Few local wineries think out of the box when it comes to marketing.
However, those who do often get more bang for their buck because of the significant international interest in British Columbia wine country and its fundamentally natural environment. Yes, we can be a story.
Earlier this month, I participated in a highly imaginative marketing joint project between the iconic folks at Mitchell & Son Green Spot Pot Still Irish Whiskey and Quail's Gate winery in West Kelowna. I want to say I gained just enough whiskey knowledge to become a menace, but there was no final exam or an offer to become a whiskey ambassador, so sleep easy. I'm sticking to wine.
But first, in 1805, William Mitchell opened a bakery and confectionery business on Dublin's famed Grafton Street. Then, some 22 years later, Mitchell & Son launched into the wine and spirits trade at a nearby location. In those days, most Ireland merchants bought distillate in bulk from local distilleries and matured it themselves in casks left over from their on-site bottling of port and sherry.
Using distillate obtained from the nearby Bow Street Distillery, Mitchell & Son matured whiskey in a mix of casks that had previously been hidden away in their cellars aging dark and light sherries. At the five-year mark, the light and dark casks were blended and given an additional five years of aging in neutral oak. Originally marketed as "Pat Whisky," in 1933, it was rebranded as "John Jameson & Son 10-Year Old Green Seal," which eventually morphed into the famed Green Spot logo.
Historically Mitchell & Son offered a range of whiskeys under the "Spot" brand. They kept track of the casks and the years the whiskey was aged using a series of colourful paint spots on each barrel: the seven-year-old was a Blue Spot, a 12-year-old Yellow and a 15-year-old Red, but it was the 10-year-old Green Spot that endured. Today only the Green Spot whiskey has remained in continuous production.
When Irish Distillers closed its Dublin facilities (including Bow Street) in 1971, Mitchell & Son struck a deal to mature the whiskey on-site using their casks, with Mitchell & Son having sole rights to market, sell, and develop the whiskey. Previously a 10-year-old whiskey, the current-day Green Spot is a non-age statement whiskey made from a blend of seven to 10-year-old single pot still whiskeys matured in new and reused bourbon and sherry casks.
Enter the Wine Geese, a term given to the Irish who smuggled themselves into Europe after the 1690 Battle of the Boyne and eventually built successful European wine careers. Today, the geese comprise a substantial Irish emigrant population across the global wine business. In 2015 Mitchell & Son launched a program to bring the geese home, so to speak, by creating unique releases of Green Spot Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey that, after its regular production regime of being triple distilled and aged in bourbon and sherry barrels, it spends time in used wine barrels supplied by specially chosen geese from around the world.
The first release was Green Spot Château Léoville Barton which spent 18 months in Bordeaux wine casks courtesy of owner Anthony Barton. Next, up in 2017, Chateau Montelena owner Beau Barrett contributed French Oak Zinfandel barrels from Napa Valley, California. The Green Spot Château Montelena was aged 12 months before release. Finally, the latest Green Spot took famous Irish Whiskey to the Stewart family owners of Quail's Gate. Their contribution were the first pinot noir barrels used in the iconic blend that eventually aged 16 months in the older French oak.
Deirdre O'Carroll, Blender at Irish Distillers, was in Kelowna for the debut and commented on the latest Limited Release: "Maturing Green Spot Irish Whiskey in the Pinot Noir casks from Quails' Gate adds a fascinating and delectable assortment of rich red berries from the red wine seasoning that perfectly balances Green Spot's orchard fruits and toasted wood finish for a flavoursome, complex expression. Whether a whiskey enthusiast or a wine connoisseur — we hope this addition to the Spot family will be cherished by those in Ireland, Canada and everywhere in between."
Rowan Stewart, third generation family member and an assistant winemaker at Quails' Gate winery, added: "The partnership between Spot Whiskeys and Quails' Gate celebrates the best of both worlds: the deep roots of the whiskey tradition and our family tradition of winegrowing. Together, we have created an exciting, complex and memorable collaboration, honouring the legacy of both traditions."
The whiskey will likely sell out fast; you will have to move quickly to buy some. You can grab a glass now at the Quails' Gate Old Vines Restaurant or a bottle from select whiskey retailers across the globe. The Canadian release of very limited quantities will follow in June, including an allotment available at the annual B.C. Liquor Store Whiskey Release in June. It is well worth the money.
Here are my reviews of the Mitchell & Son Green Spot Pot Still Irish Whiskey, the Green Spot Pot Quails' Gate Limited Edition Still Irish Whiskey, and the team's latest Quail's Gate reviews.