Terroir undoubtedly plays a critical role in the flavor of wine, and it sometimes informs the culture of winemaking, too. This holds true on two fronts at Martin’s Lane in British Columbia, where everything from the wines themselves to the design of the winery were influenced by the surrounding landscape.
Nestled into a steep hillside in the Okanagan Valley, Martin’s Lane is the second winery from the Von Mandl Family Estate (the first was Mission Hill, which opened about 20 years ago) and a newcomer to the a burgeoning wine community where over 170 wineries now produce excellent Canadian wines. The area has low humidity and rainfall, with cool nights and warm days and an abundance of volcanic and glacial soil. It’s a perfect setting for growing Pinot Noir and Riesling grapes, which are the singular focus at the winery, and winemaker Shane Munn lets the landscape guide his work. “All our wines are single-vineyard bottlings, and all our vineyards are grown organically,” says Munn, who uses a hands-off approach to production, allowing every grape selection to spontaneously ferment with natural yeast for as long as each batch requires instead of following a rigid schedule. “It’s important that this organic growing philosophy flows into the winery too. Nothing is rushed,” he says.
Designed to accommodate a “gravity flow” method of winemaking, every step of production allows the grapes, juice and then wine to flow seamlessly from level to level, including into the barrel, without pumps at any stage. This helps create better structure and elegant texture in the final product, Munn says. “Pinot Noir and Riesling are both very sensitive varieties with thin skins that convey their sense of place with the most distinct clarity,” says Munn. “So, [the gravity flow process] is about how gently moving everything around by gravity can have a positive effect on the structure. All our movements are minimized and are always slow and meticulous.” Every wine is also bottled without filtration or further adjustments to stick to the ethos.
The winery, designed by architect Tom Kundig, brings an intentionally modern face to the rustic method of winemaking that happens within its walls. The exterior is clad with obsidian-painted structural steel, a material often used in agricultural buildings. “Because of the nature of the materials, over time the building will become more and more feathered into the landscape, which is what winemaking is all about—the terroir,” Kundig says.
From afar, the structure juts out from the rolling hills, appearing as if it were sliced into two opposing wings. “One part of the building—the gravity-flow production side—literally follows the land, and the other part—the hospitality portion—follows the horizon line. The reason for this is because along that fracture line from the hospitality area, you can see both the natural landscape above the roof, and the winemaking happening inside below the roof,” says Kundig. “It’s about telling the story of the intersection between the land and the winemaking—about that seam where the two parts of the building (the two realms of winemaking) come together.”
Inside, the theme begins underground in the barrel-aging room, which serves as the foundation for the rest of the building. “This room takes advantage of the thermal dynamics of ground temperature and the very quiet nature of being underground,” Kundig says. “The idea is that because the temperature is stable, you can humidify the space quite easily.” Visitors can see into the room on their way from the main entrance up to the tasting room on the top floor, where views of the valley steal the show. “It makes sense how the building fits into the landscape—the hospitality portion is above, cantilevering over the land, while the quiet, dark, humid part of the building is the wine cellar below,” Kundig adds.
Between the hospitality area and the underground cellar is the working gravity winery. Kundig says designing a project around the mechanics of the system was a challenge but also an easy playbook to follow. “It was easier in the sense that the gravity-flow system allowed the building to hug the land and become part of the land as a piece of architecture,” he says. “From a circulation standpoint, of course, it’s more difficult to step any kind of manufacturing or winemaking process down a hill.” But that’s where the magic happens, he says. “Fitting into the terroir of the Okanagan Valley in this way was ultimately very much in concert with the way I think about buildings,” Kundig says. “Buildings should take a subordinate position to the larger landscape. [Martin’s Lane] is a reflection of its place in the Okanagan Valley and the wine produced there.”
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