Photo: A vertical of Clos Du Soleil Signature
During a vertical tasting last fall at Clos Du Soleil Estate
Winery in the Similkameen
, one guest sighed:
“I taste regret!”
By that, he meant he regretted having not collected enough
of a particular vintage of Capella, Clos’s signature Bordeaux-inspired white
To be fair, until recently it would have been hard to
collect Clos Du Soleil wines in quantity. The winery opened in 2008 with the
release of just 200 cases of 2006 vintage wine, half red, half white.
However, Clos Du Soleil has changed significantly since
Michael Clark, now managing partner and winemaker, joined the winery in 2012.
Last fall, it repatriated production from rented space in a Kelowna winery to a new winery on its Similkameen
vineyard. The new winery enabled Clos Du Soleil to raise its production, which
had been growing slowly, to about 5,000 cases.
Given the winery’s small volumes in early vintages, it is
perhaps surprising that enough wine had been kept back for vertical tastings.
The tasting in October 2015 was the winery’s fourth annual.
Clos Du Soleil is among a small, but growing, number of British Columbia
wineries that are beginning to offer vertical tastings to consumers - usually
members of their wine clubs.
By definition, a vertical tasting is one where a number of
vintages of the same wine are tasted side by side.
At last fall’s Clos Du Soleil tasting, the guests tasted
nine vintages of Capella, from the inaugural 2006 to the unreleased (at the
time) 2014. They moved on to vintages 2006 through 2012 of Signature, the
winery’s Bordeaux-style red blend. They finished with three vintages (2010,
2011 and 2013) of Saturn, the winery’s Sauvignon Blanc dessert wine.
And there were two bonus wines: a 2012 Estate Reserve Red
and a 2013 Estate Reserve White. These are very fine small lot wines meant to
be the best expression of the terroir of the vineyard.
The point of sponsoring verticals is to encourage consumers
who would prefer not to taste regret to get in the habit of collecting wines.
“It’s a cultural thing,” says wine educator Rhys Pender MW,
who presided over the Clos Do Soleil tasting. “We have to get into the habit of
doing that. B.C. wine is never bad when it is freshly bottled and just
released, but these kind of wines are always better with two or three or four
more years. I really encourage people to get into the habit of keeping some for
Vertical tastings provide insights into vintage variations,
differing fruit sources, maturing vineyards and evolving winemaking practices.
All of this was on display at Clos Du Soleil.
The winery did not plant its vineyard until 2007. The early
vintages were made with grapes purchased both in the Similkameen and the
Okanagan. Since 2012, all of the winery’s grapes have been either from its own
organic vineyard or from other Similkameen growers. The change in the flavours
and character of the wines is noticeable.
“We get a lot of calcium in the soils here,” Rhys explained.
“A lot of that is eroded limestone. It
is a weak rock here. As the water washes through it, limestone leaches out and
settles in the soil. That often gives acidity in the wines and minerality.
There is almost a saltiness in wines. It enhances the freshness and the acidity
in wines. That is what you get from the Similkameen. No matter what people do,
it is there.” (One should note that Rhys also has a vineyard and a winery in
He continues: “The wines are not as intense in fruit but
they are more complex in fruit. Think of old world versus new world. On Black
Sage Bench, the wines are very intense but one dimensional. The Similkameen
wines are less intense but have more red and black fruit components. The
tannins here are much more elegant. The wines come across lighter, less firm
and hard, but with more elegant tannins. If people want to make complex,
interesting, age-worthy wines, it happens pretty naturally here.”
Making wines like that resonates with the French-inspired
sensibilities of Michael Clark (below), a former banker and bond dealer who has emerged
as one of the best winemakers in British
“Anybody will tell you that I am a bit of a detail person,”
he told guests at the vertical tasting. “It served me well in finance and it is
serving me well now. I think that plays well in winemaking, which is the sum of
a million little details that add up to the final wine.”
Michael, who was born in Cambridge, Ontario
in 1972, describes wine as “my number one passion literally before I could
drink wine. When I was a kid, I was fascinated with wine. Champagne is for Breakfast
– I read that book when
I was probably 10 years old. I don’t know other children who love to read wine
Initially, he set out on a career in theoretical physics
with bachelor’s degree from Queens University
and then a master’s degree from the University of British Columbia
. Then he switched to
finance with a master of business administration from UBC, where he also
founded a campus wine tasting society.
I worked in finance in Canada
and in the U.S.
for about 15 years.” That included eight years with two Swiss banks where, in
spite of holding senior positions, he committed to winemaking by taking
winemaking and viticulture courses there in 2010. He then gained experience by doing
crushes at wineries in Switzerland
and in Bordeaux
2011, he enrolled in the rigorous winemaking program from the University
still in Europe, he began researching British
winemaking opportunities before moving here
in 2012 to become a partner at Clos Du Soleil.
provided the missing link at Clos Du Soleil. None of the four couples in the
founding partnership lived in the Okanagan or the Similkameen. Consulting
winemaker Ann Sperling made the first five vintages and continues to consult
after turning over the ultimate decision making to Michael.
winemaker, Ann is a Canadian superstar. However, she is responsible for the
Sperling family winery in Kelowna, along with
clients across Canada and a
small winery in Argentina.
Michael is totally focussed on Clos Du Soleil.
“Every single year with all of our wines, I am trying to
tweak things to make it better than the previous year,” he says. “Each year, we get more data on how each
vineyard site reacts. I have more of a sense on how to deal with the grapes in
a particular situation.”
has introduced significant technical changes in Clos Du Soleil’s winemaking.
“All of our estate fruit in the recent vintages have been
fermented with wild yeast,” he says. “That has changed some of the characters.
It has made them a little more complex; it allows a little more of the
minerality/pencil lead/slate character” of the Similkameen terroir to show
His detail-oriented approach extends to doing many small
batch ferments. That gives him a better understanding of each vineyard block.
Many of these are not just fermented individually but remain separate in barrel
until final blending decisions are made.
“My focus on the crush pad and in the winery is to try to
make each of those individual lots and individual barrels a complete wine in
terms of balance and structure,” Michael explains. “Typically, they spend about
a year and a half in barrel. I taste them over that period. I approach each
barrel with an open mind. I have not decided what final wine they will end up
in: whether our entry level Bordeaux
red, our flagship Signature or our Estate Red.”
He says he does not want to be locked in on a blend too
quickly. “The whole magic of blending is
that you take two barrels and they can work together synergistically, or not.
So there are months
of trialing; swapping out one barrel and putting in another to see how they
work together. There are no magic formulas.”
approach, he says, is “in line with the overall philosophy of Clos – being
based on a Bordeaux
aesthetic – where the art of winemaking reaches it pinnacle in the art of
for Saturn, the late harvest Sauvignon Blanc, the wines presented at the Clos
Du Soleil vertical were blends. Capella, with the sole exception of 2006, is
between 90% and 95% Sauvignon Blanc, with a small but important fraction of
Sémillon completing the wine. The wine is priced $27.90. The barrel-fermented
Estate Reserve White 2013 ($60) is two-thirds Sauvignon Blanc and one-third
Sémillon. The style is quite reminiscent of an expensive white Graves from a
a $45 wine, includes the main Bordeaux
varietals in a wine always anchored with Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. Signature
2012, which I scored 94 points, is 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot, 9% Cabernet
Franc and 1% Petit Verdot.
Estate Reserve Red 2012 – four barrels made from the winery’s own vineyard – is
53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 13%
Cabernet Franc, six percent Petit Verdot and one percent Malbec. My score:
wines are capable of aging at least 10 years from vintage, based on how the
who decided to collect Clos Du Soleil reds might also consider two other reds
from the winery, both made to be consumed earlier while Signature and the
Estate Reserve are aging.
Clos Du Soleil Célestiale 2013 ($26.90).
This is a blend of 41% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 3%
Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec. It has aromas of black cherry and black currants.
One the palate, there is a generous helping of ripe, red fruit supported by
long, ripe tannins. 91.
Clos Du Soleil Makepeace Cabernet Merlot
2013 Grower’s Series ($24.90). This has aromas and flavours of black
cherry, plum and raspberry with a touch of chocolate. The texture is juicy. 90.