03 October 2011

A Visit to Stoneboat Vineyards - Video

Lanny Martiniuk invited me to meet him at his winery. We’d corresponded about Pinotage while I was writing my book and at last I was able to visit his vineyard where he grows eight acres of Pinotage and taste his wines.

Stoneboat Vineyards and winery are on the eastern bank of the Okanagan River which connects the 85 mile long glacial Okanagan lake with Osoyoos lake, part of linked series of lakes in a very long glacial valley that runs north-south through British Columbia through the US border.

The land here was once all underwater and then as waters receded it left flattened benches that used to be shore lines. Stoneboat is on the Black Sage Bench where the soil is sand over gravel. “We have half a metre of good sandy soil on top of 50 metres of gravel.”

It is the sand that gives protection from phylloxera and Lanny’s five acres of Pinotage, like the rest of his vines, grow on their own roots. “Phylloxera isn’t a problem like the cold is,” he says. “When a vine is killed during a cold winter I just clear a depression in the soil and the roots send up a new cane and the vine regrows.”

The vineyards are 3,500 metres about sea-level and 30.5 metres above the river. Lanny adds nitrogen to the soil and sometimes has to spray sulphur as a fungicide but he doesn’t need insecticides. Stoneboat uses drip-feed irrigation on the Pinotage rows: the southern Okanagan is desert and no crops can grow here without watering.

In this video Lanny talks about growing Pinotage on Black Sage Bench.

Lanny and Julia have three sons: Chris who works on the farm when not training as a pilot and twins Jay and Tim who work on the farm. Jay is responsible for winemaking and Tim manages marketing. Here they talk about winemaking and more.

Stoneboat also grows six different Pinot Noir clones, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc plus some white Germanic varieties: Kerner, Muller Thurgau, Oraniensteiner and Schonburger.

We left the vineyard to taste wines on the tasting room patio. I had to tell Lanny that I had already tasted Stoneboat Pinotage. A few days before we found the 2008 on the wine list of a restaurant in Penticton. We’d loved its intense fruit flavours and complexity.

Lanny started us with Pinot Gris which was dry with a pleasant acidity. Chorus 2010 had an attractive floral nose. Its blend of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Kerner, Muller Thurgau and Viognier offered a delightful fruitfully complex drink. 2009 Pinot Noir was a pale red with soft fruit and a clean finish.

Pinotage 2009 was recently released. It was bright garnet, rather subdued, with a pleasant fruit nose but a little disjointed on the palate. It needs longer to come together.

Pinotage 2007 had a leathery nose and was lively in the mouth. It is an exciting wine with cedar wood and spices in abundance. This wine won the Lieutenant-Governors Award of Excellence in British Columbia Wines, one of twelve selected from 248 entries. “We checked the wines were tasted blind because there are some preconceptions about Pinotage”, said Lanny, “and there were some surprised faces when the awards were announced.” ($25)
Pinotage 2008 is dense and complex with black fruits, damsons, cherries and a spiciness that makes it so drinkable. ($25)

Pinotage ‘Solo’ 2007 is a reserve made from the best barrels. It is a bright red-black colour with a ripe fruit richness and cedar-wood flavours and is absolutely beautiful. ($33)

We finished a enjoyable tasting with Verglass 2009, a very sweet botrytis wine made from Oraniensteiner with 5% Pinot Blanc. Just 10.2% abv and a residual sugar of 30g/L from grapes picked at 50-55 brix, this smelled of whole baked apples and had an unctuous sweetness with enough acidity to encourage another mouthful.

Lanny is a viticulturist who started in the business by propagating and planting vines for other vineyards, and his business continues to propagate thousands of vines for others.

This was the first time I have encountered a Pinotage varietal made from vines growing on their own roots. Lanny says he selected individual vines which performed well in Okanagan conditions to propagate so this vineyard is making a truly Okanagan Pinotage that expresses the terroir of this beautiful lake and desert area.

Stoneboat’s name refers to the wooden sled (pictured above) used to haul unwanted stones from the vineyard. Lanny says that no matter how many they take out, others work their way to the surface and now they leave them there. The stones are smooth and rounded from millennia in rivers that flowed through here in times long past.

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