Ann Sperling, one of the finest of Kelowna-born winemakers, made wine this fall in the Okanagan for the first time in 13 years.
Currently based in the Niagara Peninsula, Ann and Peter Gamble, her winemaker husband, are spearheading her family’s new Sperling Vineyards Winery in Kelowna. At the same time, they are winemakers for Camelot Vineyards, another new Kelowna winery. Both wineries expect to be open in the summer of 2009.
The Sperling winery completes the circle of history. Through her mother, Ann is a member of the Casorso family that planted the first vineyard in the Kelowna area in 1925.
The East Kelowna vineyard that supplied grapes for the new winery is on Casorso Road. The first vines were planted here in 1930 by Napoleon Peter (Pete) Casorso, Ann’s grandfather. When he retired in 1960, the vineyard was taken over by his daughter Velma and her husband, Bert Sperling, who are Ann’s parents.
Ann, who was born in 1962 and has a food sciences degree from the University of British Columbia, stared her winemaking career in 1984 at André’s in Port Moody. She went to CedarCreek in 1991 and then moved to Ontario in 1995. There, she consulted for several wineries before becoming the inaugural winemaker for the well-regarded Malivoire winery. Several years ago, she took over as the winemaker at the new Southbrook winery in Niagara, Canada’s first certified biodynamic winery. Ann Sperling sorts grapes
Peter Gamble started his winemaking career at Hillebrand Estates Winery and ran the Ontario VQA program for a number of years. Over the past decade, he has consulted on the launch of several leading Niagara wineries including Stratus. Currently, he and Ann are the consulting winemakers for Benjamin Bridge, a sparkling wine project in Nova Scotia. They also own a seven-acre vineyard of 1920s-era Malbec vines near Mendoza in Argentina and are working with a winemaker there to make premium wines.
As busy as those careers have 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.”
This summer, the family agreed to move ahead at long last with a small premium winery to complete the Casorso legacy. The partners in the project are Ann’s parents; her oldest sister Susan and brother-in-law Paul Richardson; and Ann and Peter Gamble.
The Casorso legacy is remarkable. It began when Giovanni Casorso (Ann’s great grandfather) arrived from Italy as an agriculturist with Father Pandosy’s Oblate Mission. One of his sons, Charles, planted the first vineyard in the Kelowna area in 1925. Two other sons, Pete and Louis, planted vines five years later on the Casorso Road property (as the street was named years later).
Rosa, Ann’s great grandmother, was the single largest investor in the consortium that launched in 1931 what later became the Calona winery. Subsequently, the Capozzi family acquired control but Pete remained a shareholder in Calona well into the 1960s.
Today, the 45-acre Sperling Vineyard, which sells its fruit to Mission Hill, includes a 45-year-old planting of Maréchal Foch, a 35-year-old planting of Riesling and another old planting of Perle of Csaba (a Muscat variety), along with Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris. There are recently planted blocks of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to support the production of premium sparkling wine.
This vintage, Ann and Peter shuttled alternatively between winemaking duties in Ontario and Kelowna. They have produced about 600 cases for Sperling Vineyards (some grapes still hang for icewine) and about 400 cases for Camelot, all of it done this fall in the Camelot winery, located a five-minute drive from the Sperling vineyard.
Camelot is owned by Rob Young and Denise Brass, two Air Canada flight attendants who have lived on an East Kelowna apple orchard for several years. Two years ago, they replaced the trees with vines and erected a winery.
Then serendipity came into play. They needed a winemaker and learned that Ann and Peter needed a facility in which to make the Sperling wines because Sperling has not yet applied for a licence. The Camelot winery was the ideal facility for Sperling’s first vintage. Ann and Peter also signed a three-year agreement to make Camelot’s wines.
This winter, the Sperling family plans to get a winery licence for the Pioneer Country Market, the busy restaurant, market and deli that Velma Sperling as run for years on Kelowna’s Benvoulin Road.
In yet another closing of the circle, the market is just down the road from the Pandosy Mission where Giovanni Casorso got his start in the Okanagan.