Photo: JAK Meyer with his winery's first sparkling wine
Meyer Family Vineyards exemplifies how the British Columbia
wine industry has gone from insignificance to global respect in a very short
Meyer began making only premium Chardonnay wines, coming to
market in early 2008 with just 600 cases from a 1.6 hectare Naramata vineyard.
It did not take owners JAK Meyer and Janice Stevens very long to realize the
winery needed to be larger. By the end of 2008, they had purchased a larger
second vineyard near Okanagan Falls.
There was a block of Pinot Noir in that vineyard. By happy
coincidence, Chris Carson, JAK’s Canadian-born but New Zealand-trained
winemaker, has a passion for both Pinot Noir and for Chardonnay.
Growth since then has been dramatic. “We are up to almost
8,000 cases this vintage,” JAK said in an interview in October, 2016.
The winery has launched new products. Just released is Meyer’s
first bottle-fermented sparking wine. The production, at 550 cases, is as large
as Meyer’s entire first release in 2008.
Meyer now makes enough wine that it has begun exporting to
seven foreign markets including Britain, where Meyer Pinot Noir can be found in
169 Marks & Spencer stores.
“I took it on myself to try to export,” JAK says. Marks
& Spencer had been buying wine from an Ontario producer until several
brutal winters savaged harvests from Niagara vineyards. Two years ago, the
British retailer put out a call for wine through the British Columbia Wine
Institute. Meyer was one of four Okanagan wineries willing to supply Marks
Meyer’s original shipment was 600 cases and there has been a
repeat order. JAK believes there is a longer-term demand for about 400 cases a
year. The wine is a version of the best-selling Meyer Okanagan Valley Pinot
Noir, a 2,500-case brand made with fruit from contract growers as well as from
its own vineyards. The wine sold in Britain has been tweaked slightly to meet
Marks & Spencer’s requirements. “There is a Marks & Spencer winemaker,”
JAK says. “We send barrel samples from those four vineyards. They choose the
percentages for the blend.”
The export sales appeal to JAK for two reasons. First, there
is money to be made in overseas markets.
“I get what I think is a fair export price,” JAK says. “At
the end of the day, it is not that far off what I would get – excluding direct
sales to consumers – in BC. It is more than I would get in Alberta, way more
than what I would get in Ontario or Quebec. So it is a valuable and profitable
Secondly, the business has raised the Meyer profile. “The
amount of press I have received because of our export business is worth
hundreds of thousands of dollars,” JAK believes. “I have been in the Irish
Times, the London Times, Decanter Magazine; had a half a page article in the
Globe & Mail. Our wines are selling and competing internationally, and are
in some of the best restaurants.”
Meyer is among a small number of Okanagan wineries that have
chosen to specialize just in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. There still is a small
block of Gewürztraminer on the winery’s McLean Creek Vineyard near Okanagan
Falls. The variety was there, along with Merlot, when JAK bought the property.
Nearly all of the Merlot and most of the Gewürztraminer has been, or soon will
be, replaced with either Pinot Noir or Chardonnay.
JAK also is considering planting more Pinot Noir on a
neighbouring parcel. In the meantime, he has been able to double the harvest at
the Meyer vineyards with fences and cattle guards to keep deer away from the
vines during 2016.
Here are notes on wines currently released or due to be
released before spring.
Method Extra Brut NV
($40 for 550 cases). This is 70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot
Noir. The wine has had a total of four years aging in tank and bottle before
its release. It has the slight bready note of classic Champagne. It also has
brightly focussed fruit showing notes of lemon and granny smith apple. It is
clean and fresh on the palate with crisp finish. The bubbles are fine and
Meyer Stevens Block
($28). This wine is from a small block of Chardonnay on the
winery’s Old Main Road Vineyard near Naramata. The wine is unoaked and made in
the style of Chablis. It has aromas and flavours of tropical fruits; peach
mingles with lime on the palate. The wine is exquisitely fresh. 91.
Meyer McLean Creek
Vineyard Chardonnay 2015
($33). This wine has aged in French oak barrels
but, since only 18% were new, the oak influence shows just a slight hint of
toast in the aroma, along with citrus. On the palate, buttery flavours mingle
with hints of orange and apple. 92.
Meyer Tribute Series
($33). This wine, made with Naramata grapes, is the latest
in the series of wines paying tribute to a worthy person or cause. The 2015
supports the Hawksworth Young Chefs Scholarship. The wine begins with a
delicate gold hue and aromas of lemon. It is rich on the palate, with lemon and
tropical fruits framed by well integrated oak. 92.
($65). This powerful wine is due for release next March. It
was aged 11 months in French oak barrels (50% new). Brioche in the aroma and
flavour mingles with lively citrus flavours. This elegant wine will age
Meyer Okanagan Valley
Pinot Noir 2015
($25). This wine was aged in older oak barrels which
softened the wine without adding much oak flavour. It has aromas and flavours
of cherry and strawberry. The juicy texture adds to the wine’s immediate
Meyer Old Block Pinot
($50). This wine is made from a small Pinot Noir block in the
McLean Creek vineyard that was planted in 1994. The clone is unknown but the
wine is exceptional. It begins with aromas of black cherry and plum with hints
of forest floor. This is echoed on the palate, where the finish is spicy and
savoury. Only 205 cases were made. 93.
Pinot Noir 2014
($65). This wine is made by choosing the best block and
best clones from the McLean Creek Vineyard and then selecting the best barrels
to produce 110 cases. It will be released next March. This aged 11 months in
French oak (50% new). The wine has aromas of cherry and vanilla. On the palate,
the flavours of plum and cherry are subtly integrated with toasty oak. The
finish has savoury notes of forest floor. 95.