What a terrific chat with Ann Sperling, Winemaker at Southbrook Vineyards!
Click on the arrow above to watch the video.
Listen to Ann’s stories about making Canada’s first orange wine.
Is orange wine the new white wine?
Why are orange and natural wines so trendy?
What makes them different from other wines?
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Click on the arrow above to hear Ann’s explanation of Orange wines.
If you’d like to read the 23 comments for this tasting, or make a comment yourself, visit:
Here’s a sampling of our lively discussion from our tasting…
Is Orange the New White?
- Let’s clear this up first: orange wine is not made from oranges, it refers only to the wine’s colour ;)
- It’s also known as amber wine and skin-fermented white wine
- Although orange wine seems new and trendy, it’s actually an ancient style of wine that’s been used for thousands of years to make white wines, often fermented without temperature control for long periods in qvevri (clay vessels or amphorae), in regions such as Georgia and Armenia.
- Modern white winemaking with temperature-controlled fermentation in stainless steel tanks has only been practised for the past 40-50 years.
- The re-emergence of orange wines started in the early 1990s with Italian winemaker Josko Gravner in the northern cool region of Friuli. He was trying to get away from over-manipulated wines and get back to ancient methods.
- Today, orange wines are produced in Europe, North America, Australia, Chile, South Africa, New Zealand.
- However, Ontario is the first wine region to legislate how orange wine is made – Vintner’s Quality Alliance (VQA) provincial law went into effect July 1, 2017
- Niagara’s Southbrook Vineyards was the first to request this category from the VQA in March 2016, as the winery was already making an orange wine from skin-fermented vidal grapes from vines planted in their Four Mile Creek Vineyard. However, since it didn’t fit VQA categories, it had to be labelled Product of Canada.
- Creating the new category allowed Southbrook and others to be specific about their vineyard and geography, often the sign of a good wine. It also put these wines into a more favourable tax category, with about 35% more revenue that rewards artisanal and local products.
- Orange wines are white wines made like red wines: confused yet?
- They start out like making white wine, but then they leave the grape skins on during fermentation just as red wines do and white wines do not.
- This imparts distinctive colour, flavour and texture whereas the skins are removed to ferment white wine
- orange wine is also exposed to more oxygen which adds a savoury character called umami, the fifth taste along with sweet, salty, sour and bitter
- The VQA law specifies that the wine is a table wine (still or effervescent) made from fresh white or pink vinifera and permitted hybrid grapes.
- All of the grapes are macerated and fermented on their skins for at least ten days to achieve the character of orange wine.
- The words “Skin Fermented White” must be on the label and optionally “Orange” or “Amber” can also be printed. appear alongside), but the essence is that the wine must ferment on the skins.
- Vintners must also declare their intent to make a skin-fermented white at the time of harvest, just as they must do with icewine, so they don’t claim the label after the fact because a wine doesn’t get approval for another category.
- The skins of grapes contain aromatic precursors, the compounds that eventually get released into the wine to create its distinctive aromas and flavours, as well as polyphenols that shield wine from oxydation and thereby allow it to age longer. As a solvent, alcohol helps to extract these compounds from the skins.
- some criticize orange wine as masking local soil and climate (terroir) as well as grape character
- the reverse argument is that orange wine is truer to terroir because it uses all of the grape: flesh, juice and skin
- like natural, organic and biodynamic wines, orange wines usually don’t have any additives and aren’t filtered or fined
- However, not all natural, organic and biodynamic wines are orange
- And not all orange wines are also natural, organic or biodynamic wines
- Who else makes orange wines in Ontario? Pearl Morissette (Cuvée Blu) and Norm Hardie (Pinot Gris Ponton)
- You won’t find an orange wine category on most restaurant lists: they’re usually lumped into the white wine category, and sometimes rose, except of course, on the hippest lists in San Francisco, New York, Paris, Tokyo and Florence.
Biodynamic and Organic Winemaking: Ann Sperling
You can watch our previous video interview with Ann on biodynamic and organic winemaking here.
Want to get one of Ann’s wines? You have a wide choice: Ann now works at Ontario’s Southbrook Vineyards, along with her own family winery in British Columbia, Sperling Vineyards, Versado in Argentina, and a collaboration with her husband Peter Gamble in Nova Scotia for Benjamin Bridge.
You’ll also find the specific wines we tasted further down this post.
Ann Sperling was raised on a vineyard, where her family has grown grapes since the 1850s; her great-grandparents planted grapes in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. “I had a miniature version of every conceivable farm tool—a child-sized hoe and so on—so that I could help with almost every part of growing the vines,” she says.
She remembers yearning to be older so that she could do even more of the farming. At dinner, the family ate and drank what they grew, and analyzed it for freshness, ripeness and balance, which helped her to develop her tasting ability. Having grown up among the vines, she says she has an intuitive feel for them: she can walk into any vineyard around the world, and within seconds assess its age and vitality.
Sperling says that many customers send her messages saying how much they enjoyed her wine or that they drank it at their wedding. “A song writer sent me his CD and said that he got inspired over several glasses of my wine,” she says. “I can’t imagine that lawyers get the same positive reinforcement.”
So are women better winemakers? Not necessarily, though some research suggests that they are better wine tasters—or rather wine smellers, since most of the complexity of wine is in its smell rather than its taste. Humans can detect just five basic tastes in our mouths, but more than two thousand aromas with our noses.
Some theories explain women’s acute sense of smell as an evolutionary development: women were once the gathers of berries and plants, both for cooking and medicinal purposes, and were responsible for preventing their children from eating anything poisonous. They were also traditionally the cooks, mixing different ingredients, and smelling and tasting to judge the result. Some theories suggest that women simply have more taste buds per square millimetre on their tongues.
Southbrook has always sourced grapes from Niagara-on-the-Lake, so Bill is excited about operating his own vineyard there. Brought on as a winemaking consultant in 2005, Ann Sperling introduces Bill and Marilyn to an excellent opportunity. A 74-acre parcel in the warm Four Mile Creek sub-appellation of Niagara-on-the-Lake is on the market, complete with 36 acres of ideally planted, well-selected varieties and top-notch clones. The couple realizes its potential, and decides on the new location to build the winery of their dreams. They convince Ann Sperling to sign on as full-time Director of Winemaking and Viticulture.
Expansion of the vineyard is planned and planting starts. The design of a winery with associated facilities and a hospitality building are entrusted to Jack Diamond of Diamond and Schmitt Architects of Toronto. The Redelmeiers commence creation of a fully biodynamic, organic and environmentally responsible winemaking operation.
Ann is ready to make wine in Niagara-on-the-Lake by 2006 and the architects’ attentions turn to the construction of the hospitality pavilion. The wine shop move is undertaken in the fall of 2007, while the family’s Richmond Hill presence lives on in the form of the Pumpkin Patch and Country Store until it was decided to close it in early 2013. An adjoining 75-acre parcel is purchased to provide an area for pasture and for future vineyard expansion. The new enterprise is re-named Southbrook Vineyards to reflect the Redelmeier’s new role as vineyard stewards. The opening celebration of the Hospitality Pavilion takes place on the Summer Solstice of 2008.
Considered a leading force in the Canadian movement towards organic and biodynamic fine winemaking, Ann has over two decades of experience in winegrowing, winemaking and consulting for successful winery startups.
Ann prefers to think of herself as a “Winegrower,” instead of a winemaker. This vineyard-centric ideology is passionately applied to every facet of Southbrook’s winemaking philosophy, including its organic and biodynamic grape-growing practices, and gentle handling in the winery.
Ann’s roots are deeply embedded in the terroir of winegrowing. Raised on a family vineyard in Kelowna, BC, Ann began early on recognizing, developing and appreciating the fine balance within the characteristics of the fruit and its effects on wine. She completed her Food Sciences degree at UBC and has continued her path of learning and exploration since she entered the wine industry full-time in 1984.
Ann’s talents were recognized in the early nineties when her 1992 Merlot won medals in every competition it was entered in, taking the Gold medal at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in the UK and Platinum at the Okanagan Wine Festival. Ann’s particular pride in this success is that Merlot has since become a more widely planted grape variety in the Okanagan Valley.
Ann has played pivotal roles in the start-ups of both B.C.’s CedarCreek winery and Niagara’s Malivoire Wine Company—where Pinot fans will remember she oversaw the conversion of the Moira Vineyard to organic.
In 2004, Ann was awarded with Winemaker of the Year at the Ontario Wine Awards.
Add to all this her various consulting projects and her own ancient Malbec vineyard in Mendoza and you’ll start to get an understanding how Ann loves to spend her time—immersed in the creation of fine wines!