Photo: Lt-Commander (retired) Spencer Massie
Last week, when the Canadian Navy banned alcohol on its
ships at sea, I immediately thought of Spencer Massie, the senior partner in
Clos du Soleil Winery in the Similkameen.
He is a naval veteran, having retired in 2000 as a
lieutenant commander, after 22 years. During his career, he developed a keen
interest in wine, often organizing on-board tastings, at least with fellow
When I first interviewed him in 2008, he recounted some of
his shipboard encounters with the grape.
“I was the second-in-command, executive officer, on a
mine-sweeper on this coast when I was 25 years old,” Spencer told me. “One of
my fellow ex-o’s and I, we were both into wine even back then. Normally, the
ship would carry a few cases of ordinary wines. He and I were splitting cases
of Margaux and things like that. We were in charge of ordering all the bonded
storage. There are opportunities within the military where you can experiment
and have some fun.”
Well, at least there were.
Spencer had a rationale for organizing wine tastings. “I
thought it was important for our young officers to tell the difference between
a tawny and a vintage Port, and what it takes to create a good bottle of wine,”
Perhaps the officers who took over when Spencer retired in
2000 did not think it all that important to teach sailors how to drink. The ban
was caused by sailors who over-indulged and got into so much trouble that they
almost caused an international incident. It is quite probable those sailors
never had a chance to develop a palate remotely as sophisticated as Spencer’s.
They might not appreciate the excellent wines coming from
the winery which Spencer (and partners) launched in 2008.
The current releases from Clos du Soleil are the wines with
which I will toast the navy’s (understandably) vanishing tradition. There will
still be opportunities to enjoy the occasional drink on board – on special
occasions. It will be a brave captain who will risk having too many special occasions.
Those of us safely on land, however, get to enjoy these
wines. Here are my notes.
Clos du Soleil
($27.90 for 12 barrels). This barrel-fermented wine is 91%
Sauvignon Blanc and 9% Sémillon. It begins with lovely aromas of grapefruit and
quince. On the palate, the wine is crisp and refreshing, with herbal notes
underlying flavours of lime. The model is Bordeaux
white. I think this is better, with more intense flavours. 92.
Clos du Soleil
Growers Series Guild Merlot 2012 ($24.90 for 125 cases). The grapes for
this wine are grown by the Guild family in a vineyard near Keremeos. This is a
big, ripe wine with aromas of cassis and vanilla. It delivers flavours of black
and red currants with a hint of raspberry. 90.
Clos du Soleil Signature
2012 ($44.90 for 19 barrels). This is 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot,
9% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. The wine was aged in French oak barrels
for 18 months. It begins with an aroma that envelops you with spice, black
cherry and cassis. On the palate, there are complex flavours of black currants,
dark chocolate, tobacco and espresso with a touch of cedar on the finish. The
long, ripe tannins will carry this wine – even though it is drinking well now –
for another 10 years. 93-95.
Clos du Soleil Saturn
2013 ($28.90 for 230 cases of 375 ml). This is sensational late harvest
Sauvignon Blanc, The intensely honeyed aromas of sweet fruit jump from the
glass. On the palate, there are honeyed flavours of citrus, ripe apricot and
pineapple. There seems to be a touch of botrytis here, creating an intense and
lingering finish of honey and tobacco. I reviewed this before its release in
the spring. More time in bottle has taken the wine to an even higher plateau.