Photo: Martin's Lane winemaker Shane Munn
The feature wall of wines in the private dining room at Anthony von Mandl’s Martin’s Lane Winery makes an aspirational statement by displaying the world’s best Riesling and Pinot Noir wines.
The wines include 18 bottles of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, from three different vineyards.
“That sets the stage of what this project is about,” Martin’s Lane winemaker Shane Munn says. “No pressure on me! Let’s compare my Simes Vineyard Pinot with Richebourg; or Grands-Echézeaux with my Naramata Vineyard Pinot. That is sort of the aim.”
When Okanagan wineries get to play in that league, Martin’s Lane is certain to be there. The debut releases are that impressive.
The stunning six-level gravity-flow winery was designed by Seattle architect Thomas Kundig, with some interior features designed by Barcelona architect Antonio Puig. The winery has been constructed over the last three years just north and slightly uphill from CedarCreek Estate Winery in East Kelowna. Both wineries are owned by Anthony von Mandl, the proprietor of Mission Hill Family Estate. Kundig is one of his favourite architects: he designed the redevelopment of Mission Hill a few decades ago.
Shane arrived at Martin’s Lane before harvest in 2014, with the winery in the early stages of construction. Shane spent that first vintage dodging construction workers so that he could make the wine in the building.
“We typically take on two interns during harvest, people from abroad who are like-minded to us,” Shane says. “In 2014, I joke I had 120 interns because I had 120 construction workers around me.”
Shane was born in 1970 in Palmerston North, a New Zealand community with a university where he did his first degree – in statistics. It was not the career he pursued, however.
“In the late 1990s, I was living in London and Liverpool, just on an overseas experience, like a lot of New Zealanders do,” he says. He worked at various short-term jobs to fund travel around Europe.
“When you travel around countries like Italy, Spain and France, wine is as common on the dinner table as water and bread,” Shane found. “I guess that helped me fall in love with wine.”
He returned to New Zealand and enrolled in a winemaking degree. At the same time, he worked the 2002, 2003 and 2004 vintages at Esk Valley Estate, where he made a crucial connection with Darryl Brooker, now the winemaker and general manager at Mission Hill. Born in Australia, Darryl worked for several leading New Zealand wineries before he started his Canadian career on Ontario.
In 2004, on Darryl’s recommendation, Shane spent 10 months at Malivoire Wine Co. in Ontario, covering for a cellermaster who was on leave.
“When I worked at Malivoire, Ann Sperling [the winemaker there at the time] first opened my eyes to biodynamics,” Shane says. “I returned to New Zealand with a few dozen books on biodynamics.”
He spent seven years with James Millton and Millton Vineyards in Gisborne, on the east coast of the north island. “That role was very dynamic and encompassed a lot of vineyard and cellar work,” Shane says. “It was probably New Zealand’s biodynamic pioneer.” From there, he became head winemaker at Woollaston Estates [now called Mahana], a winery specializing in Pinot Noir.
“I spent two and a half years there,” Shane says. “I re-acquainted myself with Darryl and ended up here. I had a meeting with Anthony and we shared a vision for making great wine. Anthony had the view that we would head in an organic direction. We are doing as much as we can from a winemaking perspective here. The only way we can make better wine is through growing grapes in a more sustainable, honest and authentic way.”
Shane was impressed immediately with the plans and prospects for Martin’s Lane. The winery is designed to produce between 12,000 and 15,000 cases annually, focused just on Riesling and Pinot Noir.
He has been given the tools to make ultra-premium wine. He has his own blocks of fruit in several the vineyards owned by Sebastian Farms, the von Mandl vineyard holding company. Shane also has a dedicated viticulturist growing the grapes he gets.
The winery is equipped for extremely detail-oriented winemaking. The stainless steel fermenters, literal works of art, are from an Italian producer recommended by Antinori. “They are the Ferraris of wine tanks,” Shane says. He has German wood casks in which a portion of the Riesling is fermented.
The winery also has concrete fermenters which Shane finds especially helpful in softening tannins. “Moving from New Zealand, the biggest thing I had had to adapt to, is the tannin structure in Pinot Noirs here,” Shane says. “Here, the soils are ancient and very volcanic and the tannins in an elegant variety like Pinot Noir can be quite forceful sometimes. That is where these concrete tanks come into their own.”
From the very first vintage, Shane has used only wild yeast to ferment the wines. “That is sticking with Anthony’s view that the wines are to be single vineyard wines,” Shane says. “I think that by naturally fermenting them, they retain a link with the site.”
Both Riesling and Pinot Noir, especially the latter, are grapes best handled gently. “We work with two of the most sensitive varieties and they don’t react well to pumping,” Shane says. “We can get the Pinot Noir from the grapes arriving at the winery to the bottle in five movements. That is into and out of the tank; into and out of barrel; and bottling. We don’t rack from tank to tank or do any of that stuff.”
The Pinot Noir is never racked during the 17 months it spends aging in barrel, with about 25% of the barrels new.
“The major cooper is François Frères but we use five different barrels,” Shane says. “It is all French oak; very, very tight grain. The barrels are all air dried for three or four years, which means that the release of wood into the wine is very subtle and elegant. We don’t go beyond medium toast for any of the barrels. The fruit should be the hero and the oak should be in the supporting role.”
The Martin’s Lane wines are all from single vineyards; in the future, some likely will be from single blocks as Shane identifies premium fruit sources. Currently, he draws grapes from the secluded Naramata Ranch Vineyard (at the north end of Naramata Road); from the Simes Vineyard on Lakeshore Road in East Kelowna; and from Fritzi’s Vineyard on Mission Hill Road (named for Anthony’s 101-year-old mother).
“One of the main things that brought me here was the autonomy of the winemaking to take every parcel, which is kept separate all through the winemaking,” Shane says. “By keeping every parcel separate, you get to learn a lot about every parcel. You see the subtleties every year – and not just in the vineyard or during harvest. Our Pinots spend around about 17 months in barrel. During those 17 months, we are tasting them multiple times a week. So you get to see the subtleties of how they developed, and any unique characters that could make it a cuvée that could be kept separate.”
He has not yet begin releasing individual small lots but says it is conceivable to have a portfolio of 20 or so wines as distinct characters are recognized.
Here are notes on the current portfolio.
Martin’s Lane Riesling Naramata Ranch 2014 ($65). This is a superbly balanced wine, with the 13 grams of residual sugar offset with 8.2 grams of acidity. The wine is concentrated, with a juicy texture and with aromas and flavours of citrus around a backbone of minerals. 92.
Martin’s Lane Riesling Fritzi’s Vineyard 2014 ($75). Ten per cent of this was fermented in 1,250-litre German oak casks. This is a powerful wine with aromas and flavours of citrus and apple supported by minerality. It has a dry finish. 93.
Martin’s Lane Riesling Fritzi’s Vineyard 2015 ($75). Twenty-five per cent of this was fermented in the German oak. Reflecting the vintage, this wine is ripe and opulent, once again with aromas and flavours of citrus and apple. The acidity, however, is still racy, lending a freshness to the tangy and persistent finish. 95.
Martin’s Lane Riesling Simes Vineyard 2015 ($55). This cool vineyard produced a delicate wine with a subdued personality compared with its partners. It has bright aromas and flavours of citrus with good minerality. 91.
Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir Naramata Ranch 2014 ($100). This wine includes three clones – Pommard, 943 and 828. The latter two clones were destemmed before fermentation while 40% of the Pommard went into the tanks with stems. The wine fermented naturally, aged 17 months in French oak, and bottled unfiltered. The wine has aromas of cherry and strawberry. On the palate, there are flavours of cherry mingled with toasted oak and mocha. The finish is silky. This is a pretty wine with seductive appeal. 95.
Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir Simes Vineyard 2014 ($100). The clones in this wine are 667 (40% whole bunches) and 943 (destemmed). The wine fermented naturally, aged 17 months in French oak, and bottled unfiltered. Because the vineyard is comparatively cool, the fruit is bright and vibrant, with aromas and flavours of raspberry and cherry. The finish is silky. 94.
Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir Fritzi’s Vineyard 2014 ($100). The ambition is to produce Grand Cru quality wine from this small block of clone 115 in the middle of Fritzi’s Vineyard on Mission Hill Road. The wine is the most intense, even muscular, of the trio, with aromas of black cherry leading to flavours of cherry and dark red fruit. The wine fermented naturally, aged 17 months in French oak, and bottled unfiltered. 96.