estate wines led by the most familiar Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Chenin Blanc are now fairly widely available across most of Canada. They led the way when the winery opened in 1989, providing very good quality and pure expression of their varieties in the Okanagan.  They now sell in the $30 range in many markets.

The Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir and Chardonnay came online soon after, essentially being selections of best barrels and lots, perhaps originating from certain sections of the vineyard. This line, selling in the $50 range, also includes their unique Marechal Foch Reserve, made from a pocket of vines more than 50 years of age.

Then came the Founders Selection, the bottling of single blocks of older vine wines that were from original plantings and named after Stewart family founders: Rosemary’s Block Chardonnay, Richard’s Block Pinot Noir, Lucy’s Block Rose (grandmother), The Boswell Syrah (Rosemary’s maiden name) and The Connemara, a red Bordeaux blend named for Richard Stewart’s favourite place in Ireland from which he emigrated.

Rosemary and Richard Stewart

These three Quails’ Gate “tiers” are very logical and a common structure within winery portfolios.

Then came the Distinction Collection, with a very different quail eggs labelling motif, designed to bottle specific clones and parcels of the most popular varieties. It reflects a maturation of viticulture that is now occurring throughout the Okanagan. It is important for Canadian wine that larger wineries like Quails’ Gate have the desire and capability to develop single bottlings to express these nuances. I am rather fascinated by these wines, especially the four whites – Clone 222 Chenin Blanc, Clone 49 Riesling, Orchard Block Gewurztraminer and Three Wolves Pinot Gris. And they are affordably priced in $30 to $50 range, depending on variety.

WineAlign has curated a mixed 6-bottle case of wines from three of these tiers, including the 2021 Rosemary’s Block Chardonnay that I ranked among the top three wines of the global Chardonnay tasting. The case is a rare opportunity for consumers outside of the Okanagan Valley to experience wines often only available to wine club members or visitors to the West Kelowna tasting room. But tens of thousands of Canadians have visited this tasting room and dined next door at Old Vines restaurant. It is one of the most memorable and iconic visits in the Okanagan.

I have come to know Quails’ Gate very well in the last decade. This winery has been very supportive of WineAlign and the National Wine Awards of Canada, including sponsoring this article. Given the quality of the wines and the people here, I have no problem lending my professional opinions and selecting, with my colleagues, the wines for this case.

All case purchases will receive complimentary shipping.

The Quails’ Gate 6-Pack ($299.60 – includes tax – shipping is complimentary):

Quails' Gate Chenin Blanc 2022

Quails’ Gate Chenin Blanc 2022

“Nicely balanced with a pleasant viscosity that gives persistence to the flavours on the palate. Very good length and excellent value.” 92 points – Sara D’Amato

Quails’ Gate Orchard’s Block Gewürztraminer 2022

“Fine and aromatic varietal character but truly a known level of confidence and experience for what gewürztraminer can be. Dear and demure, floral and lively, drier than many iterations without any sacrifice to flesh and surely not balance.” 91 points – Michael Godel

Quails’ Gate Rosemary’s Block Chardonnay 2021, Exclusive pre-release

“A remarkably well-balanced and composed set of aromatics that walks the fine line between expression and reduction, just the right degree of flintiness, a masterfully crafted wine.” 94 points – John Szabo, MS

Quails' Gate Queue 2021

Quails’ Gate Queue 2021

“Ripe and generous on the nose, densely fruity with abundant dark fruit character and an appealing savoury, stony edge. Wood influence is noted through the sweet oak spice, spent coffee grounds and dark chocolate, all supported by a significant tannic frame, chewy, designed for ageing.” 92 points – John Szabo, MS

Quails' Gate Merlot 2021

Quails’ Gate Merlot 2021

“I have always been a fan of Quails’ Gate merlot for delivering what I want from this grape. And this vintage is no exception. It is medium-full bodied, fairly plush with bright acidity and youthfully firm tannin.” 92 points – David Lawrason

Quails' Gate Dijon Clone Pinot Noir 2021

Quails’ Gate Dijon Clone Pinot Noir 2021

“This deeply coloured pinot offers up generous ripe cherry along with spicy/woodsy barrel notes and an iron-like minerality I ascribe to the volcanic soils of the site. It is medium-full bodied with power, warmth and considerable tannin.” 90 points – David Lawrason

This feature was commissioned by Quails’ Gate Winery. As a regular feature, WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single winery, agent or region. Our writers independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines — good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted on WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in the article. Wineries, wine agents, or regions pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, and its content, is entirely up to WineAlign.