Like many of the recently opened new world wineries Meyer Family Vineyards began when JAK Meyer left his career in the business world to pursue a love of wine. It started with a search for a great site, which was purchased in 2006 on the Naramata Bench of BC's Okanagan Valley.
The Meyer family has since added another small property in nearby Okanagan Falls that they feel very strongly about. The winery's focus is on small lots of premium single-vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Realising great wine cannot be made without great grapes managed by great people, Meyer brought in a team with the necessary expertise. The last member in that chain is winemaker Chris Carson. Educated in New Zealand with a degree in viticulture and oenology and trained in New Zealand, California and Montrachet, Carson has a wealth of experience in cool climate winemaking. With a strong passion for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Carson, his team and the Meyer family are producing some of BC's most sought after, cool climate Chardonnay.
In anticipation of Meyer's first International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration I recently had a Q&A with Carson and Meyer regarding their thoughts on what makes cool climate Chardonnay so special and why they're excited to be participating in i4C. Meyer will be pouring at the Fins, Flit & Fowl lunch (see our coverage of last year's lunch) and the World Tour Tasting.
Michael Di Caro: Chris, you've worked in Burgundy and in New Zealand and now the Okanagan. The commonality is those are three cool climate regions, but they're also very unique. Based on your experience how would you define cool climate Chardonnay?
Chris Carson: I think as far as Chardonnay goes in a cool climate the fruit is hard won by. The fruit is ripening at a slower pace. You have to worry about frost. There's a lot more acid left behind than in a warm climate like California or Australia. But you have longevity in these types of Chardonnays. It's more of a challenge to grow, but I think the rewards are much higher than a warm climate Chardonnay.
MD: You said the rewards are greater. So what would you say makes a cool climate Chardonnay such a compelling wine?
CC: I think it's personal preference. But from when I worked in Burgundy I think it's the acid structure. The natural acidity. Not having to add acid. I pick a little earlier than most for the acidity. I don't let it hang there for 25-26˚ brix. I'm picking at 22.5-23˚. It's for potential alcohol as well. I don't want the high alcohol—13.5% is sort of my target. I think [BC wine writer] John Schreiner said it well when he said it has a laser-like purity. It's not overbearing and has the acid structure to go with food. You can even lay it down for a few years.
MD: Chardonnay is a malleable winemaker's grape. You have a wide range of techniques you can draw on to craft your final wine. What is your personal philosophy when making Chardonnay?
CC: It's hands-on in the vineyard and hands-off in the winery. It goes into the press as whole bunch clusters. It's a gentle pressing. We keep the hard press separate which goes into our second tier, lower-level Chardonnay that we blend with other vineyards. We do a cool ferment in stainless steel until about 2-3˚ brix and then it goes into barrel to finish fermenting. It's a cool ferment that probably lasts over a month, 4-6 weeks, so we get some of those ester developments and some glycerol produced by the yeasts. Then it just sits in barrel on the lees without stirring or bâtonnage for roughly 10 months. Then we transfer it from barrel to tank and finish it. We filter, stabilise and bottle it. It's just a very simple hands-off approach.
MD: Earlier you mentioned it's a bit of challenge to grow cool climate Chardonnay, but the rewards are greater. What is it about Chardonnay that keeps you working with it?
CC: It's passion just like Pinot Noir. For me Pinot Noir is passion. I actually wasn't a big a fan of Chardonnay until I worked in Burgundy and tasted some of the Premier Crus—the stuff you usually don't see in the wine shops in Canada or even New Zealand when I was there. Not unless you pay for it. I was just a poor student at the time bouncing around doing vintages, so I never really tried any. When I wound up in Burgundy it was an an eye-opening experience for me.
MD: Eye opening? How so?
CC: I wasn't a fan Chardonnay when I was in university and my first few years doing vintages in New Zealand. I think it was because of that overripe style. That pineapple, tropical flavour profile. Just going to Burgundy and tasting the wines there. More depth, more character, good acid. There's some tropical hints in the wines, but there's more of the citrus fruits. It changed my mind on Chardonnay when I worked over there.
MD: You were one of the few BC wineries at Seriously Cool Chardonnay, but I believe this is your first International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration. What prompted you to participate in i4C?
JAK Meyer: Yes, this will be our first i4C in July. We weren't aware of it last year. We ran into [Southbrook winemaker] Ann Sperling last year at the Vancouver Playhouse and we got to chatting with her. She sent us an invite this year. So the invitation prompted us, but when we looked at the schedule it was exactly what we're all about. We're specialising and focusing on two varietals, one of them being Chardonnay. To be able to showcase our Chardonnays in front of an audience that is very interested in the grape is perfect for us. Those are exactly the type of people we like to see and talk to. I think it's an audience that would like to try some BC wines, too. Like here we don't get the opportunity to try much Ontario wine. So it'll be great for us to be there and see the similarities or differences.
MD: Speaking of the program what are most looking most forward to?
JM: All of it [Chuckling]! It looks great. I kind of wish we were just attending and not having to work. Looking through the program it looks like a good, fun event for consumers with great bands and food. From Meyer Family Vineyards' point of view it's a great audience to be able to showcase our wines. Coincidently the other BC winery participating is about a 1.5 miles way as the crow flies so we're in the same regional association. We've talked to them and we hear this is a great event. We're just really happy to be able to come and we're really looking forward to being there.
Written by Mike Di Caro
Michael Di Caro covers all things vinous at Spotlight. His lover affair with Ontario wine began over a decade ago and he’s been in front of tasting bars trying to sweet talk staff into pouring a taste of a library wine or the latest unreleased bottle ever since. Since good wine can’t be made without great grapes, you can also catch him amongst the vines trying to persuade the winemaker into revealing his/her next big thing for you on Spotlight. His epicurean tendencies don’t just stop in the glass either. During the rest of his free time you can find him searching for the perfect bowl of Dan Dan noodles, exploring the city’s best tasting menus or baking cookies and mucking about in the kitchen.