Grape King has roots in Niagara

September 14, 2016 | St. Catharines Standard
by Bill Sawchuk

Jamie Quai, the 2016 Grape King, is from St. Thomas but his connections to Niagara are strong.

Quai, 33, is the winemaker at Quai du Vin Estate Winery, studied winemaking at Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute. He became an instructor after graduation in 2006.

“My wife and I are both Brock grads,” he said. “I was on faculty at the university until this past year.

“I grew up in the industry. I’ve been in the business my entire life. I take a lot of pride in developing the industry.”

(Photo of Jamie Quai, 2016 Grape King with out-going Grape King Jamie Slingerland
by Denis Cahill)

Quai du Vin produces more than 90,000 bottles per year and has 22 acres of vineyards, planted with Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Baco Noir, Marechal Foch, Vidal, Seyval Blanc, Sevye Villard, Aurore, Concord, Niagara, New York Muscat and Ehrenfelser.

“My grandparents planted it in the early 1970s, my parents are still involved, and I’ve been running it for about a decade,” Quai said. 

“My grandparents emigrated from Italy, and my grandfather worked in the building trades. The vineyards were a retirement project for them. They sold the construction business and did something different.”

Quai du Vin’s top sellers are their Vidal and Baco Noir. The wines aren’t available through the LCBO

“We sell cellar door and through farmers markets,” he said. “We are one of the oldest wineries in the province. We got our licence right around the same time as Cave Springs and Henry of Pelham. We were in the first wave.”

Quai, who has a stylistic bunch of grapes (based on a design by his wife) prominently tattooed on his forearm, said it took a while for it to sink in after he found out about the selection.

“We don’t pursue accolades,” he said. “We don’t enter competitions. We don’t go after that kind of recognition. I joke that we are the biggest little winery nobody has heard of.”

The Grape King is chosen based on the expertise of vineyard management and vineyard quality, said John Geurtjens, vice-president of Farm Credit Canada, which sponsors the selection process.

As Grape King, Quai will act as Ontario’s grape and wine industry ambassador at events across the country, starting with the Mayor’s Grape Stomp on Sept. 17 and Grande Parade on Sept. 24 at the Niagara Wine Festival.