The Stewart family has been farming in the Okanagan since 1908 when Richard Stewart Sr. settled in the Kelowna area and founded one of the valley’s most successful nursery businesses.
His son, Dick Stewart, continued in his father’s footsteps, becoming a fruit and grape framer and bought 125 acres of property on the west side of the lake in 1956 to begin his fruit farming business.
Dick planted tree fruits as well as eating grapes to start, and in 1961 plated his first wine grapes, Chasselas, which are still grown on the property today.
In 1978 Dick’s eldest son, Ben, returned home with the shared dream of starting a winery.
The two spent the next 10 years extensively researching and planting different European vinifera on the Mount Boucherie site, now Quails’ Gate Family Estate Winery.
“We made our first bottle of wine, a Pinot Noir, in 1980, and it was at that moment when I tasted it that I knew we had the potential to make excellent wine here in the Okanagan,” recalls Ben today.
Over the years, the Stewarts transitioned from growing fruit trees to planting vineyards and in 1989 Quails’ Gate winery produced its first vintage.
To offer visitors a place to taste and buy their wine, Quails’ Gate opened an old cabin built on the property in 1873—Allison House.
This quaint cabin was formerly the home of John and Susan Allison and their 14 children.
The Stewarts had previously been using the cabin for farm storage, but felt it would serve as the perfect place to welcome guests.
In 1990, the old cabin was restored and housed a wine shop.
Today, the wine shop has been moved to a larger location on site where the winery is able to host a variety of wine tasting and sensory experiences.
Meanwhile, the little log heritage home remains open during the summer months, offering winery visitors the chance to step back in history while enjoying a glass of wine and light picnic.
“I don’t think it was on either of our radar screens that the whole industry would be what it is today. And for us to be on the leading edge of it is rewarding, and mine boggling at times,” says Ruth Stewart, Ben’s wife.
“Ben was confident that we could stand on our own two feet as a New World wine, and he was right.”
Still family run today, Quails’ Gate wines are sold across North America, China, Japan and Europe.
In 2014, Quails’ Gate celebrated its 25th harvest as the Stewarts continue to carry forward the pursuit of excellence, product service and hard work that their family has championed for more than a century.
“It’s that first milestone that allows us to reflect back on what we’ve done. What we’re really trying to do is establish that Quails’ Gate is one of Canada’s leading brands, today and in the future,” says Tony Stewart, who joined his brother at Quails’ Gate in the early ’90s.
One of the most unique ways to experience Quails’ Gate and all it has to offer is to be part of the wine club called the Cellar Door Club.
Today, the club has grown to offer its members three distinct programs to receive shipments of wines, including rare back vintages pulled from the family’s cellar; host dinners in the vineyard and get discounts off wine; and access the new lake front accommodation.
“We feel privileged when people come and visit us here. We want them to arrive and be greeted with a smile and feel like they’re being appreciated,” says Tony Stewart.
“My mom always said ‘be a good host’ and that’s something that everybody at Quails’ Gate believes in.”