50th Parallel Estate Winery owners welcome Grant Stanley
Grant Stanley has taken Quails Gate to new levels in his decade long sojourn. He’s turned it into one of the Okanagan’s most consistent producers; and honed a solid reputation for well made wines that frequently over-deliver.
The last time I’d seen Grant he’d hinted something big was around the corner. And it was.
A couple of weeks ago, he announced he has left Quails Gate (on good terms) to join newcomer 50th Parallel Estate Winery.
Let’s just say it’s a smart move. And one that’s been in the works for quite a while. Since 2006, to be precise, which when Grant first hooked up with 50th Parallel owners Curtis Krouzel and Sheri-Lee Turner-Krouzel. He since been quietly helping them to develop their winery.
Listen to what Grant has to say about it:
50th Parallel: on the move
This week I caught up with Grant and met Curtis and Sheri-Lee for the first time, as they made an inaugural presentation to 50th Parallel’s newly appointed agents, PMA Canada.
“High energy” doesn’t begin to describe this couple. Each was a successful entrepreneur in their own rite, before they got together to build what will be a destination winery.
Manitoba born Curtis—who hails from an Austrian family with a history of winemaking—had dreamt of a winery for several years. He says they scoured the Okanagan from top to bottom. Then, one day while sitting on his cottage deck, he spotted a 60 acre parcel that “didn’t seem to be doing much,” right across Lake Okanagan, a few kms. north of Gray Monk.
An ideal site
After some back and forth, the deal was closed in 2008. In the following year, Curtis and Sheri-Lee commenced hand-planting much of 50th Parallel’s vineyard themselves. (Although, engineer Curtis has since designed and built a laser-tracked machine to speed the process.) Ideally situated on a gentle, west-facing slope, the land used to be under vine. Back in the “bad old days” hybrid varietes as well as Bacchus and Riesling grapes were supplied to Jordan and St. Michelle. The site was eventually turned into a cherry orchard.
The 50th Parallel vineyard benefits from no shortage of granite soils, with some serious rocks, and plenty of reflection from the lake. (All good news for Pinot Noir.) During his tenure at Quails Gate, Stanley shifted what used to be a fairly large portion of contracted grapes to almost entirely estate grown.
“To me, the most interesting soils (read: Pinot friendly) are found in the central and northern part of the valley,” suggests Grant.
The partners are forging ahead ahead with a bold plan (and secured the necessary capital) for a multi-faceted project (through 2014-2016). Ultimately 50th Parallel will encompass a gravity-fed winery, vista-kissed bistro, a dining terrace, function rooms, guest cottages, infinity-edge pool, fitness trails and more.
These guys are go-getters and I suspect neither they nor their wines will disappoint, especially with Grant Stanley as winemaker. Internationally renowned, Toronto-based Zeidler Partners are the lead architects and designers.
In the bottle
While Grant may have only just joined the company formally, he’s been in the background for a while; and was instrumental in bringing on highly qualified inaugural winemaker Adrian Baker, who worked at New Zealand’s iconic Craggy Range.
The wines tasted all showed well. As only some 1400-1500 cases were produced in 2012, they’re tough to find—although a very limited supply will soon be around Vancouver. Look for them in better private stores and on a few geek-worthy wine lists. 2013 vintage projections (for 2014) call for some 7000 cases, including the first significant bottling of Pinot Noir. Target volume will be in the region of 25,000 cases per year.
Unquestionably, Grant took Quails Gate Pinot to the next level. His mission at 50th Parallel will be do that and even more. And no doubt he will. Before arriving in the Okanagan, while at Ata Rangi (Martinborough, NZ) he scooped a couple of serious awards, including the Bouchard Finlayson Trophy for the world’s Best Pinot Noir at London International Wine and Spirit Competition—regarded as the zenith of international validation.
50th Parallel – What’s in a name?
These guys are already having a lot of fun. In fact they’re happy to appear quite manic at times. But, you can be sure, beneath that alluring air of frivolity, there’s a very focused business plan at work that will result in a landmark operation.
Beyond that, the arrival of 50th Parallel is also significant because of its focus on just a handful of varieties, most notably Pinot Noir and Riesling, (and Chardonnay) that will combine with others nearby to emphasize their suitability to the north valley. The name 50th Parallel itself is of deep significance because of the way it connects the vineyard’s location to Burgundy’s latitude—as well as to Mosel for Riesling.
If you can track down some 50th Parallel wines…
• Pinot Gris 2012. Even though from still young vines (fourth leaf), one of the better Gris tasted among many in the last few weeks. Aromas of apple, pear and citrus with keen acidity and a dry finish. “There’s lots of tension here … Adrian nailed it,” says Grant. Think chilled barbecued salmon or chicken and Waldorf salad. $19. 91 pts.
• Gewurztraminer 2012. This wine very much defines the style we can expect. The aroma doesn’t scream rose petal at you but it’s still floral with more stonefruit and tropical hints. On the palate, while there’s texture it’s by no means fat, with a little spice in the middle that makes it textbook. Try with Pad Thai or anything not too spicy. Or as a great sipper. $18. 90 pts.
• Riesling 2012. I’d suggest, in time, Riesling could become almost as much of a 50th Parallel flagship as their Pinot. Then again, I am a bit biased. But I do believe north Okanagan Riesling will just get better and better. This has a classic citrus, lemon-lime personality with distinct mineral notes, nice tension and a vibrant, juicy acidity lingering through the close. $18. 90 pts.
• Pinot Noir Rosé 2012 (Estate and Oyama vineyards). Pretty salmon in the glass with vibrant strawberry notes; red berries and definite grapefruit on the palate, with herbal notes wrapped in crisp acidity before a juicy finish. A truly delicious thirst-quencher. $18. 90 pts.
• Pinot Noir 2011 (inaugural release). Superb deep purple colour; dark cherry, earthy and spicy on top with plush mouthfeel and silky tannins. Naturally, wild fermented—in a tractor shed (that had no residual yeast). Grant says young grapes tend to produce “huge fruit expression”. And that’s certainly true here. He adds 2012 will be even better, from the vintage of the decade. Bronze medal winner IWSC. $30. 92 pts.
And if you can’t find them, you’d just better head right for the winery. It’s certainly on my tour plan this summer.