Written by Amber Rae Bouchard, local blogger at Babbling Bottles
This is my favourite time of the year – each day is brings crisp morning air, new buds awakening on bare plant limbs, birds chirping their morning melodies through open windows that invite the wondrous elements of spring to flow freely into the house. A new spring means a new beginning, and this is certainly the case for myself. Purchasing a home has landed Babbling Bottles in West Kelowna for the first time ever and it’s time to crack some fresh bottles and uncork all the adventures to be had!
One of my favourite spring pastimes is visiting neighborhood wineries in the early part of the season, when the tourists have yet to head for destination Okanagan, and winery staff have had ample time to recuperate from the summer in the tasting room. It is always refreshing to visit around this time and experience all the wine releases and the excitement on winery staff faces as they tell you about their new favourites! There is so much to look forward to: tasting events, pick up parties, grounds tours – all the finer things that enhance the experience of wine and build a sense of community between wineries and locals within this sprawling local industry. The sense of seasonal anticipation feels almost palpable in the air. As one of the Okanagan wine industry’s longest standing cornerstones, I knew Babbling Bottles’ first Westside wine destination had to be Quails’ Gate Winery.
First Impressions of the Winery
Located on the lakeside of the Westside’s winding wine route, Quails’ Gate Winery burrows into the hillside of Boucherie Mountain. The two main buildings that make up the restaurant and tasting room have the quaint rustic elements of a ski lodge contrasted with the sparkling accouterments of decanters, wine bottles and the glimmer of Okanagan Lake in the background. The entire site makes me want to imagine that it was at one point a sanctuary for quails and other precious little creatures long before the influx of pioneers and settlers, the first of whom settled in this very location on the Westside. In April, the winery grounds are already bursting with fresh greenery while the Allison House sits proudly at the top corner of the site welcoming guests and passersby as they cruise down Boucherie road. There is boundless inspiration to be found in the lives of the pioneering woman Susan Allison and her husband John, two of the earliest settlers in the Okanagan Valley. The pair made their way from the lower mainland to the valley in the 1870’s, where they built their humble wood house overlooking the valley from the west and made a life for themselves by ranching, living off the land, and cooperating with the local indigenous peoples. Susan is even said to had an encounter with the infamous Ogopogo, but I’ll save that story for another blog!
Sip & Savour: The Quails’ Gate Tasting Experience
The tasting room at Quails’ Gate is one of the most favourable designs I’ve come across. The flow of the space makes it easy for people to filter in and immediately be stunned by the panoramic vista before them. It doesn’t hurt that Quails’ Gate merchandise is always on point and gives one plenty to look at if waiting for a space to open up at the tasting bar. Tasting associates Herb and Larry instantly made my heart melt with their jovial smiles along with the warmth and knowledge they expressed about the wine. Larry walked us through the portfolio starting with the Dry Riesling, a wine that exhibited a refined balance of sugars and a vibrant acidity that lend itself to a highly drinkable white wine. The drinkability, cellaring potential and boundless pairing possibilities make Riesling one of my favourite white wine varietals. Whether you’re munching a bag of Miss Vickie’s Salt & Malt Vinegar chips or about to indulge in a Mediterranean feast during a luxury vacation, all you need is a glass of Reisling to complete the experience. For endless Riesling pairing ideas, visit Food & Wine – it’s one of my favourite wine sites to grab new pairing ideas from.
Larry one-upped the Reisling by pouring the Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay 2016. You know your in good hands when each wine tastes even better than the last and by the end of the tasting you are left in despair at the enormity of the task of choosing which lovely bottles to take home with you. It reminds me of when I was a young girl and I insisted on numerous visits the SPCA to play with all the kittens, only to despair in the simple fact that I couldn’t take all of them back home with me at the end of the day. What an endearing thought to think that wine has become my new kitten to long for! It was hard not to fall for the playfully rich lusciousness of this particularly refined French-oaked Chardonnay. Ripe notes of buttery pear, caramel and wood spices sang in a chorus of harmonies, as if the gates of the heavens themselves had opened to let out the music of Gabriel’s horn – if just for a moment.
An exciting spring wine event occurring in Okanagan wineries is the release of a new vintage of rosé wines! We lucked out and visited on the day that Quails’ Gate released both rosés in its portfolio. First was the veritable Quails’ Gate, representing a 50/40 mix of Gamay Noir & Pinot Noir with a splash of Pinot Gris. The aromatics exhibited a fresh citrus squeeze with a touch of river stone minerality, while the sip was all fresh watermelon and strawberry – my first delicious taste of summer. Of the two rosés, it was the 2018 Lucy’s Block that I fell hard for – a lovely dry-style rose made with Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir, both of which serve as Champagne varietals in France. This rosé offered tantalizingly subtle complexities on the nose and a deliciously clean, light finish that makes you keep reaching for another sip… another glass… another bottle – it’s hard not to catch the rosé bug!
We ended the tasting with the 2017 Pinot Noir, a wine that contains a quality of smoothness best captured by how crushed velvet feels under palm. So lush and rich, it is an experience like no other. The vines are located on the slopes of Boucherie Mountain where the volcanic terroir, the age of the vines (over 20 years), and refined winemaking craftsmanship come together to produce a highly unique expression that has since become the flagship red of Quails’ Gate Winery.
Dining at Old Vines Restaurant
Service was crisp and professional yet, at the same time, warm and welcoming. Exposed wood beams line the ceiling of the dining room and bar which opens the space to the skies letting in ample light from the southern exposure of the restaurant. Seating on the patio offers gorgeous views of sprawling vineyards and the breathtaking Okanagan landscape. I always have trouble deciding which affects me the most – the immense blue expanse of Okanagan Lake or the rugged peaks of the mountains that hug the valley and enfold us all in a awe-inspiring embrace. Old Vines has the vibes of an upscale dining experience with the warmth of a local neighbourhood eatery. I find the biggest factor in determining a great dining experience has to be the conduct of the staff, and the level of professionalism displayed by our servers as well as the support staff made a lasting impression – thank you to all of the Old Vines team for your exceptional hospitality.
Our dinner that evening was flawless. The quality of the wine, local cuisine and unbeatable atmosphere of the restaurant impressed everyone at our table. As one of the top-rated restaurants in the country, the Old Vines menu features nothing but the finest of fresh ingredients sourced from the Okanagan valley. The successful connection between the kitchen and cellar is ultimately what produces the most satisfying culinary experiences, and Chef Roger Sleiman and his team have put together an outstanding menu where each dish is seasonally crafted and paired with the perfect wine from the Quails’ Gate portfolio.
After the the 2016 Chardonnay was poured we were treated to complimentary bread service which usually means that, as a celiac, I am forced to watch everyone else enjoy warm toasty housemade bread, but this time was different. Even those with gluten intolerance are well taken care of at the Old Vines restaurant and can indulge in complimentary gluten-free bread– which was simply divine! Every celiac knows the disappointing experience of finding gluten-free menu options that are, let’s be frank, either tasteless, cardboard-like in texture (at best) or crumble away to dust at first bite, but Old Vines has something celiac’s actually want to eat – a savory herb loaf with a crispy grilled crust and a light, pillowy soft inside.
Everything about dinner was memorable – so much so that I had to put the camera away to simply sit back and enjoy the moment. Our large group sampled the entire dinner main course menu and everything exceeded our expectations. The salmon I ordered was juicy and tender with a lovely crisped skin and creamy lemon risotto & roasted vegetables, and the suggested pairing of Chardonnay was exquisite. The butternut squash is an excellent (and very filling) vegetarian option – but if you’re thinking like a carnivore, the scallops and pork belly paired with Viognier is a match made in heaven. Since that lovely evening, we have gone back for Happy Hour and consistently experience exceptional hospitality, food, and wine.
The Old Vines Restaurant at Quails’ Gate has secured its place as a must-experience when visiting the Okanagan. However it is now, on the cusp of peak season, that the winery has everything going for it as locals can still wine and dine without the crowds of tourists thronging for their very own taste of the Okanagan. Visit the Quails’ Gate wine shop for daily tastings of their latest releases (rosé, yes way!), book a blind wine tasting session (everyday at 5pm) or simply head to the patio at Old Vines for Happy Hour and/or a traditional English High Tea. Hours and details can be found on the Quails’ Gate website.
Look out for my next blog where I dive into an exposé on the history and outdoor adventures to be had at Boucherie Mountain. Until then, I implore you to uncork a bottle of Okanagan wine and enjoy the springtime!
Amber Rae Bouchard