REGULAR readers will know we're a long time fan of Quails Gate wines, so it was with some interest that we learned from owner Tony Stewart some time ago, that he was looking to broaden his horizons possibly in Australia, New Zealand or elsewhere.
Quails Gate has a history of being on the leading edge and Stewart's plan - to make use of the family's knowledge and experience gained over the last 25 years in other markets - mirrors that of other successful wineries (such as Burgundy and Oregon's Drouhin, for example).
As it happens, his search for a collaborator wound up a whole lot closer to home than he had imagined. One day Stewart bumped into Dan Zepponi, a California industry veteran who had recently left his position as vice president of production with Beringer Estates to become president of Mission Hill - just up the hill from Quails Gate.
Zepponi had been hired on a two-year contract and was actually looking to move on to other opportunities.
Like Stewart, Zepponi has the wine biz in his blood: his family co-founded ZD winery on Napa's Silverado Trail.
Stewart and Zepponi are now partners in Plume Winery, which this week unveiled its inaugural release, a 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, which will be in BC Liquor stores by midNovember.
The medium-to fullbodied Cab (with a little Petit Verdot, Merlot and Malbec) is already very drinkable, with ripe red berry aromas, vibrant red fruit and cherry notes wrapped in balanced oak with a definite streak of juicy acidity, easy tannins, a touch of spice and a lengthy close - and it was a great match with Hawksworth's beef tenderloin with braised lentils and Chanterelles. At $29.99 it adds up to pretty good value for an entry level Napa Cab.
Having been responsible for some 4,000 acres of vineyards, Zepponi has no shortage of connections to good fruit in the valley - and it shows. He also has some pretty serious winemaker connections. His "cell-mate" at The Ranch custom crush where Plume was made just happens to be his long time friend Tim Mondavi - though he's not letting on who's the consulting winemaker, except it's a "high-profile" Napa Valley type.
Speaking of Napa, Napa Valley Vintners roll into town for a day of tastings Nov. 1, culminating in a A Taste of Napa at Fairmont Pacific Rim that evening.
The 26 wineries include such luminaries as Clos du Val, Ggrigh Hills, Peju, Shafer, Stag's Leap and Silver Oak. This is a showcase of premium drops well worth the $65 price of admission, with proceeds to Arts Umbrella. Call 6046815268, ext. 234 to book.
Belly's Budget Best
- El Petit Bonhomme 2010. If you're thinking there's a Canadian connection here, you're right. Montreal born dynamo Nathalie Bonhomme makes this value-priced blend of old vines Monastrell with grenache and Syrah at Juan Gil winery in Spain's Jumilla (pronounced hoomee-ya) region. Here's an approachable, gently robust red with plummy notes and a touch of anise and oak that goes well with a fall stew or some decent cheese. The fun package also by Nathalie is another bonus. Give it some time in a big bowl and you'll be surprised at what you get for $14.99 BCLS.
- Pavillon Arnaud 2010. Minervois usually equates to robust, minerally reds, making whites a rarity. Grab a bottle of this very affordable, food friendly, lightly tropical, crisply citrus toned the next time you're thinking oysters or seafood. Or just want a good drop. BCLS $13.95.