Friday, January 21, 2011

Clos du Soleil's new releases from the hand of Ann Sperling

Photo: Spencer Massie (l), Ann Sperling, Les Le Quelenc (r)

When a Clos du Soleil red won the icon wine tasting at the SIP VQA store in Richmond last fall, many of the tasters had never even heard of this small Similkameen winery.

That’s not surprising. The winery began selling its first vintage, 2007, in 2008 and the production volume was modest. Collectors, a handful of restaurants and friends of the owners quickly snapped up what wine was available.

However, production is growing gradually. The winery’s Similkameen vineyard now is close to full production. The winery also has plans to open its first tasting room ever at its property on Upper Bench Road, just outside Keremeos.

Clos du Soleil is also venturing into doing winemaker dinners, starting with one at the Salt Restaurant in Gastown on February 22.

So who is Clos du Soleil? It is a winery owned by four couples. Spencer Massie, a retired Canadian naval officer, and his wife, Bonnie (a physician), are the most visible of the four.

The other partners are Ottawa-based Gus Kramer, a former naval colleague of Spencer, and Lisa Underhill; Peter and Andria Lee, a Vancouver business couple; and Calgarian oil executives Leslie Le Quelenec and his partner, Sue Lee.

Spencer went to high school in Kelowna with Ann Sperling, now Clos du Soleil’s winemaker. However, he acquired his passion for wine during his 21 years in the navy (he retired in 2000). His shipmates relied on him to order wines for the mess and to host Port tastings.

After he and Bonnie moved to Vancouver in 2005, he began looking for vineyard property for the Clos du Soleil project. Two years later he found a 10-acre orchard. He hired Lawrence Herder, one of the owners of Herder Vineyards, to plant Bordeaux varieties and to make the first Clos wines.

When Lawrence scaled back his consulting to focus on the new Herder winery he was building next door, Spencer engaged his former classmate to make the wine.

Ann Sperling grew up on her family’s Kelowna vineyard and, after university, began her illustrious winemaking career at André's Wines and then CedarCreek before moving to Ontario. There, she has been involved with several leading producers and currently is the winemaker for Southbrook.

A few years ago, she also resumed her Okanagan career, launching Sperling Vineyards with her family and taking on consulting winemaking contracts with Camelot Vineyards and Clos du Soleil, beginning with the 2008 vintage.

Each winery has its own style, reflecting both vineyard terroir and the focus of the owners. At Clos du Soleil, the owners have cultivated palates for Bordeaux wines and that is mirrored in the style of the wines.

The winery’s inaugural releases were simply named White and Red. The second generation has gained sophistication on the labels. Capella replaces White: the name is taken from a star that can be seen from the vineyard during the Similkameen’s clear nights.

Clos du Soleil Capella 2008 ($26.90). This is a blend of 95% Sauvignon Blanc with five per cent Sémillon. The style reminds one of Graves, in keeping with the French palates of the owners. The wine begins with honeyed aromas of tropical fruits. On the palate, there are flavours of green apples and melons. 90.

Clos du Soleil Signature 2008 ($38.90). This disciplined red, reminiscent of a Bordeaux red, is built for cellaring. It is a blend of 52% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc and 9% Malbec. It was aged 18 months in oak (80% French, 20% American, and only 11 barrels – about 275 cases – was made. The wine has aromas of red and black currants with a Bordelaise hint of cigar box. In the glass it opens to show a lovely core of sweet berry flavours. It has a backbone of firm, ripe tannins. 90


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