Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Winemaker Ann Sperling: Miss Versatility

 Photo: Ann Sperling

The new releases from Sperling Vineyards and from Clos du Soleil were both made by Ann Sperling. They are a demonstration of her versatility as a winemaker.

It is in her blood, of course. Through her mother, she is a member of the Casorso family. Her forbears first planted grapes in Kelowna in 1925 on what is now the longest continuously farmed vineyard in B.C. by the same family.

 Ann grew up around grapes because her father, Bert Sperling, took over Pioneer Ranch – the Casorso vineyard – in the 1960s. Naturally, Ann began working in the wine industry after university, eventually carving out a distinguished career nationally and internationally.

Until 2008, however, she had not made wine commercially from Pioneer Ranch grapes. In that year, Ann’s family and her siblings decided to launch Sperling Vineyards.

At the same time, the owners of the Clos du Soleil winery in the Similkameen engaged Ann as their consulting winemaker. There was a bit of serendipity involved here. Spencer Massie, one of the principals at Clos du Soleil, attended high school in Kelowna with Ann.

The difference between these two wineries is the sort of thing that fires a winemaker’s enthusiasm. Clos du Soleil is based on a relatively young vineyard planted entirely with Bordeaux varieties. Spencer and his partners are committed to wines reflecting their appreciation of all things Bordeaux.

Sperling Vineyard benefits from mature vines, including 45-year-old Maréchal Foch and 35-year-old Riesling. As well, the newest releases are from Burgundy varieties. When the Sperling/Casorso family decided to launch a winery in 2008, they planted 8.5 acres of Pinot Noir and 1.5 acres of Chardonnay with an eye to making sparkling wine.

There can never be a routine vintage for Ann, given the differences between these two wineries. Meanwhile, she ensures that she stays even sharper by consulting with Ontario wineries and, with husband Peter Gamble, managing a small premium winery in Argentina.

Here are notes on recent releases.

Sperling Brut 2009 ($40). This elegant sparkling wine is primary made with Pinot Blanc, a variety with a good Okanagan track record for making bubble (see Steller’s Jay Brut). This wine spent 36 months on lees, developing an appealing aroma of toast and yeast. The apple notes of the variety come through on the palate. The wine has a crisp finish. The 2010 sparkling wine, to be released next year, is based on Pinot Noir. 90.

Sperling Chardonnay 2012 ($30 for 100 cases). This wine was aged in big oak puncheons. Ann would have preferred used white wine barrels. When none were available, she opted for new puncheons because the wine would pick up less oak from the larger vessels. The strategy worked brilliantly. This has the brightness and freshness of Chablis, with apple and melon flavours and with a fine backbone of minerals. 90-91.

Sperling Pinot Noir 2012 ($26). The second Pinot Noir from Sperling, this wine has an appealing ruby hue, with aromas and flavours of cherry and strawberry on a concentrated palate. There is spicy fruit on the finish. The wine is showing well now but has so much potential to develop in the bottle that it should be cellared a few years. 90.

Sperling Old Vines Foch 2011 ($26).  Many acres of Maréchal Foch, a French hybrid, were pulled out in the Okanagan in 1988. Happily, the Sperling family made no such rash move, with the result that their winery now can offer a really big red every year. This is a delicious wine with flavours of plum and black cherry and an almost gamey delicatessen aroma. The texture is juicy, thanks to the soft tannins of the variety. 91.

Clos du Soleil Capella 2012 ($24.90). This is Sauvignon Blanc with eight per cent Sémillon. The wine has lime and grapefruit both on the aroma and on the palate. It is zesty and refreshing with crisp but lingering finish. 90.

Clos du Soleil Signature 2011 ($39.90). The winery made 10 barrels of this wine in the 2011 vintage, a significant volume for a small winery. This is 64% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc, 6% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot. It has good weight on the palate, with aromas of black currant and with flavours of black currant, chocolate and liquorice. There are spicy blackberry notes on the finish. This is definitely a candidate for cellaring for five to 10 years. 91.


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