Napa, Okanagan Unite for Wine Venture

Plume Winery's first vintage released, backed by Quails' Gate

by Peter Mitham
plume winery dan zepponi tony stewart
Dan Zepponi, a veteran of California’s wine industry, and Tony Stewart, proprietor of Quails’ Gate winery, launched Plume Winery's debut release Tuesday.
Napa, Calif.—A cross-border partnership between vintners in two of North America’s premier wine regions has set its sights on opening a winery in California’s Napa Valley within the year.

Plume Winery is the name of a new venture by West Coast Wine Partners LLC, a business backed by the Stewart family of Quails’ Gate Estate Winery in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley and Dan Zepponi, a veteran of California’s wine industry and former president of Quails’ Gate neighbor Mission Hill Family Estate winery and its sister, Artisan Wine Co.

Yesterday in Vancouver, B.C., Plume launched its debut release, 1,200 cases of 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon made from grapes grown at locations across the Napa Valley AVA. “We’ve felt that the wine industry in Canada needs to think more globally,” Quails’ Gate proprietor Tony Stewart told Wines & Vines following the Plume launch. “One way we’ve felt that we wanted to ensure that our business was aware of what was happening around the world was to diversify outside of Canada.”

The partners considered Australia and New Zealand locations for expansion, but eventually focused on the Napa, Sonoma and Paso Robles AVAs (see Wines & Vines’ April 21, 2010, headline, “British Columbia Winery Looks South,” ). Stewart investigated opportunities in the Oak Knoll and Stag’s Leap districts of Napa, and in Sonoma, the Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley.

Last year, Stewart said that a 10,000-case winery sourcing 60% to 80% of its grapes from its own properties would fill the bill and complement Quails’ Gate. Napa was the front-runner because of its cachet among consumers, and market recognition.

“When you get out selling the wine, Napa’s just so much more prevalent in the marketplace, Stewart said, noting too that Cabernet Sauvignon is a natural fit for the locale. “What we’ve really tried to do is develop a strategy that would look at different appellations and focus on varieties that would do well in those appellations.”

California connections
This is where Zepponi’s expertise came into play. Zepponi is tapping relationships cultivated as the son of ZD Winery co-founder Gino Zepponi and during stints with Domaine Chandon, Beringer and associated wineries.

“I’m working with old-time growers that I’ve known all my life who are willing to work with us, and that’s a key component,” Zepponi said. “There are a lot of négociants out there right now who just took advantage of over-supply, but now it’s about sustainable supply.”

During his time overseeing Artisan, Zepponi became familiar with the opportunities in Canada for California wine. The company used juice from the Central Valley in its Wild Horse Canyon blend, billed as coming from a “West Coast Appellation,” but Zepponi believes a wine made entirely from Napa fruit will have legs both domestically and in Canada.

An agreement hasn’t been signed yet for a bricks-and-mortar winemaking facility, but a deal is close. The new Plume wine will introduce the venture to consumers, echoing the approach the Stewarts took when launching Quails’ Gate in 1989 after 29 years as grapegrowers. The first wines from Quails’ Gate were made at Mission Hill. Quails’ Gate has since become established in its own right, producing some 50,000-cases annually at expansive premises including a restaurant and meeting facilities.

“We’re just trying to make a small amount of wine while we look for the purchase of the winery and ensure that once we have a winery we have product available,” Stewart said of the Plume release. The 2010 vintage is limited to a total of 2,500 cases. The first release from the new facility will be made from approximately 80 tons of grapes harvested this fall, and, so far, all going well.

“We source from different regions intentionally to try to make a blend of Napa Valley, so that no one region is going to really destroy us. I think if we can get this rain out of the way today, we’re going to be OK,” Zepponi said.

The fruit is looking good, he added. Zepponi expects the crop will be about 15% lighter than usual, but fruit quality to be fine, thanks to a slow and extended growing season that has set harvest behind by about two weeks.

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