The export potential of dry, expensive Canadian wine might rank on a par with the export potential of, say, news about Canadian politics in the pre-Rob Ford era. Icewine aside, a $40 bottle of Canadian vino might sooner be considered a punchline or practical joke than an actual product.
Maybe I exaggerate. But I'm also here to point out that the situation is improving in small but perceptible ways. JAK Meyer, co-owner of Meyer Family Vineyards in Okanagan Falls, B.C., is my latest Canadian– export mini-hero – and that's not a reference to his physical stature.
I've written about Meyer's outstanding wines before. The former Vancouver business consultant has been squeezing out tiny quantities of product for just six years, mainly pinot noirs and chardonnays from vineyards in OK Falls (as the locals call it) and Naramata near Penticton. Or, rather, Chris Carson, his Edmonton-born, New Zealand-trained winemaker, has been crafting them very much by hand in the manner of the finest pinots and chardonnays of Burgundy.
Coasting on a few favourable reviews from esteemed British wine critics Steven Spurrier and Jancis Robinson, Meyer managed to sign on with 200-year-old distributor Ellis of Richmond in England in the faint hope of selling a case or three here and there to adventurous consumers. Soon enough, Meyer received a call from his London-based niece, who said she'd stopped into a wine bar and noticed that, by coincidence, one of his pricey pinots (which sells for $40 at the B.C. winery) was being featured by the glass. It's a special endorsement when a place sells your wine by the glass rather than the bottle, a vote of confidence they'll be able to move through considerable volume.
"It's one of the things I'm most proud of," Meyer told me. "There's no shortage of selection of wine in London and at reasonable prices for sure. So for me, it's amazing that people would be interested in trying a Canadian wine."
Of Meyer's modest 3,800-case output last year, just three pallets, about 150 cases, were exported to the U.K. That's a trickle, but it's impressive when we're talking 40-buck Canuck. Even at the wholesale Canadian rate, Meyer's British distributor must charge restaurants the equivalent of $42 Canadian and, of course, that price gets doubled or tripled at the table depending on the restaurant.
We're talking serious coin, on a par with decent Bordeaux and Burgundy from France, a short train ride from England. (But, shockingly, the price charged by the monopoly Liquor Control Board of Ontario to restaurants if Meyer sells his wine into that province at the same wholesale rate he offers to the English distributor would be $52, fully $10 more than in England. Keep in mind that his wholesale price to both destinations includes all the B.C. government taxes that support health care and education in that province.)
Meyer also managed to sell two pallets in the past year to Japan, which I think speaks well of British Columbia's, and Canada's, export prospects down the road.
For those who can afford his luxury wines, the good news is that Meyer's production has been increasing, reaching 6,000 cases with the current, excellent 2012 vintage in inventory. And he ships by courier across Canada if you order direct through www.mfvwines.com.
His new and even more expensive Micro Cuvée Pinot Noir at – gulp – $65 continues to mature in bottle and has yet to be released. But Meyer's willing to take orders from brave souls able to invest that kind of money (250-497-8553). It leads my selection here of mostly pricey B.C. reds, which in most cases are available direct from the respective wineries.
Meyer Family Vineyards Micro Cuvée Pinot Noir 2012 (B.C.)
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $65
The first-ever "micro cuvée" pinot from Meyer, this represents a small, 100-case volume from four barrels that had been maturing particularly well in the cellar. It's ripe and jammy, reflecting the solar intensity of the great 2012 Okanagan growing season, with intense berry fruit framed by bright acidity and a dusting of baking spices. There's a fun soupçon of earthy beetroot in there, too. It's like fine red Burgundy with a suntan. Not yet released, it's available on a preorder basis direct from the winery through www.mfvwines.com. The Micro Cuvée Chardonnay 2012, $65, is equally gorgeous.
Burrowing Owl Merlot 2009 (B.C.)
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $41.95
Velvety, luscious, full-bodied and complex, this is the sort of thing that could fetch a higher price were it made in California. So let's not kvetch too loudly about the price here, despite the fact most consumers would understandably never see the value in a $42 bottle. The flavours take a royal tour through cassis, berries, vanilla, plum, chocolate, tobacco and mint. Complex and definitely not your banal Sideways merlot. Available through Vintages in Ontario in limited quantities.
Meyer Family Vineyards Pinot Noir McLean Creek Road Vineyard 2012 (B.C.)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $40
This is smooth, with lush raspberry– blueberry fruit, cherry cola and spice, backed by solid tannins. Just 477 cases were made. Available through www.mfvwines.com.
Quails' Gate Pinot Noir Stewart Family Reserve 2012 (B.C.)
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $45
Elegant, with precision-ripened fruit, this is velvety pinot lifted by tangy herbs and acidity, set against dusty tannins that add grip and structure. Complex and long. Available through www.quailsgate.com.
Dirty Laundry Merlot 2011 (B.C.)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $31.95
Dense and intense, this comes across like wild-berry jam infused with spices and smoke. It has good structure, with a solid acid spine. Available through Vintages in Ontario.
Baillie-Grohman Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 (B.C.)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $25
Based in Creston, east of the Okanagan near the U.S. border, Baillie– Grohman benefits from the expert direction of Dan Barker, a New Zealand winemaker who leaves the Kiwi winter to spend the (Canadian) summer growing season in British Columbia. This medium-full-bodied red shows the leaner profile of the 2011 vintage, echoing Bordeaux and New Zealand versus the classically sunnier southern B.C. style. Juicy and crisp, it shows plum and sour cherry, with notes of cedar and spice and lightly dusty tannins. Available through www.bailliegrohman.com.
Five Vineyards by Mission Hill Pinot Noir 2012 (B.C.)
SCORE: 86 PRICE: $16.45
For the money, it does a decent job of tasting like pinot noir, which is an accomplishment where this fickle grape is concerned. Light-medium-bodied, it offers sour cherry and raspberry fruit, with light tannins and crisp acidity. Available in Ontario.