Photo: Michael Clark at the Clos du Soleil winery
The latest releases from Clos du Soleil Winery show that winemaker
Michael Clark has stamped his French-inspired sensibilities firmly on this
That is a very good thing, in my view. Most of us cannot
afford the wines from Bordeaux’s classified growths, at least on a regular
basis. The Clos du Soleil wines, while not always budget-priced, are much more
affordable, with a quality rivalling classified growth wines.
French wine inspired this winery from the start, when a
group of four couples headed by Spencer Massie began planting the vineyard in
2007. Spencer, a former officer in the Canadian navy, once told me: “I love everything
classic French; my family roots go back to Normandy.”
There also was a more recent inspiration as well. Spencer
and Bonnie Henry, his wife, ran the Marathon du Médoc in 2002. I doubt anyone
would forget running a race with wine tasting stations en route.
Michael Clark joined the Clos partnership in 2012. Now he is
the winery’s managing director as well as the winemaker. This is his second career.
He was previously a banker and a bond dealer.
Michael, who was born in Cambridge, Ontario
in 1972, describes wine as “my number one passion literally before I could
drink wine. When I was a kid, I was fascinated with wine. Champagne is for Breakfast
– I read that book
when I was probably 10 years old. I don’t know other children who love to read
Initially, he set out on a career in theoretical physics
with bachelor’s degree from Queens University
and then a master’s degree from the University of British Columbia
. Then he switched to
finance with a master of business administration from UBC, where he also
founded a campus wine tasting society.
I worked in finance in Canada
and in the U.S.
for about 15 years.” That included eight years with two Swiss banks where, while
holding senior positions, he committed to winemaking by taking winemaking and
viticulture courses there in 2010. He then gained experience by doing crushes
at wineries in Switzerland
and in Bordeaux
2011, he enrolled in the rigorous winemaking program from the University
still in Europe, he began researching British Columbia winemaking opportunities
before making Clos Du Soleil his choice. Consulting winemaker Ann Sperling had made
the first five vintages before handing over to Michael.
provided the missing link at Clos Du Soleil. None of the four couples in the
founding partnership lived in the Okanagan or the Similkameen.
“Anybody will tell you that I am a bit of a detail person,”
he told a group tasting last year at the winery. “It served me well in finance
and it is serving me well now. I think that plays well in winemaking, which is
the sum of a million little details that add up to the final wine. Every single
year with all of our wines, I am trying to tweak things to make it [the wine] better
than the previous year.”
His approach, he says, is “in line with the overall
philosophy of Clos – being based on a Bordeaux aesthetic – where the art of
winemaking reaches it pinnacle in the art of blending. The whole magic of
blending is that you take two barrels and they can work together
synergistically, or not. So there are mont
of trialing; swapping out one barrel and putting in another to see how they
work together. There are no magic formulas.”
current releases all involve very effective blending. Here are my notes on
these wines as well as on three earlier releases that were overlooked during my
Clos du Soleil Estate Reserve White 2014
for 50 cases). This wine is 71% Sauvignon Blanc, 28% Sémillon, fermented in
barrel with wild yeast and aged eight months in barrel on lees that were
stirred occasionally. The minerality of the wine reflects that the grapes were
grown on a small patch of stony soil. The wine begins with aromas of lemon that
are repeated on the palate along with flavours of pears. The wine has an
elegantly polished texture with a hint of vanilla on the finish. 91.
Clos du Soleil Capella 2014
for 375 cases). This is 88% Sauvignon Blanc and 12% Sémillon. This austerely
dry wine could fit easily in a lineup of good white Graves, with its aromas of
grapefruit and flint. On the palate, there are flavours of grapefruit, under
ripe nectarine, flint and herbs. This wine should be aged a few years so that it
can develop its latent flavours of honey and nuts. Some 55% of this wine was
fermented in French oak barriques and the rest was fermented in stainless
steel. About half the wine was fermented with wild yeast. All the wine was aged
in barrel on the lees for 10 months. 91.
Clos du Soleil Fumé Blanc 2015
311 cases; sold out). This is 88% Sauvignon Blanc, 18% Sémillon. Both were
fermented separately in stainless steel, with just a light oak contact to
broaden the texture and get the “fume” character. The wine begins with citrus
aromas, leading to flavours of lime mingled with herbs and a hint of oak. It is
crisp and refreshing. 90.
Clos du Soleil Growers Series Pinot Blanc
($19.90 for 206 cases). This is a textbook example of Pinot Blanc, a
crisp and refreshing wine. It has aromas and flavours of apple, melon and
nectarines that still taste fresh from the garden. 90.
Clos du Soleil Rosé 2015
589 cases; but sold out). This is made entirely with Cabernet Sauvignon, with
the grapes getting between 24 and 48 hours of skin contact. It has aromas of
cherry, raspberry and blackberry, leading to flavours of cherry and
pomegranate. The mouthful of fruit flavours disguises the fact that the wine is
dry. It is a very good food wine. 91.
Clos du Soleil Signature 2013
for 850 cases). The winery’s flagship wine, this is a blend of 51% Merlot, 34%
Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Cabernet Franc and 2% each of Petit Verdot and Malbec.
The wine was aged 17 months in French barrels. The aromas explode from the
glass – cassis, vanilla, black cherry and chocolate – followed by a burst of ripe
flavours of cherry and blackberry with notes of coffee and chocolate. The
toasty oak frames the rich, ripe fruit on the palate. 93.
Clos du Soleil Estate Reserve Red 2012
for 100 cases). This is 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc,
6% Petit Verdot and 1% Malbec, virtually all from a select block in the
vineyard. The wine was aged 17 months in French oak. The wine begins with
aromas of cassis, plum, mint, coffee and leather. On the palate, there are
flavours of black currant, black cherry with a hint of cedar on the finish. The
wine has ripe but firm tannins and has the structure to age toward a peak in
perhaps 15 years. 94.