Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Clos du Soleil brings home awards

Photo: Clos du Soleil winemaker Michael Clark

Michael Clark, the managing director and winemaker at Clos du Soleil Winery, is trumpeting that the winery recently won three silver medals at the Decanter World Wine Awards in London.

This is a tough competition. The scores awarded to the three wines (90 or 91) are sufficient for gold medals in many other wine competitions. Michael has every reason to take pride in the results.

"It is always gratifying to receive international recognition for our wines, especially from a competition of the caliber of the Decanter World Wine Awards,” Michael said in a news release. “I feel that winning a silver medal for every wine we entered this year really speaks to the consistency in quality across Clos du Soleil's offerings.”

The winners, which have taken awards elsewhere as well, are three of the winery’s flagship wines: Capella 2016 ($28), Estate Reserve Red 2013 ($60) and Signature 2014 ($45).

Capella is a blend of 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Sémillon. Estate Reserve Red and Signature both are blends of five Bordeaux red varietals, with Cabernet Sauvignon as the anchoring varietal. The grapes are all from the winery’s estate vineyard in the Similkameen valley.

International recognition will be rewarding to Clos du Soleil’s partners, given that the winery takes its inspiration from their Bordeaux-influenced palates. Spencer Massie, who led the four original partners in launching the winery in 2007, once took part in the Marathon du Médoc. The route runs through vineyards and there are tasting stations along the way.

The winery’s dedication to French wine styles even extends to the naming of some of the wines. The winery, while well equipped with barrels and stainless steel tanks, has three 5,000-liter concrete tanks that are used to ferment and age wine. Later this year, Clos du Soleil plans to release a red wine fermented and aged entirely in concrete. The wine will be called Béton, French for concrete.

Michael joined Clos du Soleil in 2012. Several years earlier, he had left a career as an investment banker in Switzerland to study winemaking and to work in Swiss and Bordeaux wineries before returning to his native Canada. His careful research of winemaking opportunities in the Okanagan and the Similkameen led him to Clos du Soleil. The consulting winemaker at the time was Ann Sperling and she and Michael overlapped in the Sperling Vineyards cellar until Clos du Soleil built its own winery.

The winery then had 10 acres of vines planted in 2007. Last year, Clos du Soleil bought a similar-sized property adjacent to its vineyard. This spring, about six acres was planted with Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. Both properties are organic. In keeping with the French theme, the new vineyard, which has rolling terrain, is called Les Collines.

The winery, which has recently added a seasoned vineyard manager, also farms nearby vineyards. One supplies more Sauvignon Blanc while the other, in a departure from the Bordelaise philosophy, supplies Pinot Blanc and Syrah.

Michael’s disciplined winemaking style, while detailed-oriented, is comparatively minimalist. Ferments are done generally with wild yeast. Wines benefit from extended lees contact and are usually bottled unfined and unfiltered. He avoids additives and limits the use of sulphur. He observes that the wines could be called natural.

“There is nothing in any Clos do Soleil marketing materials that would ever use the word, natural,” Michael says. “Of course, it is a hot topic in wine circles and trendy among some people. My own view is that I am trying to make the best wine possible. And if I think making something in a sort of natural way makes the best wine, I’ll do that. If that is not making the best wine, there is nothing philosophical holding me to that. I will do whatever it takes to make the best wine. For that reason, we have not jumped on the natural band wagon.”

He continues: “The goal here is not to be held to any particular philosophy. The goal is to make the best wine possible. We are not making philosophies. We are making wine.”

In a recent visit to the winery, I was able to taste the new releases. Here are my notes.

Clos du Soleil Winemaker’s Series Pinot Blanc 2017 Middle Bench Vineyard ($22.90). The appealing aromas of apple and citrus are echoed in the flavours of this crisp and refreshing white. Michael comments: “Exactly the same winemaking as always, which is me trying to keep my hands off as much as possible. It is whole cluster pressed, fermented in stainless steel, and literally not touched until approaching bottling.” 91.

Clos du Soleil Fumé Blanc 2017 ($21). This is 83% Sauvignon Blanc, 17% Sémillon, fermented mostly in stainless steel, with a smaller volume fermented and aged in French oak. The wine has aromas and flavours of lime, with good weight and length on the palate. The finish is crisply dry. 92.

Clos du Soleil Capella 2016 ($27.90). This is 80% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Sémillon. The wine was fermented and aged in French oak, with lees aging adding texture. Think of this as the Similkameen’s answer to white Graves. It begins with aromas of mandarin and grapefruit. The subtle oak supports flavours of grapefruit and quince. The mid-palate weight is rich, following through with a spine of minerality. 93.

Clos du Soleil Estate Reserve White 2015 ($59.90). Think of Graves from a classified château.  This is 96% Sauvignon Blanc, 4% Sémillon. The wine was barrel-fermented with wild yeast and aged on the lees. Sulphur was added just prior to bottling this unfined and unfiltered wine. The aromas begin with a hint of vanilla and orange peel, leading to flavours of green apple and lemon. The wine has excellent weight on the palate but finishes bone dry. 94.

Clos du Soleil Rosé 2017 ($22). The pale rose colour of this wine reflects less skin contact than in previous rosé vintages, but not because Michael has climbed on the fashion for very pale rosés. “In the last few years, I have been aiming for a bit more complexity and a bit more delicacy,” Michael says. “I am sold on the idea of delicacy in a wine, not just rosé, but wines generally. As far as rosés go, I am not totally sold that the paler, the better. I am also not sold on the idea that the color trumps everything else. Most consumers chose wine based on packaging; a lot of consumers for rosé in particular are attracted to the beautiful colour.” This is 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Cabernet Franc. It begins with aromas of strawberry and rhubarb, leading to fresh and lively flavours of raspberry and strawberry. The finish is balanced to dryness. 91.


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