In the Okanagan, BC, Canada: Meyer Family Vineyards, Culmina and CheckMate

Jak Meyer and Chris Carson

Jak Meyer and Chris Carson

Jak and Janice Meyer bought a small vineyard in the Naramata Bench back in 2006. Originally, this was just a hobby vineyard, but in 2008 when Jak started selling the grapes he realized that selling 600 cases was quite a bit of work and that he’d never make money doing it. So in 2008 he made a commitment to expand. Then the opportunity came up in 2008 to buy a property in the Okanagan Falls, and so the current Meyer Family Vineyards was born. The philosophy was to focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and now five of each are made, plus a brand new sparkling wine. We met with Jak and his winemaker Chris Carson, and tasted a range of the wines, dipping back in vintages, too. They’re some of the best examples being made of these varieties in the valley.

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I was particularly impressed by the 2014 McLean Creek Road ‘Old Block’ Pinot Noir (from the oldest block on the home property), and the Tribute Series Art & Viv Meyer Chardonnay 2014 which comes from the Naramata Bench.

Donald Triggs and Pascal Madevon

Donald Triggs and Pascal Madevon

Donald Triggs is a well known figure in the Canadian wine scene. When Jackson Triggs/Vincor was taken over by Constellation in 2005, he tried to retire, but couldn’t quite figure out how to do it. He asked each of his three daughters whether or not he should start another wine business, but only the youngest, Sarah, said she thought it would be interesting. So he started the search for the perfect site for making wines from the red Bordeaux varieties. He took the advice of Alain Sutre, who he had worked with before. ‘Is there another level for the Okanagan, or is what has already been achieved all that there is?’ Sutre replied that he thought that, yes, there was another level, but it would require a lot of patience and a lot of attention to detail. Triggs’ criteria for a site were that it should ripen Bordeaux reds, it should be farmable organically, and it should lead to a sustainable business.

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Golden Mile Bench

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Culmina

Triggs saw five properties before he selected a really nicely situated vineyard site on the Golden Mile Bench, which is now Culmina. There was an existing vineyard block, but this was replanted along with the rest of the property. In order to take into account the variations in the soils over the vineyard, the irrigation system has 108 controllable valves, which can be altered remotely. This is a precision approach to viticulture. As well as the main vineyard site, there’s a second site on top of the hill that is used for whites (Chardonnay, Riesling and Grüner Veltliner), where it is a bit cooler.

With consultancy from Pascal Madevon, the wines are pretty stylish, in a modern mould. The Unicus (Grüner Veltliner) is successful in the warm 2015 vintage and offers rounded pear and spice fruit with some pithy notes and just a touch of white pepper. Decora (Riesling) has also fared well in 2015, while the Dilemma (Chardonnay) in 2014 is a bit closed and reductive, in need of more time to develop. The main action here, though, is Hypothesis, a Bordeaux-style blend with lots of polish and some good structure. I had a slight preference for 2013 over the two preceding vintages. These wines should age well. ‘It’s the beginning of the story, not the end,’ says Sarah Triggs. ‘A new region and a new terroir.’ Hence the name hypothesis.

James and Philip, CheckMate

James and Philip, CheckMate

CheckMate is a high-profile new Chardonnay-only winery that is part of the Mission Hill stable. We visited with winemaker Phil Mcgahan and viticulturist James Cooper to try these newly released wines. The debut 2013 vintage release consists of five wines from three different Chardonnay vineyards. There’s the Heritage Vineyard in the Golden Mile Bench, which has what may be the oldest Chardonnay vines in Canada, planted in the early 1970s. We had a look at some of these old vines, which would certainly have been among the first plantings of Vitis vinifera in the Okanagan. They are knarly and pretty old, and from an unknown clone imported from Washington State, known as the Declaver or Heritage clone.

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Then there’s the Barn Vineyard in Black Sage Bench, and the Border Vista Vineyard near the American Border in Osoyoos East Bench. These are three quite warm sites, but the Checkmate Chardonnays are remarkably detailed and elegant, albeit in a richer new world style. I really liked them, especially the Little Pawn Chardonnay. These wines are extremely expensive, but they are very good indeed, and prove what can be achieved in the Okanagan given care and attention, and skilled winemaking.

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