Ann Sperling has 30 years experience in wine making around the world. Not only has she produced Sperling Vineyard wines from her historic family estate but she has also worked at Southbook Vineyards in Niagara and various other wineries.
Today, with her husband Peter Gamble, Ann has taken on the Mendoza region to produce high quality Malbec wines. Versado Wine, meaning “well-versed, expert or accomplished,” in Spanish, was chosen to honour the homeland of their vineyard purchased in 2008. The 2009 Versado Reserva has received outstanding reviews as heir first vintage with critics saying it’s “a revelation” and “the best Argentine red.”
“We have taken every step to make excellent wine,” said Ann, and she hopes that you see their efforts in the Malbec next month!
WineCollective Q: What about Mendoza, Argentina made you and Peter want to produce wines there?
Ann Sperling A: Throughout our careers we’ve always looked into new projects and for ways to further our understanding of winemaking. We had travelled to different regions to see what other winemakers do; we would talk to them and see their wines firsthand. We were on a quest for info and realized that it might be possible to own a vineyard in Argentina where they are known for their amazing Malbec.
What made the vineyards in Chacras de Coria, Mendoza the perfect location for your Argentinean project?
The Versado vineyard is on Cobos Road, which is the famous and traditional region for fine Malbec, many of the best and oldest vineyards are located there. The road is recognized historically and worldwide which was our prime reason to consider the vineyard after we found it was the perfect size and was in grasp to purchase.
The quality of the vineyards, resulting wine and land prices are underpriced in a world’s standard. We were able to afford great land in Argentina that in other parts of the world would have been out of reach.
The vineyards were damaged when you purchased the land. What was needed to recover the vines?
The vines hadn’t been cared for properly for two growing seasons mainly because of hail damage. We removed all vines that weren’t Malbec and then pruned them back to allow a moderate amount of growth. We also worked the soil to bring it back to life and covered the vineyard with overhead nets that now protect the vines during growing season.
Initially we did not expect growth for the first five years, but we noticed in the first year that there was already a good reaction.
What does the Mendoza region give to produce such amazing Malbec?
It’s an ideal place for Malbec. The grapes have a slow ripening process; even in hot weather full grapes take time to ripen. The dry climate allows for a depth in ripening. The vines are just well suited and adapt to the climate.
As well in the region there are wonderfully skilled people available to work. We hired people for management at the Versado vineyard that have the same quality standards of our own. There are some cultural differences; we have a different sense of urgency, but they know Malbec and the region.
How do you balance winemaking at Versado and Sperling Vineyards?
Harvest seasons are at different times in the year, which helped with the decision to produce wine in Argentina. At Versado harvest is during the month of April where as at Sperling we begin in October. There is the physical ability to be at each vineyard at critical times. We have excellent people to support us and a great team at each location; everyone is like-minded in respect to quality.
What differences do you have to recognize and work with when making wine in Mendoza vs. the Okanagan?
In Canada we have a true cool climate, there is a difference in growing select varieties. When we produce aromatic whites and sparkling wines it is about elegance and suited to the cool climate. Sperling wines are fresh and floral.
In Argentina it’s the other end of the spectrum. Versado Malbec is a red grape single variety. The wines are full-bodied and carry a lot of depth.
What was it like growing up at Sperling Vineyards with your family?
Sperling farm has been part of the family since my great great grandparents in the 1880’s. There have been 3 generations living in one household. When I was growing up we grew grapes and fruit trees and had cattle. My grandparents sold all kinds of meat and produce. We had a reputation for quality and production. I worked in the vineyard as a teenager but we only made wine for household purposes. Our grapes were sold to other wineries.
Is there a certain loyalty you have to Sperling that you don’t have wine Versado or other wineries you have worked at?
At other wineries I have to develop the vineyard or winery and work with the owners closely. I have to take what the land and grapes have to offer and make wine that fits the owners. I know the vineyards at an intellectual level.
At Sperling, I don’t have to study. Making wine is a natural response or gut feeling on how to handle the grapes and express what I want.
How far has Sperling come since the time of your parents?
My parents were ready to retire by 2008. I would say things were less well known in terms of association. My sister and our husbands produced our own label to honour our heritage and the history of the property. We created a new era for longer sustainability. There has been pressure for us to turn our land into residential lots but we make something of value that will keep us going forward.
What do you hope will come out of having WineCollective feature Versado Malbec come September?
We haven’t sold any Versado in Alberta yet. I hope it’s an introduction to customers and the market for future wines. The wine is being shown to a group of keen wine lovers who are prepared and ready to experiment.
Ann and Peter hope to continue to make great wines in Argentina that honour the history of the vineyard. They hope to see it through to it’s full potential.
Keep a look out for your Versado Malbec in September WineCollective packages. Let us and Ann know how you enjoyed it!