To those who know it well, BC’s Similkameen Valley is special and utterly unique. Unlike its more high profile Okanagan neighbour, where the valley runs north to south, the Similkameen’s massive peaks march east to west. Moreover, from the shores of the meandering Similkameen River to its upper benches is a community that’s home to the highest percentage of organic farmers in Canada.
Among the dozen or so wineries in the valley Clos du Soleil has been at the fore of that movement. The winery has been certified organic since 2011.
“Organic practices are central to what we do. But organics is really about telling you what you can’t do, whereas biodynamics provides us with a whole new toolbox” says Winemaker and Managing Director Michael Clark.
“As far as the vineyard goes,” he adds, “if we don’t have healthy soil and quality grapes, then we’ve lost before we even begin. Critically, that healthy soil comes from our organic and biodynamic practices.”
Clark says that biodynamic certification is also on the agenda. “We’re working on that. But to me the important thing is to have those practices in place.”
In fact, he’d like to see everyone farm organically and, ideally, also be certified.
“I’m vocal with my neighbourhood wineries about trying to support that move. It’s a slow process. But I think that’s very much the way of the future.”
Clark says it’s not up to him to tell his neighbours what to do. But he is seeing more taking up the challenge. And that’s good, he says.
Over the last decade, Clos du Soleil has earned a reputation for embracing a more old world wine style that it describes as ‘complex and classic, age-able and elegant.’
However, Clark says he’s somewhat conflicted by the very notion of a house style. On the one hand he feels a sense of pride. But he also says: “What I don’t want to communicate is the idea that we’re imprinting a style on the grapes. If there is a style, it’s coming from the site. And we’re trying to not cover that up.”
However, he does believe “there should be a sense of elegance in the wine, as well as a sense of delicacy—and balance is certainly key.”
“Overall, I want each wine to be reflective of the place, and expressive—which means that, from year to year, people are going to be tasting different wines, because every year is different. And to me, that’s the beauty of wine.”
In an industry not short on passion, few are more driven than Clark. He suggests that from his perspective, “It all flows from one goal: to create the most expressive wines possible. I’m talking about time and place, vintage character, as well as the particular site where the grapes are grown.”
In the case of Clos du Soleil, that place is a stunning, south facing bench setting. Tucked up almost against the mountain rock face, it adds up to a formidable heat sink that contributes to superb fruit.
“Being able to pick fruit when it is physiologically and phenolically mature—but early enough when it still has a lot of life in it—not only produces better wine at a younger age, but also produces a wine that has the potential to age much longer.”
The proof, as the saying goes, is in the pudding. Clark keenly anticipates the winery’s annual vertical tastings. “I’m always so proud of showing people our wines, both white and red, at over a decade of age. How they continue to taste beautiful, and are significantly different to when they were younger.”
He also suggests that a key aspect of being able to produce wines such as these is finding balance from the start, both in terms of acidity and, for the reds, their tannin structure.
In the end, says the winemaker, it’s all about ecological health and specifically vine health. “Our goal is to grow the most flavourful, expressive grapes possible. The step after that is to not mess it up. I want to do as little as possible, and in no way to compromise the beauty that is already there in the fruit.”
“We have a philosophy in the winery about respect. Respect for the fruit, respect for the juice and respect for the wines.” Indeed, both that passion and respect can be tasted in all of Clos du Soleil’s wines.
For more information, visit closdusoleil.ca
@ Vitis Magazine