Meyer Family Vineyards has released its 13th Tribute Chardonnay. The release in 2021 honors Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial medical health officer in British Columbia.
The tribute tradition began with a Chardonnay from the 2006 vintage. The choice of honorees has been eclectic, ranging from athletes to cultural icons. Dr. Henry is the first public health figure. She was the overwhelming choice when Meyer issued a call for nominations last year.
Meyer contributes $5,000 to be given to a charity or a scholarship of the honoree’s choice. Dr. Henry has directed her award to the Food Banks of British Columbia.
Dr. Henry was named B.C. public health office in 2018, after four years as the deputy in that post. She has been directing the British Columbia strategy to fight the pandemic for the past year and a half. Her press conferences to lay out the policies have given her high visibility and, in most communities, a high degree of respect.
According to her biography on Wikipedia, she was born in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and grew up on Prince Edward Island. She has a science degree from Mount Allison University in Sackville, NB, and a medical degree from Dalhousie University in Halifax.
She joined the Royal Canadian Navy while still in medical school. Her career as a naval doctor included 10 years at Esquimalt in Victoria. That was followed by a wide range of public health appointments in Canada and overseas. On reading the biography, it seems like her entire career was preparing her for the challenge of helping a province overcome the pandemic.
Here are notes on the Tribute wine and other releases from Meyer and associated Mayhem Wines.
Meyer Tribute Series Chardonnay 2019 – Dr. Bonnie Henry ($30.52 for 640 cases). This wine aged 11 months in French oak (22% new). The fruit is from the winery’s Old Main Road Vineyard near Naramata. In the glass, it presents with an appealing golden hue and with aromas of mandarin orange mingled with butter and oak. The flavours richly echo the aromas. This is an elegant wine with a lingering finish. 93.
Meyer Chardonnay 2019 McLean Creek Vineyard ($30.50 for 500 cases). This wine spent 11 months in French oak (22% new). The wine has an appealing core of peach and mandarin and lemon framed with very restrained oak notes. The finish is very long. 91.
Meyer Micro Cuvée Chardonnay 2019 McLean Creek Vineyard ($56.61 for 150 cases). This wine was aged in French oak (33% new) for 11 months and had 100% malolactic fermentation. The wine is rich and buttery, with aromas and flavours of mandarin orange and nectarine. The finish just will not quit, revealing complex fruit flavours and cloves. An exceptional wine. 95.
Meyer Gewürztraminer 2020 McLean Creek Vineyard ($16.61 for 166 cases). This is an intense Alsace-style Gewürztraminer. The vines were planted in 1994 and were cropped at just 1.5 tonnes an acre. The wine is rich and spicy with flavours of orange and papaya. The dry finish is persistent. 91.
Meyer Chardonnay 2020 ($19.22 for 1,000 cases). This fruit forward Chardonnay was aged 80% in stainless steel and 20% in neutral oak for just four months. It begins with aromas of stone fruit and citrus. The palate delivers flavours of nectarine and apple. The long fruity finish is refreshing. 88.
Meyer Rosé 2020 ($20.09 for 200 cases). The wine is 100% Pinot Noir. The 12 hours of skin contact have yielded a vibrant ruby hue. The wine was 50% barrel-fermented, 50% stainless steel fermented. Aromas of strawberry and plum burst from the glass. On the palate, there are concentrated flavours of plum, leading to a dry finish with a hint of red licorice. The wine will appeal for those who like a bold and fleshy rosé. 90.
Meyer Pinot Noir 2019 ($22.21 for 2,500 cases). This wine, which was aged eight months in neutral oak barrels, is somewhat rustic, standing apart in style from other Pinot Noirs from Meyer. It begins with cherry aromas mingled with notes of forest floor. On the palate, the fruit is earthy, with notes of plum. The body is robust. 88.
Meyer McLean Creek Road Pinot Noir 2019 ($34.87 for 1,000 cases). Five clones comprise this delicious Pinot Noir. The fruit, after a cold soak, was fermented with indigenous yeast and then aged 11 months in French oak (25% new). Aromas and flavours of cherry, mocha and spice are delivered with a silky texture. Layers of fruit reveal themselves in a persistent finish. 92.
Meyer Micro Cuvée Pinot Noir 2019 ($56.61 for 150 cases). The winery describes this as the most harmonious blend of selected barrels of McLean Creek Road Pinot Noir. The wine has had 11 months in French oak barrels (40% new). There are aromas and flavours of dark cherry mingled with spice and dark chocolate. The wine is unfined and unfiltered. 90.
Meyer Pinot Noir Old Block 2019 ($43.57 for 333 cases). Old Block refers to vines of an unknown clone that were planted in 1994 in the McLean Road Vineyard. The fruit, after a cold soak in open-top fermenters, was allowed to ferment with indigenous yeast. The wine then went into French oak (30% new) for 11 months. Aromas of cherry, spice and oak wrap around a full-bodied core of sweet fruit with hints of forest floor on the lingering finish. 91.
Mayhem Wines is a collaboration between Meyer Family Vineyards principal JAK Meyer and his sister, Terry Meyer Stone, along with their spouses. The current release includes two wines packaged in 250 ml cans – ideal for picnics and alfresco dining now allowed in some parks.
b>Mayhem Sauvignon Blanc 2020 ($20 for 238 cases). This wine was fermented in 76% stainless steel and 24% oak (10% new French barriques). The wine begins with a hint of lime and gooseberry on the nose, leading to a palate of tropical fruit flavours. The finish is crisp and dry. 90.
Mayhem Pinot Gris 2020 ($73.08 for 12 cans with 250 ml in each). This conveniently packaged wine is crisp and fresh, with aromas and flavours of citrus, pear and green apple. 88.
Mayhem Rosé 2020 ($20 for 147 cases). This is 95.5% Merlot and 4.5% Cabernet Franc. The grapes were crushed by foot to extract colour gently before crushing. Some 67% of the wine was aged six months in stainless steel; the rest was aged in neutral oak. The hue is perfect – not too pale, not too dark. It begins with herbal notes on the nose mingled with strawberry jam. There are layers of fruit on the palate – strawberry, cherry – that lead to a lingering, dry finish. 90.
Mayhem Rosé 2020 ($73.08 for 12 cans with 250 ml in each). The wine is similar to the bottled rosé but comes in a convenient package.
It came as a surprise to learn that Roche Wines is marking the 10th anniversary since Dylan and Pénélope Roche arrived in the Okanagan in 2011.
They launched their label soon after arriving, methodically building a following for their wines before buying a vineyard and then building a winery in 2017.
They are not people who jump into business ventures without first making a thorough study. I first met them when they first arrived from France. They had tracked me down and we spent two hours talking about the British Columbia wine industry. I am sure I was just one of many people they spoke with before making the plunge into the Okanagan wine industry.
In my view, they have not put a foot wrong as they now produce some of the best wines in the valley.
Dylan was born in Vancouver in 1976, the son of a lawyer and a nurse. After getting a University of British Columbia degree in urban geography, he went to Burgundy in 2000 as a bike mechanic and cycling guide. His interest in wine flourished there. By 2003, he was enrolled in enology studies in Beaune.
“The desire to make that wine in the Okanagan for me came fairly soon after I started studying wine,” Dylan told me in a 2014 interview. “I was living in Beaune in Burgundy and one of my getaways was to drive three hours, under Mont Blanc, and into Piedmont and Verona. I would visit Alba and Valpolicella and Barbaresco and Barolo. They are all pretty close together and they are not far from Burgundy.”
During the decade he spent in Europe, he acquired an impressive amount of training and experience in wine, viticulture and winery management. That includes a diploma from Faculté d'Oenologie de Dijon. Between 2006 and 2008, he ran a wine education program at Château Lynch-Bages in Pauillac.
He also was the winemaker or assistant winemaker at several Bordeaux estates including Château Les Carmes in Haut-Brion. That was the estate of Pénélope’s family. She comes from five generations of winemaking and viticulture. The family estate was sold just before Dylan and Pénélope came to the Okanagan in 2010.
He and Pénélope actually met in New Zealand where both spent a vintage or two to broaden their experience. “She traveled to hone her skill as a ‘Vine Whisperer’ in Spain and then New Zealand,” is how they expressed it in a news release when they opened their winery.
Initially, they both worked as consulting winemakers. Dylan spent several years as the winemaker for Intersection Estate Winery near Oliver while he and Pénélope were establishing their own business.
They launched the Roche label in 2012 with 85 cases of Chardonnay. Beginning in 2013, Dylan and Pénélope began to extend their portfolio by purchasing Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris from the 15-acre Kozier Organic Vineyard nearby on the Naramata Bench. In 2016, they took over the farming of the vineyard, which also grows Merlot, Gewürztraminer, and Viognier, a solid foundation for their portfolio.
Their winery and wineshop occupy an eight-acre property on Upper Bench Road that they nearly did not buy because of the grape varieties growing there – one acre of Zweigelt and three acres of Schönberger. “We hesitated,” Dylan told me. “Then a few months later, we said this is the perfect location, the perfect exposure, the perfect soil. It is just the two varieties that we were sticking on.” Neither had any experience with those grapes, which are not grown in Bordeaux. Zweigelt is a major red in Austria while Schönberger is an aromatic German white. But they adapted, blending the two into one of best rosé wines in the Okanagan. And they have planted small blocks of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
The metal-clad winery, which they built in 2017, fronts on busy Upper Bench Road. It is a practical, well-designed building, double-insulated to reduce energy consumption, and designed for a capacity of 6,000 to 10,000 cases. The compact tasting room is tucked into a corner with windows looking over the vineyard.
Here are notes on some current releases.
Roche Pinot Gris “Texture” 2020 ($21.90). The fruit for this wine is from the Kozier Organic Vineyard on the Naramata Bench. The wine was fermented and aged in stainless steel. It begins with aromas of citrus and green apple which are echoed on the lively palate. The finish is crisp, with a laser-focused cleanness. 91.
Roche Pinot Gris “Tradition” 2018 ($28.90 for 420 cases). The fruit for this also comes from the Kozier vineyard. Juice from whole bunch pressing was fermented slowly (two months) in neutral French oak barrels. The wine remained in the barrels for eight months with limited lees stirring. The wine has aromas and flavours of pear mingled with subtle spice and oak. This is quite a complex white wine. 91.
Roche Rosé 2010 ($21.90). This is a blend of 92% Zweigelt and 8% Schönberger, fermented in stainless steel. The wine presents in the glass with a beautiful rose petal hue. It begins with aromas of strawberry, watermelon and pink grapefruit. The palate delivers juicy flavours of strawberry, red currant and pomegranate. The finish is dry and refreshing. 92.
Roche Pinot Noir 2019 “Texture” ($26.90). This wine was fermented in stainless steel and then aged 10 months in neutral French oak. The wine begins with aromas of spice, cherry and notes of forest floor. The silky palate echoes the aromas with intense dark fruit leading to a lingering finish. 91.
b>Roche Nuances 2018 ($32.90 for 1,022 cases). This is 58% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Franc and 18% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and aged 12 months in French oak barrels (10% new). The wine begins with aromas of cassis and blackberry. On the palate, there are flavours of cherry mingle with black currant, leading to a savoury finish. 90.
Roche Château 2017 ($49.90 for 258 cases). This is 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. The varietals were fermented separately and aged in French oak (40% new) for 18 months. The lots with the greatest depth and structure were blended. The wine is dark with aromas of cassis. The wine is firm on the palate (structured to age) with flavours of black currant, fig, leather and dark chocolate. 93.
Photo: Winemaker Mason Spink (photo by Luke Whittall)
Since Mason Spink took over as winemaker in 2013, Summerland’s Dirty Laundry Vineyard has doubled production to about 38,000 cases.
The winery, which now farms 80 acres of vineyard in the Summerland area and also has contract growers in the south Okanagan and the Similkameen, is not capping its growth yet. Important additions to the portfolio are coming as the vines mature at its newest vineyard, a 14-acre parcel on Prairie Valley Road called Moonless Creek which is planted largely to Gamay Noir, Pinot Noir and Grüner Veltliner.
“I am really excited to see how our Gamay will produce here in Summerland,” he says. “We made a small lot in 2020 that we hope to bottle this summer, and then release it. If it shows well, we have the potential to expand that to 500 cases or so. I am loving Gamay lately. I think the variety is quite well suited for Summerland’s conditions.”
Mason, a Brock University-trained winemaker, also made a small volume of Grüner Veltliner, a first for Dirty Laundry. It will likely be released later this year in Dirty Laundry’s tasting room and to its wine club. As well, a new cellar series of small lot wines (100 to 250 cases each) will be released in June. These include Dirty Laundry’s first orange wine, made with Grüner Veltliner and Riesling.
“I have found many natural/orange wines that are too over the top,” Mason observes. “People are doing huge skin macerations for extended periods. We are making it to be approachable. I still want that ‘orange’ character but I don’t want it to just be a wine nerd’s wine.”
The largest volume wine in the Dirty Laundry portfolio, at 13,500 cases, is the Hush Rosé. The success of that wine reflects the gradual changes in the wine since Mason took over the cellar.
“When I came to Dirty Laundry in 2013, Hush was quite dark and overly sweet,” he says. “We have been slowly changing that style. Our loyal drinkers here in B.C. have gravitated towards it and pushed it to those volumes.”
“It has been one of our flagships,” Mason adds. “It is somewhat its own brand now. Everyone is familiar with that label and that name.”
For that reason, the portfolio has been extended now to include both a Hush White (a blend of Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris) and a Hush Red (a blend of Malbec and Merlot).
Here are notes on some of the winery’s current releases.
Dirty Laundry Pinot Gris 2019 ($19.99 for 3,000 cases). The wine has honeyed aromas of quince and pear. There is generous fruit on the palate – pear, melon, apple and tangerine with spice on the finish. 90.
Dirty Laundry Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($19.99 for 500 cases). The wine begins with tropical aromas of mango and papaya with a note of spice recalling black licorice – unusual for this varietal but quite interesting. The fruit flavours are rich and satisfying – grapefruit and grapefruit rind. The finish is crisp and dry. 90.
Dirty Laundry Reserve Chardonnay 2019 ($21.49 for 300 cases). This wine had partial malolactic fermentation; and 60% was aged in French oak for eight months while the rest was aged in stainless steel. The aromas are appealing, with buttery notes mingled with ripe pineapple that are echoed on the palate. 90.
Dirty Laundry Hush Rosé 2020 ($19.99 for 13,500 cases). The blend is primarily Pinot Gris and Cabernet Sauvignon. The delicate rose petal hue comes from overnight skin contact with the Pinot Gris; the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are pressed immediately after being destemmed. The wine begins with aromas of strawberry jam mingled with cherry and spice. That carries through to juicy flavours of red apple and ripe strawberry with spicy fruit on the lingering finish. 90.
Dirty Laundry Pinot Noir 2019 ($28.99 for 450 cases). This was aged 13 months in barrel (80% French, 30% new). The aromas of cherry, vanilla and mocha carry through to the silken palate, mingled with pomegranate. There is an earthy note on the finish. 90.
Dirty Laundry Kay’s Syrah 2018 ($29.99 for 1,400 cases). This is a big wine aged at least 18 months in barrel. It begins with aromas of pepper, plum and fig. On the palate, there are rich flavours of fig, plum, leather. Long ripe tannins give the wine a long, fleshy finish. 91.
Dirty Laundry Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 ($27.99 for 1,200 cases). This is 90% Cabernet Sauvignon (with fruit from the Similkameen and Okanagan Valleys) and 10% Okanagan Merlot. The wine was aged 12 months in neutral oak (75% French, 15% American). It begins with aromas of black cherry, cedar and spice. There is a big dollop of sweet fruit (cherry, black currant, plum) with mocha on the finish. 91.
The early assessments of the 2020 vintage agree that this was one of the best vintages so far in the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys – except for volume.
Most wineries report that the quantities of wines made in 2020 were down by as much as 30% from the average of recent years. That was because of bud damage in the 2019-20 winter and also to spring rains during flowering in 2020.
But the rest of the growing season was generally good to excellent. And because the vines were carrying less fruit with smaller berries, the resulting wines are more intensely flavoured.
SpearHead winery in East Kelowna was comparatively fortunate. Grant Stanley, the winemaker and general manager, says that volume at his winery was down just 10% from what had been expected. As a consequence, he dropped White Pinot Noir from his lineup for offerings this spring. The wines that SpearHead has released are exemplary show cases of the vintage – bright fruit, concentrated flavours.
Here are notes on the wines.
SpearHead Pinot Noir Rosé 2020 ($23). The wine presents in the glass with an appealing light ruby hue. It begins with aromas of strawberry and cherry. On the palate, there are flavours of strawberry and pomegranate, with bright, refreshing acidity. 90.
SpearHead Pinot Gris 2020 ($20). Utterly delicious, this wine is simply packed with fruit – peach, ripe pear, citrus on the nose and palate. On the finish, the wine is crisp and refreshing. 91.
SpearHead Riesling 2020 ($20). The intensity of the vintage is particularly evident with this Riesling, with its aromas and flavours of lemon, grapefruit and green apple and with tangy natural acidity. This wine should be cellared at least until this fall and more likely for another year or two to reach its full potential of flavour. 92.