Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Ann Sperling: Jack-of-all-trades winemaker

Photo: Winemaker Ann Sperling

Ann Sperling’s jack-of-all-trades ability as a winemaker is remarkable. At Sperling Vineyards in East Kelowna, those skills are on display in wines running the gamut from sparkling to Icewine, with a natural wine to boot.

I have recounted her story in numerous books. Here is an except from 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 1976 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  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 criticized our work for generations,” Ann says.  “It seemed fitting to acknowledge their role.”

The Sperling wines, initially made at nearby wineries, came to market in 2009. Significant changes and portfolio additions have been made since then in a constant quest for more and more interesting wines.

In September, 2017, Sperling Vineyards achieved organic certification. The winery, which also uses biodynamic practices in its vineyard, will be releasing organic wines next spring from the 2017 vintage.

As well, Ann has begun making so-called natural wines, starting with the 2014 vintage. “We wanted to challenge ourselves while enhancing our food friendly line-up of estate wines,” she wrote in a note that accompanies the current releases.

“We have always had a holistic approach to our winemaking, using native and organic yeasts,” she continued. “But this time, we dug deeper into a grape that everyone making wine or drinking it in the Okanagan thinks they know.”

The reference is to Pinot Gris. The current releases include a Pinot Gris that was made by fermenting whole clusters and stems with wild yeast. The wine was fermented to complete dryness and was finished by settling, not by filtering. No sulphur was added.

“The result,” Ann writes, “is a whole expression of Pinot Gris vines that have adapted themselves over 20 years to our site.”

Here are notes on the wines.  

Sperling Market White 2016 ($19 for 450 cases).  This is an aromatic blend of 33%Perle, 26% Vidal, 23% Pinot Blanc and 18% Bacchus. A touch of residual sugar lifts the fruity aromas and flavours and gives the wine more weight than one would expect from the modest 10.6% alcohol. The finish lingers and lingers. 89.

Sperling Pinot Gris 2016 ($20 for 460 cases). The wine begins with aromas of melon mingled lightly with toast, suggesting that the wine may have been fermented, at least partially, in oak. It is rich on the palate with flavours of orange and melon, with a note of honey and oak on the dry finish. 90.

Sperling Amber Pinot Gris 2016 ($30 for 150 cases). This is a “natural” wine, meaning that whole clusters of Pinot Gris were fermented with wild yeast, to total dryness. The orange-tinted wine is not filtered. It is cloudy in the bottle and will deposit a light sediment. The aroma includes notes of tobacco and marmalade. It has savoury as well as vegetative flavours. It is worth noting that this wine is not sulphured. A cautionary note: natural wines are an acquired taste. 90.

Sperling Pinot Noir Rosé 2016 ($20 for 215 cases). This dry rosé presents in the glass with a lovely strawberry hue. The flavours are intense, with notes of raspberry and strawberry. 90.

Sperling Market Red 2016 ($20 for 500 cases). A new wine for Sperling, it is an unorthodox blend of Pinot Noir and Maréchal Foch. The wine is aged partially in stainless steel and partially in neutral barrels. That preserves the herbal aromas and flavours of cherry and pomegranate. With just 12.1% alcohol, the wine is fresh and uncomplicated. 87.

Sperling Late Harvest Riesling 2015 ($27.89 for 368 cases of 375 ml bottles). This wine has 134.8 grams of residual sugar balanced with 14.7 grams of acidity. Lightly golden in colour, the aromas present honey, lemon and ripe quince. The flavours are luscious, with notes of honey and fruit compote. A tangy acidity helps balance the sweetness. 91.

Sperling Vidal Icewine 2015 ($55 for 190 cases of 375 ml bottles). This wine has 189.4 grams of residual sugar and 12.3 grams of natural acidity. This golden-hued wine begins with the classically intense aromas of ripe pineapple and orange marmalade, which are echoed in the rich and intense flavours. The sweet finish is persistent, staying many minutes in the mouth. 92.

Sperling Brut Reserve 2011 ($55 for 200 six-pack cases). This elegantly packaged traditional method sparkling wine is 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay. Five years on the lees before disgorging has produced fine bubbles and yeasty/brioche aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of pear and brioche. While the mousse gives the wine a creamy texture on the palate, the finish crisp and totally dry. 93.

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