Canadian crafts benchmark wines in Oregon
Isabelle Meunier savours the subtle side of wine.
The winemaker at Evening Land Vineyard’s Oregon operation, Meunier has always been drawn to wines that entice and seduce. Pinot noir and chardonnay play the role of muse for the talented 38-year-old, who originally hails from rural Québec.
“My personal taste was always toward things that were complex, but subtle. I really wanted distinctiveness, but subtleness,” she says. “I was drawn toward the pinots and chardonnays, the lighter-style wines that are food-friendly, but they also make you dream. They trigger your imagination.”
Meunier’s wines have certainly garnered attention. Since coming on board in 2007, her Evening Land pinot noirs have received outstanding reviews and the chardonnays are becoming the benchmark for Oregon.
Her palate drew her to wine, but her journey started with food.
The youngest of three siblings, she was always intrigued by how people reacted differently to flavours. That interest led her to leave rural St-Tite, Que., a community of about 3,800 people located about 150 kilometres west of Québec City. She moved to Montréal where she got a degree in hotel and restaurant management. As she immersed herself in restaurant life, she started thinking about food and wine pairings. With a growing interest in pinot noir, a particularly food-friendly wine, she visited Burgundy, France, home of many of the world’s most-prized pinots and chardonnays.
“I was intrigued by the pinot noir grape, by the many facets that pinot could provide,” says Meunier. “I couldn’t believe that these vines on the various hills that I was seeing were creating so many distinctive wines.”
The trip changed her direction; now winemaking would be her goal. She enrolled in university in Dijon, France, where she got a post-graduate diploma in the viticulture, oenology and international commerce of wine. From Burgundy she went to New Zealand, studying at Lincoln University, near Christchurch. She honed her skills at Felton Road and Seresin Estate, both in New Zealand, before journeying to Burgundy where she worked for Pascal Marchand at Domaine de la Vougeraie.
Marchand, a Québecer who made a name for himself in Burgundy, would play a key role in her winemaking future. First he told her about a new project starting in Niagara, Ont. — Le Clos Jordanne — a high-end operation with a focus on Burgundian-style pinot noir and chardonnay. Marchand was to be the consultant and Thomas Bachelder the winemaker.
Meunier came back to Canada to be Bachelder’s assistant. Then she moved to the Pacific Northwest with her husband, winemaker Andrew Davis, who had landed a job at Argyle Winery in Oregon.
Marchand again played the role of career matchmaker, putting Meunier in touch with legendary Burgundian winemaker Dominique Lafon, who had signed on as a consultant with Evening Land Vineyards, a project with wineries in Oregon, California and Burgundy. Meunier was hired to be the winemaker at the Oregon winery.
Besides the thrill of earning her first head winemaker job, the mother of a two-year-old son was excited to be working with grapes from one of Oregon’s prized sites — Seven Springs Vineyard.
The legendary vineyard, which had been split in half after a divorce, produced fruit for some of the state’s best producers. But Mark Tarlov, the former Hollywood producer who spearheaded Evening Land, acquired a long-term lease to the whole site. Since then, Meunier and the team at Evening Land have extensively studied the vineyard and its soil with the goal of crafting wines that offer a sense of place and time.
“We try to produce wines that . . . have a story to tell and that story is not only where they come from but when, and what happened at that time,” she says.
It’s a story that can conjure dreams.
Six Degrees Connection:
Isabelle Meunier used to work with Pascal Marchand at Domaine de le Vougeraie in Burgundy, France.
Photo by Andrea Johnson Photo
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