Quails' Gate and the Stewart family are launching a new series of wines that are part of a long-term master plan to transition to the next generation.
The goal is to inspire the current team to build on a strong foundation while meeting growing consumer demand for different, small lot labels unique to the property.
The current Stewart family comes from a long line of Okanagan pioneers dating back to the early 20th century. But after more than 30 years of making fine wine, they find themselves at a crossroads. While many other ageing founders are selling their properties, the family has decided to forge ahead, planting 160 acres on a 200 acre site on the rising slopes of East Kelowna. That is about the same size as the home, Mount Boucherie site in West Kelowna, where they farm some of the oldest pinot and chardonnay clones in the valley.
As an agricultural family, the Stewarts have always remained close to the soil. From the beginning, the family has had a unique ability to identify exceptional terroir. The next level is interpreting the nuances of the land and the grapes grown on it. The new Distinction Series will be a place to experiment with super small-lot wines, to innovate and frankly do something different. The wines will have no set release dates, and the labels and wines and grapes will change as the seasons do. The hopes are that having "a playground of sorts" will result in techniques and successes that will filter down into the mainstream wines, improving all.
For those accustomed to the recent investment and explosive growth in the Okanagan wine industry, it's hard to imagine a time just decades ago when success was far from a sure thing. At that time there were still lingering doubts about the viability of Vitis vinifera and the ability of traditional European grape varieties to survive Canadian winters. There was also the question of whether Canadians would truly embrace local wine, something we take for granted now.
Today, the story has come full circle as experimentation was at the core of the early Quails' Gate story when brothers Ben and Tony Stewart launched the first family winery venture as a farmgate, only selling wine direct from the property. The parking lot may be busy today, but the Stewarts have returned to its pioneering roots to make sure it remains full for the next generation.
We caught up with 2nd and 3rd generations, Tony and son Rowan Stewart, winemaker Kailee Frasch and viticulturist Ed Tonner to talk about the new line and its effect on the organization.