B.C. wine

By Rick VanSickle

There is a photo (see below) on the Martin’s Lane Instagram feed that reads “2019 prediction: unparalleled.” It accompanies a hint of architecture from the relatively new Kelowna winery.

It may seem a bit of a stretch for a winery that is only now releasing its second vintage, but this is no ordinary winery.

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It’s another jewel in the crown of Mission Hill owner Anthony von Mandl’s stable of (still growing) showpiece wineries, this one named in honour of his late father. It’s an architectural marvel that’s understated, modern and sleek from the photos I have seen, and built on the east side of Lake Okanagan near another one of von Mandl’s series of Okanagan wineries, CedarCreek.

The marketing material on Martin’s Lane website calls the location of the winery and vineyards “one of the most breathtaking places on our planet to grow grapes. Ancient volcanic and glacial soils settle among precipitous hillsides. The area is blessed with warm days, cool nights and the lowest rainfall and humidity of any wine-producing region. Our unique latitude and altitude conspire to yield a dramatic viticultural landscape which produce intense and balanced fruit. This is winemaking on the edge.”

The owner has set high standards right out of the gate: “Unparalleled” is a lofty goal. But never bet against von Mandel.

Top B.C. wine

Martin’s Lane only makes two varietal wines — Riesling and Pinot Noir, all single-vineyard expressions from various terroirs in the Okanagan. The wines are crafted by New Zealander Shane Munn.

All the wines are produced in a similar fashion: Non-interventionist, wild fermented, unfiltered and unfined, and all French oak (for the Pinots) and extended lees aging for the Rieslings.

Note: The photos of the winery were provided by the winery.

These are the key vineyards:

SIMES VINEYARD

The Simes Vineyard is a uniquely north-facing aspect with granite-based soils, both making it quite marginal and challenging. This leads to cool, fresh and bright aromatic characters in the wines. The vineyard is heavily sloped with Pinot Noir at the top and Riesling (the last parcel picked every year) at the bottom.

NARAMATA RANCH VINEYARD

This is the estate’s most climatically and geologically diverse site. Red granite rock is literally on the surface above granite bedrock, with no grass or cover crop. The boniness and grit challenge our vines to reach extraordinary levels. This is the site of our oldest and gnarliest Riesling vines, along with five stunning distinct blocks of Pinot Noir settled in a variety of separate microclimates.

FRITZI’S VINEYARD

This tiny vineyard comprises one single parcel right at the foot of a dormant volcano. White rock, including quartz from the bedrock, imparts a distinctive minerality in the wines. Named after von Mandl’s 102-year-old mother, this heritage block faces south east, creating a sun sink which encourages intense fruit that is remarkably challenging to pick, but rewards handsomely.

I was invited to taste the unreleased 2015 wines with foremost Canadian wine journalist Tony Aspler along with Queylus general manager John Nadeau just before Christmas here in Niagara.

Here are my impressions of these stunning wines.

Note: Also in this report, we review the Reserve wines from Mission Hill and Township 7.

Martin’s Lane Rieslings

Martin’s Lane Fritzi’s Vineyard Riesling 2015 ($75, 93 points) — This is the top expression of Riesling from Martin’s Lane in Kelowna, and, at $75 I can’t think of another Canadian Riesling at this price point. Like the Riesling below, it’s wild fermented, spent nine months on the lees, with no filtering or fining. This is finished at a hefty (for Riesling) 14% abv, while the Simes Vineyard Riesling is 13%. The German Weiss clone 21b is planted in the Fritzi’s Vineyard. The nose starts delicately with soft lemon chiffon, bin apple, river-rock minerality and layers of citrus zesty fruit. There is a subtle tinge of copper in the glass, though I do not know if there was any skin contact at all (I am tasting without benefit of technical information). It reveals such beauty, power and texture for a Riesling on the palate with a deep-rooted range of lime/lemon/grapefruit, apple skin, freshening salinity and depth through a perfectly dry and taut finish. Should age well for 5+ years.

Martin’s Lane Simes Vineyard Riesling 2015 ($55, 92 points) — Winemaking is similar to above, but the Alsatian clone 49 is panted here. This is less severe and angular than the Fritzi’s with a nose of lemon, lime, pretty white flowers, citrus pith and flinty/saline notes. It feels richer on the palate, more concentrated with lemon, grapefruit, flint, and layered through a dry and zesty finish. This is enjoyable now but can cellar 3+ years.

Martin’s Lane Pinot Noirs

Martin’s Lane DeHart Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 ($100, 91 points) — This is the first vintage of the DeHart Vineyard Pinot Noir, which is made (I believe) similar to the other Pinots in the portfolio — unfiltered, unfined, wild fermented, 17 months or so in extra tight grain 100% French oak, minimum sulphur added and 14%+ abv. It’s highly aromatic with brambly red fruits, cassis, smoky/spicy notes and a certain savouriness. It has ripe, full-on red fruits that are succulent and generous with a range of spices, toasted vanilla bean in a bigger style with moderate acidity.

Martin’s Lane Simes Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 ($100, 92 points) – A prettier Pinot on the nose than the DeHart above with tightly wound and savoury cherry, brambly raspberry, cassis, lightly toasted spice and mineral notes. It’s rich, flavourful and fleshy on the palate with high-toned tannins and structure to carry the range of red fruits, anise and spice through a long, finessed finish. Like all the Pinots, 14%+ abv.

Martin’s Lane Naramata Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 ($100, 93 points) — This is the second vintage of the Naramata Pinot and has a more complex nose of meaty red fruits, barn-yard notes, savoury cherry, beetroot and woodsy spices. It’s lovely on the palate with ripe and savoury red fruits, sweet baking spices, depth and power that drives through a long, long vibrant finish that highlights the polished tannins. Can cellar 5+ years.

Martin’s Lane Fritzi’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 ($150, 94 points) — Now, this is the bomb, the superstar of this rather impressive stable of Okanagan Pinots. It shows more restraint on the nose, but let it open up and it displays a glorious bouquet of freshly crushed and pretty small red berries, beautifully integrated spice notes and swirling minerality. The tannins are grippy on the palate but nicely balanced with the full spectrum of black cherries, brambly raspberries, cassis and elegant oak spice notes. There is a lovely chalkiness to this Pinot that permeates through the finessed and long finish. Cellar up to 10 years.

Mission Hill’s Reserve wines

The reserve wines from Mission are made at the mid-tier level with hand-selection of the blocks of grapes, extreme viticulture management, longer barrel time and more lees stirring through the portfolio.

Here’s what I liked:

Mission Hill Chardonnay Reserve 2017 ($22, 90 points) — Lovely freshness is the first impression on the nose followed by notes of apple, tropical fruits, pears and elegant spice in a nuanced style. It’s more open knit on the palate, but still well integrated, with flavours of orchard and tropical fruits all nicely balanced by racy acidity, soft spice notes and zesty citrus on the clean finish.

Mission Hill Pinot Noir Reserve 2017 ($28, 91 points) — A rich and savoury nose of black cherries, wild raspberries, bramble, vanilla toast, beetroot and integrated spice notes. It’s silky smooth on the palate with brambly/savoury red fruits, some licorice and anise delivered on a bed of smooth tannins with a vibrant core.

Mission Hill Meritage Reserve 2016 ($27, 90 points) — The blend here is 35% Cabernet Franc, 31% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest Petit Verdot. It’s dark and dense in the glass with highly extracted black cherries, cassis, currants, blackberries, cocoa and spice on the nose. It’s dark and earthy on the palate with a range of dark fruits, bramble and raspberry/cherry accents that’s altogether rich and smoky with firm structure and a vibrant finish.

Mission Hill Merlot Reserve 2016 ($27, 89 points) — A pinch of Cabernet Franc is added to the 90% Merlot that also sees 15 months of oak aging. It displays black cherries, ripe plums, baking spices and blackberries on the nose. The mouth-filling fruits are quite ripe with cherries, currants and plums to go with elegant spice, polished tannins and delivered on a smooth, vibrant finish.

Township 7 wines

Township 7 sources its grapes from a variety of estate and grower vineyards in the Okanagan Valley chosen especially for each wine it makes. I’ve tasted Township 7 wines for a number of years and was impressed with the latest batch of wines I received just before Christmas.

Here’s what I liked:

Township 7 Chardonnay Reserve 2017 ($27, 91 points) — The fruit is from the Becker Vineyard (formerly known as Sundial Vineyard) in the warm climate of Oliver. This is a full-on Chard with a creamy/spicy nose of rich pear, apricot, baked apple and tropical fruit accents. It’s rich and buttery on the palate and shows poached pear, tropical fruits, toasted vanilla, baking spices and a long, vibrant finish. Great job.

Township 7 Gewurztraminer 2017 ($25, 92 points) — From a combination of Naramata and Oliver fruit, this is a special Gew. The nose opens with a spicy/gingery blast then tangerine, lime, grapefruit, rose petals and freshness kick in. It’s nicely off-dry on the palate with notes of buckwheat honey, ginger, grapefruit, lychee, tropical fruits in a style that shows weight and vibrancy through the finish.

Township 7 Cabernet Franc 2016 ($34, 90 points) — A combination of fruit from the Rock Pocket and Blue Terrace vineyards in Oliver and the Romar Vineyard in Osyoos. The nose reveals lovely black cherry, raspberry bramble, integrated herbs, spice and minty accents. The fruits turn darker on the palate with black currants and anise and underlying crushed red berries all delivered on a structured frame with silky tannins and depth through the finish. Cellar 4+ years.

Township 7 NBO 2016 ($34, 91 points) — NBO stands for North Bench Oliver, where the grapes are sourced from the Blue Terrace and Rock Pocket vineyards. It’s a meritage blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc and has an elegant and pleasant nose of black currants, ripe blackberries, blue plum, savoury spices and toasted vanilla. On the palate look for a generous range of ripe dark fruits, plush tannins, depth of flavours, layers of spice notes that are all nicely integrated through the finish. Drinking really nice right now, but can cellar 3+ years.

Township 7 Pinot Noir 2017 ($34, 92 points) — The Pinot grapes are sourced from the Remuda and Stoneridge vineyards in Okanagan Falls. It’s a perfectly dry Pinot and shows lovely dark cherries, forest floor, brambly raspberries and elegant spice notes on the nose. It’s smooth on the palate with rich and savoury red fruits, earth, anise and spice notes that are all lifted by bright acidity through the finish.