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Meyer champions Pinot Noir & Chardonnay

Meyer champions Pinot Noir & Chardonnay

John Schreiner on wine: Meyer champions Pinot Noir, Chardonnay
Monday, March 3, 2014

“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 Valley, 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 Falls to Lake Country. We are talking world class Pinot Noirs that stack up well against top examples from Burgundy and Oregon and New Zealand.

Mission Hill, after all, took home a best in class award at a London last 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 wine.

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 Falls, 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 Falls 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 London wine 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.”

John Schreiner’s reviews:

94 points – 2012 Micro Cuvée Pinot
93 points – 2011 Micro Cuvée Chard
91 points – 2011 McLean Creek Rd Chard
91 points – 2011 Tribute Series Chard
91 points – 2011 McLean Creek Rd Pinot
90 points – 2011 Reimer Vineyard Pinot Noir

John Schreiner on wine: Meyer champions Pinot Noir, Chardonnay