Thirty-three years ago, Lanny and Julie Martiniuk left city life in Vancouver behind, with little more than their old Ford pickup and their dog, Charlie Brown. They were hoping to buy a vineyard in the Okanagan Valley near a property owned by Julie’s parents. When they found no vineyard land up for sale, they settled on a 15-acre orchard, purchased on a handshake.
The neighbours were all wondering what the Martiniuks were up to, trying to farm the cold, rocky, and inhospitable soils on the middle bench of Black Sage Road. But, tough sites often result in top-quality wine; when the vines struggle, flavour intensifies. The Martiniuks found themselves on a great, albeit difficult, piece of terroir.
By 1998, the Martiniuks had converted a second orchard they’d acquired into a productive vineyard, and began to convert Julie’s parents’ property, too. Lanny decided to name the triumvirate Stoneboat, after the sledge used by their first property’s original owners to clear the abundant river rocks. It was a tribute to their predecessors, as well as a symbol of the Martiniuks’ values: hard work, tradition, and perseverance.
The belief that their vineyards sit on quality land was reinforced by a recent visit from international terroir consultant Pedro Parra, who was excited to see the calcium carbonate skins on the rocks found a couple of feet below the surface of all three Stoneboat vineyards. These rocks are quite rare in the Okanagan and give a distinctive minerality and complexity to the wine. Now with a proven site, the Martiniuks have pursued vineyard practices to achieve premium-quality grapes. As Tim Martiniuk, one of Lanny and Julie’s sons who run the business along with their parents, puts it, “If you do the job in the vineyard, winemaking is an afterthought.” The vineyard is a mixture of varieties, with pinot gris, pinot blanc, pinot noir, pinotage, and a range of aromatic whites.
There is nothing like experience to learn the nuances of a vineyard site, and since planting those first vines in 1983, the Martiniuks have gained plenty of it. The farming is not formulaic; it’s run on Lanny’s intuition. “When we’re gone, our land should be better off for our having been here,” he says. Tim adds, “We like to call it ‘thoughtful farming’, striving to understand the vineyard ecology, how all the flora and fauna that live in the vineyards interact, and finding balance through this understanding.” Over the years, the Martiniuks have adopted a non-invasive farming practice, by leaving or returning prunings, leaves, and grape stems to the vineyard to build humus, the organic matter in soil, and by maintaining the native plants and trees that serve as habitats for beneficial insect and bird life. All this respect for the environment and passion the Martiniuks have put into the vineyards has resulted in quality, flavoursome grapes.
With Tim running the marketing, sales, and wine shop operations, and twin brother Jay making the wine, you would think that Lanny might be ready to contemplate some more time for himself. But as Tim says, “Dad loves farming and we’ll never get him out of the vineyard.” And there is plenty of room for the business to get bigger, as roughly half the vineyard’s crop is still sold to other wineries. With the excellent value and quality of the wines, it will likely not be long before the extra crop is needed for the Stoneboat label.
When you put the right vines on an interesting piece of terroir, farm it with passion, and make wines that reflect the site, then couple this with some smart and unpretentious marketing and consistent quality, you’ve got a success story. Something the Martiniuk family should be proud to say they’ve accomplished.