Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Sperling wines benefit from a mature vineyard

Photo: Winemaker Ann Sperling

Ann Sperling is the most distinguished home-grown winemaker in the Okanagan.

She makes fine wine in Ontario and Argentina as well as in British Columbia. The current releases from Sperling Vineyards are an example of her art.

If one was writing about a European winery, a career like hers might not seem so remarkable. There, winemakers have followed in the footsteps of the family for generations. Ann is one of the rare examples in British Columbia.

Here is an excerpt  on the winery from the 2014 edition of John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide.

The history of north Okanagan grape growing and winemaking lives here. This winery has been launched by the Sperling family whose Casorso ancestors planted Kelowna’s first vineyard in 1925 and were among the original investors in what is now Calona Vineyards.

The story began when Giovanni Casorso came from Italy in 1883 to work at Father Pandosy’s mission before striking out on his own (he was once the Okanagan’s largest tobacco grower). His sons planted several vineyards. Formerly known as Pioneer Ranch, the 18.2-hectare (45-acre) Sperling Vineyards was planted initially in 1931 with grapes and apples by Louis and Pete Casorso. When Pete retired in 1960, Bert Sperling, his son-in-law, switched to entire property to vines, both wine grapes and table grapes. The grapes here include a 50-year-old (in 2014) planting of Maréchal Foch, a 37-year-old planting of Riesling and a planting of indefinite age of Perle of Csaba, a Muscat variety once grown widely in the Okanagan. Recent plantings include Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Undoubtedly, the Sperling family has been thinking about a winery of its own ever since Bert’s daughter, Ann, who was born in 1962, began her winemaking career in 1984, first with André’s Wines and then with CedarCreek Estate Winery. She moved to Ontario in 1995 where she helped launch such several stellar wineries. She and Peter Gamble, her husband, consult internationally and own a premium boutique vineyard in Argentina.

As busy as her career has been, one thing had been missing in Ann’s life. “I have always wanted to make wine with my parents’ vineyard,” she says. “I got to make wine with some of the grapes when I was at CedarCreek, but not anything extensive.” The Casorso story came full circle with this premium winery in 2013 when a production facility with a 10,000-case capacity was completed in the middle of the vineyard. The new winery is licensed as Magpie Cellars, named for a flock (or murder) of magpies that have lived here a long time. “They have watched over us and criticised our work for generations,” Ann says.  “It seemed fitting to acknowledge their role.” The site is not convenient for wine touring. The tasting room remains in Pioneer Country Market.

Here are notes on the current releases.

Sperling Organic Speritz 2017 ($22 for 284 cases). This is a rare experience to taste a  wine made with the Perle of Csaba, a Muscat variety said to have been first planted in the Okanagan in 1929. This wine is a blend of 51% Perle and 49% Bacchus. With 42 grams of residual sugar and 7.5 grams of acid, this off-dry white comes across with surprising delicacy because it has just 7.5% alcohol. It is a wine with aromas and flavours of spice and tropical fruit. The spritzy finish adds to its refreshing quality. 90.

Sperling Old Vines Riesling 2014 ($27.89 for 210 cases). The Sperling vineyard is a terroir similar to that of Tantalus. Both wineries rely for their Old Vines Riesling on a block of Weis Clone 21B Riesling planted in 1978. Both wineries make superb, age-worthy wines from those grapes. The Sperling OVR is fermented cool in stainless steel with both wild and non-aromatic yeast. Fermentation was stopped with 12.5 grams of residual sugar remaining. That was balanced with almost 9 grams of acidity; and two years of bottle age before its release polished the acidity. The result is a dry and very sophisticated wine that begins with aromas and flavours of lime and petrol around a spine of minerals. 92.

Sperling Sparkling Brut 2011 ($43.49 for 200 six-packs). The is a traditional Champagne method wine made with Pinot Blanc from a 1996 planting. The wine spent five years on the lees before being disgorged. It has classic bready/bisquity aromas and flavours from time on the lees. The are also flavours of citrus and apple. Good acidity gives the wine a crisp, tangy finish. The bubbles are fine and persistent. 91.

Sperling Pinot Noir 2016 ($22.59 for 364 cases). This is made with three Pinot Noir clones (115, 777 and 828) grown in blocks planted in 2008. The grapes, including 40% whole clusters, were fermented with wild yeast. The wine was aged in a variety of French oak cooperage, most of it used. The wine’s aromas of cherries and strawberries are reflected on the silky palate. Medium-bodied and with a dark hue, this is a delicious wine. 91.


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