Photo: JAK Meyer with 2012 Micro Cuvée Pinot Noir
From time to time, a debate emerges about whether the
Okanagan needs a signature grape variety.
If you ask Chris Carson, the winemaker for Meyer Family
Vineyards, he will make the case for Pinot Noir.
I am inclined to agree, especially after tasting the
winery’s yet-to-be released 2012 Micro Cuvée Pinot Noir from its McLean Creek Road
vineyard. Here is a rich and intense wine that makes a statement both of the
varietal and for the winery.
Of course, there are qualifications. South of McIntyre Bluff
and in the Similkameen
, there are
varieties that perform better than Pinot Noir. My favourite red from Oliver and
Osoyoos vineyards is Syrah.
North of McIntyre Bluff, however, there are solid to spectacular
Pinot Noirs grown in vineyards all the way from Okanagan
to Lake Country
We are talking world class Pinot Noirs that stack up well against top examples
and New Zealand
Mission Hill, after all, took home a best in class award at
fall for its Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir 2011. At the recent Vancouver
International Wine Festival, winemaker John Simes
had a bottle of the Martin’s Lane 2012 under the table. It is an even better
Mission Hill proprietor Anthony von Mandl is in the early
stage of planning a dedicated Pinot Noir winery. He also agrees with Chris on
the potential of the variety for the Okanagan.
“One of the challenges [of positioning the Okanagan in the
world of wine] is that we have to be known for something,” Anthony told me
recently. “I think what is very exciting about this is that, while great Pinots
are so challenging to grow and so challenging to make, I do think that this is
the promise of the future for the valley.”
During the recent Vancouver International Wine Festival,
Meyer had its Pinot Noirs at numerous events and tastings – along with its
equally stunning Chardonnays.
Now based near Okanagan
, Meyer actually
started as a Chardonnay-only house, and something of a 600-case hobby winery at
that. JAK Meyer, who was beginning a gradual transition from a career in
finance, bought a three-acre Chardonnay vineyard near Naramata and produced the
first wines in 2006.
Once he started selling the wine in early 2008, he recognized
he was never going to make money at 600 cases a year. He commissioned a design
for a larger winery to expand his production. Before that year was out, two
things happened to change his focus.
First, he saw Chris Carson’s resume. It was so strong that JAK,
knowing he would need a winemaker when the winery was built, snapped him up.
Born in Edmonton, Chris was attracted to
winemaking while backpacking in New
Zealand and working in vineyards. He
promptly earned a winemaking degree there and polished his credentials with
winemaking jobs in California and France.
“Chris’s background was exactly what we are doing –
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir,” JAK recalled in an interview last year. “He spent a
few years in Montrachet. It was a really good fit. You are not going to find
that kind of fit easily.”
Secondly, JAK was able to buy the assets of a stillborn
winery near Okanagan
late in 2008, in a
court-ordered sale. He scrapped plans for the Naramata winery in favour of
refurbishing the Okanagan property and its 16 acres of vines. That included
pulling out Gamay, Cabernet Franc and Merlot and replacing them primarily with
Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
“We would like to be known as specializing,” JAK says. The
winery makes a little Gewürztraminer and Riesling and will release a sparkling
wine next year. However, the majority of its production – between 5,000 and
8,000 cases a year – is Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, from estate grapes and from
select contract growers.
And Chris Carson is a happy winemaker. “Pinot Noir has been
my focus for 15 years,” he says.
JAK Meyer recently showed the winery’s principal products to
guru Steven Spurrier. He was clearly impressed. Spurrier’s notes include quite
favourable comparisons to French Burgundy – the kind of accolades that Canadian
wineries are getting increasingly often from leading British critics.
Here are my notes and scores on the wines currently
available from Meyer.
Meyer McLean Creek Road Gewürztraminer 2012
light-bodied wine begins with appealing floral and spice notes in the aroma,
leading to grapefruit flavours and a dry finish. 87.
Valley Chardonnay 2012
($20 for 555 cases). This is a crisp and refreshing wine. It was
fermented in stainless steel and left on the lees for four months to add
texture. It has citrus aromas and flavours, with a lively tangy finish. 88.
Meyer McLean Creek Road Chardonnay 2011
($30 for 340 cases).
This winery designates single vineyard wines to showcase the terroir. The
winery believes that the hallmark of the McLean Creek Road
vineyard – where the
winery is located – is “a slight ginger spice flavour.” My own notes also
identify citrus and tropical fruit aromas and flavours, with a touch of the
buttery character imparted naturally by malolactic fermentation. The bright
acidity will give this wine good cellaring potential. 91.
Meyer Tribute Series
Chardonnay 2011 ($30 a bottle for 394 cases). The fruit for this wine are
from the 16-year-old vines in the winery’s Naramata vineyard. Fermentation began
in stainless steel and finished in French oak, with 10 months lees aging. This
technique ensures that the wine has bright fruit – citrus, green apple with
very subtle oak – and a rich texture. This is an elegant wine. Spurrier said it
is like “a good St. Aubin 1er Cru. 91.
Meyer Micro Cuvée
Chardonnay 2011 ($65 for 105 cases). Also made from the Naramata vineyard,
this wine is the four best barrels from that vintage (actually two barrels and
a puncheon). The wine is packed with intense tropical fruit flavours in a richly textured wine. The bright
acidity will allow this wine to develop even great complexity in bottle. 93.
Valley Pinot Noir 2011
($25 for 930 cases).
This is a drinkable and pretty Pinot Noir with cherry aromas and with flavours
of cherry and plum. The texture is both silky and juicy and the finish lingers.
Meyer Reimer Vineyard
Pinot Noir 2011 ($40 for 219 cases). The Reimer Vineyard overlooks the
Harvest Golf Course in Kelowna.
The wine shows best if decanted. It begins with cherry aromas. On the palate,
the cherry flavours are vibrant. The texture at first is firm but, with
breathing, it begins to show fleshy textures, with a touch of spice and
earthiness on the finish. “Very expressive and impressive,” Spurrier wrote. 90.
Meyer McLean Creek Road Pinot Noir 2011
($40 for 323 cases).
The low tonnage harvested in the 2011 vintage – a mere two tons an acre –
result in excellent concentration in this wine. It begins with those earthy
notes in the aroma that a Burgundian might want to call barnyard (it’s a
compliment). There is also cherry in the aroma and flavour along with a touch
of toasted oak from the 10 months the wine spent in French barrels. 91.
Meyer Micro Cuvée
Pinot Noir McLean Creek Vineyard 2012
($65 for 110 cases). This wine is
primarily Pommard Clone
91, which is
turning out to be the best performing of the four clones planted at McLean
Creek. The wine is dark in colour with aromas and flavours of cherry and
strawberry. While the texture is silky, this is a wine with power and with
longevity. Spurrier said it is “in the Vosne-Romanée style, lots of character
and a good future.” The winery advises cellaring this wine eight to 10 years.
It will be released later this year. 94.