Sunday, May 11, 2014

Clos du Soleil’s rosé captures the sun

Photo: Clos du Soleil's Spencer Massie

During the several vintages in which Clos du Soleil has been releasing a Cabernet Sauvignon rosé, wine critics including me have been just knocked out by the wine.

Well, the winery hits it out of the park again with its 2013 rosé. Its other new releases also are impressive.

This small winery, which opened in 2008, is a rising star in the Similkameen Valley. Credit goes to a well-managed vineyard as well as to the winery’s exceptional winemaker, Ann Sperling.

The winery is owned by several couples who all have day jobs in various businesses and professions. But they also share a love for wines imbued with the values of Bordeaux.

Spencer Massie, the lead partner, developed a knowledge of wine when he was an officer in the Canadian navy. Aside from the port drinking tradition inherited from the Royal Navy, Spencer assignments occasionally provided opportunity to visit wine regions. He still fondly recalls a 1984 vacation that involved hiking through the vineyards of Bordeaux.

One of those formative visits may have been the occasion in 2002 when he and Bonnie Henry, his wife, ran the Marathon du Médoc. The sponsors of this Bordeaux run have wine stations along the route. Naturally, it attracts about 8,000 runners, passing through a countryside that sounds like a wine list. The next one will take place September 14 this year.

“It is a legitimate marathon and it is just a great experience,” Spencer once told me. “They say the more times you run it, the slower you get.”

He was then living in Toronto. However, the year after he and Bonnie moved to Vancouver in 2005, he found partners and a vineyard site near Keremeos. The vineyard was planted in 2007 entirely to Bordeaux red and white varieties.

As the vineyard geared up for production, Clos Du Soleil established its label with wines from purchased grapes. The winery has since made a transition largely to estate-grown fruit, although it also has a “Grower’s Series” label for wines made with grapes from elsewhere in the Similkameen.

Spencer benefitted from serendipity when he went looking for a winemaker: he discovered that a high school colleague, Ann Sperling, had developed a national reputation as a winemaker.

Ann began her winemaking career in 1987 in BC and then moved to Ontario in 1995. Spencer had lost touch with her after he left Kelowna, where he and Ann had been classmates.

“Then I saw an article in the Globe that she was Canadian winemaker of the year,” he recalls. “Bonnie and I were then living in Toronto. We did one of our annual runs down to Niagara for wine and I called Ann out of the blue, and said hey, Spencer Massie from Kelowna, do you remember me?”

It seemed she did. When Spencer was launching Clos du Soleil, it coincided with Ann’s launch of her family winery in Kelowna, Sperling Vineyards. She had time to take on Clos du Soleil, where she makes polished wines in the French style admired by the owners.

Here are notes on the current releases.

Clos du Soleil Grower’s Series Middle Bench Vineyard Pinot Blanc 2013 ($19.90 for 320 cases). This is the best Pinot Blanc yet from this winery. It is a wine with generous fruit aromas and flavours. The aromas are like walking through an orchard when the trees are flowering. On the palate, there are flavours of apples, honeydew and cantaloupe. The finish lingers. 92.

Clos du Soleil Fumé Blanc 2013 ($19.90 for 450 cases). This is 88% Sauvignon Blanc, 12% Sémillon. The back labels discloses that this was fermented in French oak puncheons; it does not appear to have been aged in barrel because the wine is quite fruit forward, to its benefit. It begins with aromas of lime and grapefruit. Those flavours are delivered to the palate, along with herbal notes. The  finish is refreshingly tangy and crisp. 90

 Clos du Soleil Capella 2012 ($24.90 for 220 cases). This is 92% Sauvignon Blanc, 8% Sémillon. This is a much more intense expression of Sauvignon Blanc with aromas and flavours of lime and grapefruit on a background of herbs and honey. A portion of this was fermented in an oak puncheon which, no doubt, contributed to the generous texture. On the dry finish, there is a mouthwatering tang that leaves the palate refreshed. 91.

Clos du Soleil Rosé 2013 ($19.90 for 740 cases). Made entirely with Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine just explodes from the glass with dramatic aromas of red currant and strawberry. On the palate, there are flavours of cherry, plum and mulberry. While the finish is dry, the berry flavours are so intense as to seem almost sweet. This rosé will strut across hundreds of picnics. 91.

 Clos du Soleil Signature 2011 ($39.90 for 225 cases). This is 44% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc, 6% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot. The sad news is that this is sold out; it is as fine a Bordeaux blend as any B.C. producer made in the 2011 vintage. It has aromas of black currant and vanilla, with a lovely core of sweet berry flavours, including cassias and cherry. On the finish, there is a touch of cola and chocolate. 91.

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