For more than a century, the Stewart family has been intrinsically tied to their land and their agricultural dedication has proven worthwhile. Their Quails’ Gate Winery pinot noir and chardonnay, grown on the south facing slopes of Mt. Boucherie, are some of Canada’s most awarded wines.
2014 marks 25 years of success for Quails’ Gate Winery, and as with all silver jubilees, the occasion is one for celebration. One would imagine the pioneering Stewart family is used to setting milestones by now; there are very few families with a longer continuous history in the Okanagan Valley. The Stewarts have been horticulturists in the Okanagan since 1908, when Irish pioneer Richard Stewart Sr. recognized the potential of the land, founding a thriving and successful nursery business, Stewart Brothers Nursery in 1911. His son, Richard, carried on the tradition of working the land and started to shift the focus into grape growing, planting vinafera grapes on the sloping volcanic soils of Mt. Boucherie in 1961 and becoming a founding member of the Association of British Columbia Grape Growers. In 1989, Richard’s son Ben, along with Ben’s wife Ruth, launched Quails’ Gate Winery, one of the few in the province at the time. Ben was among the first to plant premium French Dijon pinot noir clones in Canada, and promoted quality viticulture and winemaking at a time when the B.C. wine industry was barely off the ground. Ben’s brother Tony joined the family business soon after, and now oversees operations as CEO.
On his family’s quarter century at the forefront of B.C.’s wine industry and the events marking this milestone, Tony is quick to point out that it’s all about respecting the roots—their family. “The most significant event this year is our new tier of wines dedicated to family, and especially our collaboration between generations. The Estate Collection releases are brand new, small lot, single vineyard wines named for family members or milestones, and will be released this fall.” Rosemary Stewart’s quilting designs are featured on the four estate vineyard labels: pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot gris, and for the first time, syrah. In addition, Tony is instigating a traditional method sparkling wine program, planting chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier grapes for a release eight to 10 years down the road. Joking that “the best time to plant a vineyard is 10 years ago”, Tony’s foresight mirrors his brother’s, father’s, and grandfather’s before him. The winery is already well established in its chardonnay and pinot noir programs, and have been making extraordinary chenin blanc and maréchal foch for years.
That foresight was also key when they brought Nikki Callaway on as new winemaker last year. “Nikki is outstanding in her approach and skills, and has proven quickly to be a fantastic addition to the team,” notes Tony. A Diplôme National d’Oenologue at Université Bordeaux II and cellar management roles in Bordeaux, southern France, and South Africa preceded her 2009 arrival in B.C., where she was a key member of the winemaking team at Mission Hill Family Estate, working on their lauded Legacy Collection, as well as the ambitious Martin’s Lane project. “I’m excited to be hands-on in every aspect at Quails’ Gate, and for the opportunity to be part of a family-owned, smaller scale winery—not that we’re thinking or operating small,” she says.
Certainly not small-minded at all. There’s no telling what will mark Quails’ Gate Winery’s golden jubilee, but it will undoubtedly reflect another in a series of quarter centuries of family pioneering pride.