Saturday, June 11, 2016

Sperling's new labels celebrate the 2015 vintage

Photo: Winemaker Ann Sperling

The fans of Sperling Vineyards will notice a difference when they see the 2015 wines: eye-catching labels have replaced the previous classically elegant, if sedate, labels.

What is inside the bottles is as good as ever. The 2015 wines represent the eighth vintage since Ann Sperling and her family launched this Kelowna winery with grapes from a vineyard planted in the 1920s. The strategy behind the label change is simply making sure that the wines are not lost in the crowd, as a plethora of BC labels now occupies store shelves.

The little blocks of colour on the label are inspires by features on a log barn, still in use, on the family’s property. (The barn was also on the original labels, but less stylized.) There is a suggestion of clasped hands in the subtle Bauhaus-inspired design. As well, the family’s motto now is on the labels: “Love and labour since 1925.”

Ann’s forebears, the Casorso family, were pioneering Okanagan grape growers and vintners. The Casorso family came to the valley when Italian immigrant Giovanni Casorso arrived in 1883 to work for the Oblate Mission’s farm. Soon he had his own homestead near the mission. When tobacco was grown in the Okanagan, he was one of the largest tobacco growers.

The family first got into the wine business when Rosa, Giovanni’s wife, and Pete, one of their sons, invested in the consortium that in 1931 launched what became Calona Wines. When the Capozzi family gradually bought control of the winery in the 1950s, Pete (his full name was Napoleon Peter) refused for years to sell his shares. “His pastime for many years was to go to their board meetings and raise hell,” Ann says.

A family history credits Charles Casorso with planting the first Kelowna vineyard near Rutland. His brothers Pete and Louis ordered vines and planted grapes on Pioneer Ranch, as the family property was known. It appears, however, the major crops grown here were apples until Pete retired in 1960, turning the farm over to his daughter Velma and her husband, Bert Sperling, Ann’s parents.

Bert converted the entire property to grapes. Initially he grew hybrid and labrusca varieties before switching to Riesling, along with four hectares of Sovereign Coronation table grapes. Over the years he sold wine grapes to Calona, then to Growers in Victoria, and, in recent years, to Mission Hill.

The decision to open a winery was made in family conference about the future of the vineyard. The family recognized it had the talent in house. Ann has been making wine across Canada and in Argentina since 1987. “It has always been in the back of my mind that I wanted to make wine here because I am so familiar with every foot and every slope and every grape on the property,” she says.

Her father was able to see the brilliant launch of the family winery before his death in 2012, at the age of 84.

Ann believes that the terroir of the Pioneer Ranch enables her to make wines that are distinctive. “Our wines definitely put on weight in bottle,” she said during a tasting of the youthful 2015s. “It is partly the coolness of the site; minerality tends to dominate. I would not call the wines fruit driven. I would call them much more mineral driven. We get some herbal qualities and floral notes, but fruitiness is not really a descriptor that dominates our vineyard.”

She continues: “My winemaking is turning more towards the grapes. Terroir is important, even in a wine we are going to be selling for $17 a bottle. I still want it to be our vineyard and our place. Why would I put American oak chips in when I have these lovely stems that can give it structure? Conventional winemaking did not teach me that. All of the years of focussing in on the site led me to it. I am really happy with the results I am getting in the vineyards that I work with.”

Here are notes on the wines:

Sperling Brut Rosé 2013 ($42). This sparkling pink wine made with Pinot Noir was on the lees for 18 months. It has been balanced to finish dry, Ann’s preferred style. “I can’t finish a sparkling with any sort of sweetness or softness,” she says. “It is just not in me to do it that way. I love the acidity and I love the brightness to be all the way through on the palate for a sparkling wine like this.” The wine begins with hints of bready lees on the nose and it delivers delicate wild strawberry flavours with a creamy texture but a crisp finish. 90.
Sperling Pinot Gris 2015 ($19). This wine has a fresh aroma with notes of herbs and citrus. On the palate, there are flavours of white peaches and apples. The lively acidity gives the wine a refreshing, dry finish. 91.

Sperling Pinot Noir Rosé 2015 ($19). Perhaps the light strawberry hue is suggestive, but the wine had aromas and flavours of strawberries. It is balanced to finish dry, with the tiniest degree of residual sugar to lift aromas and flavours. “These wines can live in the bottle for three or four years and still be really enjoyable,” Ann says, “but I love the freshness of rosé.  I want people to enjoy it when it is in the first season.” 91.

Sperling Market White 2015 ($17). This is a blend of Pinot Blanc and Bacchus with a touch of Pinot Gris and Riesling. The fruity aromas are still developing in bottle. The flavours of peach, apple and spice promise refreshing summertime drinking. 90 – 91.

Sperling Market Red 2015 ($18). This is a new addition to the Sperling portfolio, an easy-drinking summertime barbecue red in a style slightly reminiscent of Beaujolais Nouveau. It is a blend of Maréchal Foch with Pinot Noir. The wine is soft and fruity, with cherries on the nose and palate. The finish has an appealing note of spice. 88.

Sperling Sper…itz 2015 ($22). This light Frizzante wine with 8% alcohol is inspired by Italy’s Moscato wines. The blend is Perle of Csaba (a Muscat flavoured variety) and Bacchus. The wine is utterly charming with refreshing floral and spicy aromatics. The off-dry fruity flavours coat the palate. 90.

Sperling Late Harvest Riesling 2015 ($N/A). The grapes for this wine were picked at -6C. (two degrees shy of the minimum for Icewine). The result is a wine that is sweet but not overly so, with a core of juicy flavours of citrus and tropical fruit. The balance is exquisite. 91.

Sperling Pinot Blanc Icewine 2015 ($50 for 375 ml). This extraordinary wine won double gold and best Pinot Blanc in competition last year at the Mondial des Pinots in Switzerland. This pristine and luscious wine has aromas and flavours of tangerine and ripe apricot, with a lingering finish. Once again, the balance is exquisite. 98.

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