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
, there are
varieties that perform better than Pinot Noir. My favourite red from Oliver and
Osoyoos vineyards is Syrah. Similkameen
North of McIntyre Bluff, however, there are solid to spectacular Pinot Noirs grown in vineyards all the way from
Falls to .
We are talking world class Pinot Noirs that stack up well against top examples
from Lake Country Burgundy and Oregon
and New Zealand.
Mission Hill, after all, took home a best in class award at a
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
, 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. Okanagan
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
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. Okanagan
“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 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.
Meyer Reimer Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011 ($40 for 219 cases). The Reimer Vineyard overlooks the Harvest Golf Course in
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 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.