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Dissecting the Martin’s Lane ‘Naramata Ranch’ Pinot Noir

April 27, 2023

Operating since its inaugural vintage in 2014, Martin’s Lane Winery is a specialty winery, producing just two varieties – riesling and pinot noir – from cool Okanagan sites that continuously test winemaker Shane Munn.

Munn, who’s been with the winery since that first vintage, is all about respecting the integrity of the meticulously tended, certified organically farmed vineyards he spends overseeing. Gentle and detailed handling combined with time and patience form the basis of his wines. Traditional and organically focused winemaking techniques are harnessed with the aim of producing those complex pinot noirs and rich, textural rieslings. Fact of the matter, these are wines that have quickly risen to become benchmark wines, and not just in terms of what British Columbia is capable of producing, but in terms of what the entire Pacific Northwest is capable of.

Read Also: A-list Artisans: Shane Munn – traditional winemaker, radical visionary

Munn told me in a previous conversation that “it’s of the utmost importance that the care for the land we farm flows into the winery and produces wines of authenticity and individuality of site.” No commercial yeasts have ever been used in the winery – all wines are always spontaneously fermented and never fined or filtered. For Munn, it’s important that there is a transparency in all of the winery’s farming and winemaking methods. “We have a mindset in the winery that gentle handling, little or no adjustments of the juice or wine all fits this methodology.”

Shane Munn

Shane Munn talks about the Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir project in Toronto during fall of 2022.

As a follow-up to that terrific conversation we had, I met with Munn in Toronto while he was on a visit to promote some of Martin’s Lane’s newest releases. In particular, we were tasting a lineup of single vineyard – and one single block – pinot noir wines.

Currently, Martin’s Lane produces four single vineyard bottlings and one single block bottling. The four vineyards are: Dehart, Simes, Fritzi’s and Naramata Ranch. Each vineyard tells its own story, producing distinctive, terroir reflective wines. But perhaps no vineyard has a better story to tell than the Naramata site, which also happens to be where the single block wine, called Zenith, hails from. And so, Munn and I further followed up that meet in Toronto with a zoom conference, and we dialed in specifically on three pinot noirs that we were both keen on fleshing out for a vintage study.


The Naramata Ranch Vineyard

A climatically and geologically diverse site that produces wine as equally complex as the place itself, Naramata’s beautifully flowing and vivid elevation transitions challenge the array of Dijon clones (mostly clone 667 – the most global clone – and some of the more modern clone 943 along with the Pommard clone) to present elegant wines with floral and earthy elements alongside equal parts intensity and grace.

To start the process of learning more about this breathtaking place, let’s look back at that inaugural 2014 vintage of the Naramata Ranch Pinot Noir and how the wine is drinking now. We’ll then compare it to the 2019 and see how things have come along. Then, we’ll look at the new 2019 ‘Zenith’ Pinot Noir – a single block bottling, as mentioned above, hailing from an isolated parcel within the Naramata Vineyard – and compare the tasting notes.

Naramata Ranch Vineyard

Looking towards the lake from high atop the Naramata Ranch Vineyard.

2014 Vintage

Despite having “signed on” as the winemaker for what was the winery’s first vintage, other than a flying visit in mid-August, Munn was still working in Nelson, New Zealand for the majority of the growing season. “Of course, with the ambitious job ahead of me, I think I checked the weather (and forecast) from the other side of the world as often as I do now,” he says.

“I literally arrived two weeks before we started picking and despite having to set up a temporary winery of just tanks while the actual winery continued to be built around me, I think I spent most of those two weeks getting to know the vineyards.”

All this (no real winery and none of the things that most wineries have like running water (!)) made it easily the most challenging harvest Munn had ever worked. “But it turned out (because of the resultant wines) as possibly one of the most rewarding (of the 25) I’ve worked.”

Munn explained that “harvest began on the 30th of September – coincidentally the same day we started the 2022 harvest, which we’re already referring to as late and cool. I think that actually says more about the majority of the in-between harvests – some (2015 and 2016 in particular) have been challengingly hot. So, I was lucky, with 2014, to be presented (like 2022) with an easy harvest. Nice, gradual picking over three weeks for pinot noir meant for great, slow ripening with great tannin development.”

Munn remembers that the winemaking, not really knowing the characteristics of the fruit, vineyard or how the fruit would react to any winemaking techniques, was somewhat of a conservative approach. He used 25 percent whole clusters. “I’m not really a fan of never using any and this is something that we have progressively increased to the point of finding a happy medium with not just Naramata Ranch fruit but every vineyard/block,” he says. “I just really like the detail it gives to the tannins and the aromatic and palate complexity that it brings in general.”

Naramata Ranch Pinot NoirThe Wine

From vines that were first planted in 2008 (with more blocks added at different elevations), one only needs to look at a photograph of this Naramata Vineyard site and a full understanding and appreciation for what makes this single vineyard expression so unique to the winery’s other labels is realized. Its varying mesoclimates, which ultimately yield fruit that display subtle differences in flavour and concentration, are what sets this place, and its wines, apart. I love the perfume of this wine, with its nose of rose petal, sweet red fruits and earth. Tasting the wine a full eight years from vintage is like being taken back in a time machine. In an instant, the vintage notes come to life, and are once again tangible. And just like that, all the said challenges that the winemaking team had are but a memory, for this is the grand result of that first journey. If there’s only one word that can be used to describe this wine, at this stage of its life, it would be balance. With an ABV of 14% and 5.2g/L of acidity, the palate is smooth, soft, elegant – providing an earthy, mineral core that leads to a finish that is long and contemplative.


2019 Vintage

Munn is quick to point out that the 2019 growing season is ironically the growing season that mimics the 2014 season. “It was moderately warm with a nice taper for gradual picking as we hit the crucial development phase in September,” recalls Munn. “We did start a harvest however on the 20th of September, so 10 days earlier than in 2014.”

On the decision to pick earlier, Munn suggests that “this was philosophically driven rather than just due to an earlier ripening period.” Ever since 2017 when Kurt Simcic joined the winery as its viticulturist, and to head up the winery’s organic transition (which also began in 2017), one of Martin’s Lane’s concerted efforts has been to bring a touch more elegance and freshness into the wines. Says Munn: “Picking earlier, as well as purposeful cultural management, has been one of the ideologies we’ve moved towards.”

Martin's Lane WineryThe Wine

This is an intensely aromatic and flavourful wine, still weaving and sorting its way through infancy. It takes on a different shape in comparison to its more seasoned predecessor. There’s a funky florality element to it – like crushed flowers that are mixed with wild garden vegetation. The body is leaner and will need more time to develop its complexity, as promised by way of its production (50% whole bunches, 32 days maceration, fermentation all in concrete – a slower, more methodical process from start to finish). It’s got significant mineral notes on the mid-palate and the finish is cool and minerally. At 13% ABV and 5.5 g/L of acidity, this is a joy right now to pair with food.


The dawn of ‘Zenith’

With 2019 being the winery’s sixth harvest (and a very good one), the opportunity was presented (as Munn had always planned) to grow the pinot noir portfolio and start including smaller bottlings from tiny, isolated plots.

“If we were to start a single block collection of pinots, the wine had to foremost be great quality,” says Munn. “With every parcel of fruit always harvested, vinified and raised separately, the 2019 harvest yielded some unique wines.”

Naramata

A better look at Zenith: a single, isolated parcel at the Naramata Vineyard’s highest elevation point.

It also had to be very distinctive. That’s how Zenith was born. At high elevation, “it really is a rugged and very isolated part of what is already a very unique vineyard,” continues Munn. “The Naramata Ranch has sweeping typography and every block has its own unique aspect, adding to the personality of the wine coming from that block.”

To help put things into perspective, the Naramata Ranch Vineyard’s elevation totals 100 metres, top to bottom. There are 42 separate blocks on the site, and Zenith finds itself at the very top.

The soil at Zenith is finer, lighter and more gravelly than those blocks lower down and closer to the lake. Heaviness (coming from compacted silt) becomes more prevalent especially right at the lakeshore – hence, all the blocks of pinot noir (and riesling for that matter) farmed from this sight tend to be not quite so close to the lake. “I think these characteristics flow nicely into the wines’ attributes,” adds Munn.

Martin's Lane Zenith Pinot NoirThe 2019 Martin’s Lane ‘Zenith’ Pinot Noir

Harvested from a high elevation block located at the highline of the estate’s Naramata Ranch Vineyard comes Zenith – a limited-release, first-ever winery single block pinot noir. Tiny volumes of small rows located on rugged terrain and granite terroir ultimately produces pristine fruit vintage over vintage, and winemaker Shane Munn seized on an opportunity to isolate that special parcel. Fermented with a large percentage of whole clusters for three weeks in a concrete vessel before spending 16 months in fine-grained Austrian oak, the finished result is a finely textured and perfumed pinot that pours with such elegance. Only eight barrels were produced for winery members only, so one truly gets an idea of the sheer exclusivity of this wine. As Munn pointed out during my conversation with him: “Try it alongside the Naramata Ranch single vineyard pinot noir and it’s not necessarily a bolder wine. I find it finer, more delicate, but with greater length.”


The 2019 Martin’s Lane Winery ‘Zenith’ Pinot Noir was awarded a score of 94 points and named third on the VineRoutes Top 10 Canadian Wines of 2022 list, as published in our Newsletter. To discover more exclusive newsletter-only wine scores, awarded by VineRoutes editors, sign up here.

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