Saturday, June 13, 2009

Stoneboat Vineyards - a friendly family winery in the south Okanagan

Photo: Martiniuk family (left to right) - Lanny, Tim, Jay, Julie, Chris

The grand piano in the tasting room of Stoneboat Vineyards is the real thing. At least one member of this accomplished family plays it well.

There is a modest tradition of musical instruments and wineries. During a tour once of Firestone Vineyards in California, I spotted a grand piano in the barrel cellar. The tour guide explained that the winemaker liked to serenade his wines. At the time I thought my leg was being pulled. However, wine and music are both creative processes. If Mozart makes babies smarter (as one theory has it), perhaps it also improves wines.

I cannot speak to the musical tastes of the Martiniuk family, the owners of Stoneboat. All I know is that these are no high-falutin' people and that is a good part of this winery's initial appeal.

Lanny, the father, did a multitude of jobs, including being a nuclear medicine technician, before he and Julie (a pharmacist) moved from Vancouver to the Okanagan in 1979 to run an orchard and eventually to grow grapes. Their properties are south of Oliver, between Black Sage Road and the river. Julie grew up here and Lanny discovered he loved farming more than anything else he had done.

Over the years, he has become the go-to guy for people who need their vines propagated for new vineyards. There are entire vineyards around British Columbia that started with cuttings grown in Lanny's nursery.

The key to successful farming is value-added. That was part of the strategy behind the family's decision in 2005 to launch the winery. (The tasting room opened in 2007.) The initial vintages were made with help from consulting winemakers. However, Jay Martiniuk, one of the couple's three sons, has been grooming himself to become a winemaker by getting a science degree and by working several vintages at other wineries. Fluently bilingual, he is considering finishing his training at wine school in France. Jay had a direct hand in making the 2007 and 2008 wines.

Here are my notes on the current releases from Stoneboat:

Pinot Blanc 2008 ($16.90). The wine is crisp and fresh, with green apple flavours and with a tangy finish. It is very consistent in style to the previous vintage; and consistency is a good thing. 88 points.

Pinot Gris 2008 ($18.90). A delicious, fruit-forward expression of the variety, this wine is full on the palate, with flavours of citrus and pears and with an attractive hint of anise on the finish. Again, very consistent with the previous vintage. 90

Chorus 2008 ($17.90). This white wine is a blend of Viognier and assorted other grape varieties, including Schonburger, Kerner and Oraniensteiner, grown in the Martiniuk vineyards. It is a very interesting and complex blend (think of Conundrum which costs a lot more). The wine is an appealing tropical fruit bowl, tasting of melons, apples, peaches and guava. It is very fresh on the palate and has a lingering finish. 90 This label is the successor a similar blend called Nebbia, which has been dropped, perhaps because the Martiniuks got tired to explaining Nebbia is a word for mist.

Faux Pas Rose 2008 ($16.90) Based on Pinot Noir, this is exactly what one wants for a summer wine - a lovely nose petal hue, fruity aromas, raspberry flavours, with enough acidity that the wine has a dry, refreshing finish. 88

Pinot Noir 2007 ($23.90). Stoneboat has created expectations with this variety, for the previous vintage won a Lieutenant Governor's Award of Excellence in Winemaking. Having judged in that competition, I remember the winner as a wine with a velvet texture and with sweet fruit flavours. The 2007 has a slightly firmer structure (better aging potential) and generous flavours of black cherry and mocha chocolate. 88

Pinotage 2007 ($24.90). Stoneboat is one of only a handful of Okanagan wineries offering this wine, made from the famous variety that was created in South Africa. There are Pinotage fans all over the world and I think they would like this one. A wine with a deep ruby hue, it is generous on the palate, with flavours of cherry, black currants, blackberry and chocolate. 90

The wines are available in private wine stores and restaurants in British Columbia. The best place to find them, however, is in Stoneboat's friendly tasting room just off Black Sage Road in the south Okanagan.


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