Martin’s Lane Winery in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley is truly a major accomplishment. The property is visually stunning; the winery building is a triumph of both function and form; and most importantly, Martin’s Lane produces some stunning wine.
Martin’s Lane is a part of the Mark Anthony Group, the umbrella over a range of beverage producing companies run by Anthony von Mandl. The group has now grown to several wineries all located in the Okanagan. The flagship, and original winery is Mission Hill Family Estate and the portfolio has expanded through the acquisitions of Checkmate Artisanal Winery, Road 13 Vineyards, Liquidity Wines, and CedarCreek Estate Winery. Martin’s Lane breaks the mould and is the first winery that von Mandl has built as opposed to bought.
Martin is the name of von Mandl’s father, and the winery is an homage to his Dad. But it is also very much a reflection of von Mandl’s own views about the world of wine which has resulted in some really fascinating features to the winery.
The winery itself is the embodiment of von Mandl’s vision that has been conceived through the architectural prowess of Seattle-based Tom Kundig. The building, built in 2014, houses a gravity fed winery as well as a guest tasting area and offices.
There is an elegant simplicity to the design: two roof lines intersect; one on a horizontal axis that covers the tasting area and follows the line of Lake Okanagan below; the other roofline follows the same slope as the hillside it is built on and covers the winery.
Weathered steel cladding, wood siding and concrete are the primary materials used. The effect is rugged and stark, matching the craggy and arid mountainside on which it is perched. Inside, form meets function.
The winery is built on 6 levels that follow the slope of the land down.This allows the wine to move through the entire winemaking process via gravity only.
There is not a single pump used in the winery resulting in a more gentle handling which results in a superior wine.
Guests at Martin’s Lane are treated to a beautiful tasting area that has a stunning view over Lake Okanagan below and the surrounding vineyards. All guest experiences are by appointment only and only one group of guests at a time for a two-hour experience. Very exclusive. At the edge of the guest area sits a turntable with a great collection of vinyl that lets you set your own musical ambiance with which to enjoy your tasting. We could not help but notice the terrific selection of jazz albums – Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue was the perfect background music for our tasting!
Impressive as the winery and tasting building are, the true star is the wine.
Since the inaugural vintage in 2014, Shane Munn has been the winemaker. Shane comes from New Zealand and like so many of the best winemakers we have met, he has worked in many different countries and has a broad vinous experience. We continue to re-learn the fact that you cannot make good wine unless you have tasted good wine. Shane has degrees in both winemaking and mathematics.
He clearly is very bright. And he clearly is very passionate about making the wines at Martin’s Lane. Shane told us “I have worked mostly at organically or biodynamically certified vineyards. I believe in minimal intervention when making the wine, in both the winery and in the vineyard as well. We have been farming organically since 2016 and have been certified organic since 2019.”
Getting that certification was pretty straight forward for Shane.
“Since day one of our first vintage in 2014, we’ve made the wines the same way, we didn’t adapt our winemaking to meet our organic standards. When it came time to be certified for the first time, the submission was straightforward…the ingredients that we use here for harvest, you could carry in two armfuls. A more conventional winery might have a couple of pallets of acid and food and yeast and that sort of stuff. Our primary focus here is growing really good grapes…I think we grow the best grapes in the valley it’s just my job to kind of keep up that standard when the fruit comes in here [the winery].”
The gravity flow winery is a natural extension of Shane’s low intervention philosophy. “Let the wine move along by its own weight as opposed to being forced around by pumps.” This is particularly important when vinifying the notoriously delicate Pinot Noir which requires very gentle handling. Fermentations are always started with natural yeasts found in the vineyard and in the winery. Fining and filtering, two techniques used by many winemakers to achieve a clearer wine are avoided.
Martin’s Lane makes two different varietal wines, Pinot Noir and Riesling as well as a blend of the two called Julius.
We asked Shane about that, as typically we find Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (not Riesling) grown together. He told us that when sister winery Mission Hill won the Decanter Magazine award for best Pinot Noir in the world, Anthony von Mandl wanted to do a winery that would focus on that variety. The site for their vineyard is in the north end of the valley where it is coolest and produces the best Pinot Noir. It also produces tremendous Riesling, so they saw no need to force the Pinot/Chardonnay tradition on this project.
Martin’s Lane now makes 3 different Rieslings and 4 different Pinot Noirs. They also make their proprietary blend, Julius, which comes in usually at about 85% Pinot Noir and 15% Riesling. Fruit for the portfolio comes from 4 different vineyards: Fritzi, Simes and Dehart in the north end of the valley and Naramata Ranch in the south.
To be perfectly honest, we were not at all sure about whether BC could produce truly high-end Pinot Noir, prior to our visit at Martin’s Lane. Brutal heat spikes, so common in August in the Okanagan just didn’t want to let many others produce greatness from this delicate and thin-skinned grape variety. But we came back with our minds changed and now are firm believers. You really have to go out on the edge to make wines of this quality from this terroir. But Anthony von Mandl and Shane Munn have gone out on that edge and created some beautiful wines from a very impressive winery and set of vineyards that truly bring British Columbia to a rightful place on the world stage of fine wines.
2021 Martin’s Lane Simes Vineyard Riesling
The Simes Vineyard is the closest vineyard to the winery.
On the east side of Lake Okanagan with northern and western exposures this is a cooler site with its lower elevations dedicated to Riesling so as to take most advantage of the cooling effect of the lake. The wine shows classic Riesling characteristics of green apple with supporting notes of minerals, metallic notes and hints of earth. The 40 grams of residual sugar is expertly judged: it creates just the right counterbalance to the acid line and seems to add more texture than sweetness. The body is medium+ and the acid is at least medium+, but you need to search for that given how balanced this wine is. Off-dry Riesling is a wonderfully versatile drink and this Simes is one of the best examples of that. A perfect match for any spicy Asian dish.
Excellent+ ($55 at the winery)
2021 Martin’s Lane Naramata Ranch Riesling
From a warmer site further down the lake, this wine is fermented close to fully dry. A slightly more tropical take on Reisling, here the emphasis is on white peach notes, mango and hints of citrus. Lots of mineral notes and a good streak of acidity make for just the right offset to the riper fruit creating a beautifully textured Riesling that has both body and cut. The finish is long and citrus infused.
Excellent ($55 at the winery)
2021 Martin’s Lane Fritzi Vineyard Riesling
Fritzi sits on the other (west) side of the lake facing south. Planted in 1997, this is quite old by Okanagan standards. But it produces exquisite Riesling, full of bold character that is very mineral and very intense. Notes of lemon and green apple, with hints of pear and come together in wonderfully complex and striking Riesling. Power and elegance in equal proportion. Classic Riesling.
Excellent+ ($55 at the winery)
2021 Martin’s Lane Julius
Shane’s great experiment is to co-ferment (not blend) Pinot Noir and Riesling together in roughly an 85/15 proportion. Just one tank was made of this very unusual but very delicious wine. Our sample had just been bottled and that might have accounted for the reductive character we noted in the wine. This wine is full of character, and almost defies comparison to any other wine. Its slightly feral, slightly meaty notes kind of had us thinking Southern Rhone, like a Mourvèdre, if one must have a comparison. But this wine stands on its own and possesses surprising heft when we think of its basis. Delicious. Is this blend soon to become wine’s next big thing??
Excellent ($75 at the winery)
2018 Martin’s Lane Dehart Vineyard Pinot Noir
Medium red in colour, this wine showed more texture than the colour lead us to believe. Notes of cherry and raspberry get added lift and complexity from the mineral and vanilla notes. Though the wine spent 17 months in French and Austrian oak barrels, they were chosen for their tight grains and so the barrel notes are in no way obtrusive. Further complexity comes from the earthy notes, which likely get a contribution from the 50% whole clusters. The long finish lingers and puts emphasis on the spice and black pepper notes.
Excellent+ ($100 at the winery)
2018 Martin’s Lane Simes Vineyard Pinot Noir
Darker and even more intense than the Dehart, this wine shows a masculinity in its character. Dark cherry and raspberry fruit drives the profile and the subtle notes of brown spices bring complexity and character to the drink. Medium+ body with medium+ tannin, this wine is likely to develop further nuance and character while resting in the cellar.
Excellent+ ($100 at the winery)
2018 Martin’s Lane Fritzi Vineyard Pinot Noir
The Riesling from Fritzi showed us this is a special vineyard but this Pinot Noir takes it to a new level. Whereas Simes was about power, Fritzi is about finesse. Perfectly balanced, this is a sexy wine with rounded curves, a soft but rich texture and terrific complexity. Great Pinot Noir has a beguiling trait that is so hard to get down in words, and Fritzi is a great example of that. Each time we return to the glass we get something slightly different. Intense but very inviting, with a long and mineral-infused finish, this is a very special Pinot Noir.
Extraordinary ($100 at the winery)
5437 Lakeshore Rd
Canada V1W 4S5
T: (250) 707-2263
*Tastings by appointment only*