Jeff Martin: A Skilled Australian Winemaker in British Columbia’s Okanagan
All photos by Christine Campbell. I met with Jeff Martin of La Frenz Winery in Naramata, B.C. during the Okanagan Wine Festival. Even though he had been working hard through the harvest, he managed to take in a comedy show the night before our interview. I felt immense respect for someone who makes laughter a priority in life.
Martin grew up in the Riverina area of Australia working on farms, and it was an agricultural life Martin saw for himself until he was hired on at the well-known McWilliams Winery at the age of 18. His life changed as he learned and felt a connection to the science based art of winemaking. He stayed on at McWilliams for fourteen years and became the chief red winemaker. When I asked why British Columbia and why, specifically did he choose to move his career and family to Naramata he responded, “Well, take a look around. It is an excellent ‘cool climate’ region, it is naturally beautiful and the location is perfect.”
Martin and his wife Niva have 40 acres of vineyards, and La Frenz Winery labels their wines based on vineyard of origin. “We have four sites and four specific terroirs – we want these unique qualities to show up in the grape. Right now, the current trend is for terroir-specific wines and at La Frenz, we are at the forefront of being ‘vineyard-specific.'”
When asked what's the most exciting thing happening with British Columbia wine right now, he answered: “That is easy. The big players are trying to take their wines to the next level. This is great for the industry but also the consumers. What I didn’t like was the shift a few years back to ‘boutique’ wineries - just by adding the word ‘boutique’ to your wine doesn’t make it any better. Super small wineries were spreading themselves too far and wide with tourist based stuff."
I asked Martin who his wine heroes are and he responded, “I think a legend is focused. It is quite simple. They are a cut above their competition and they have their ducks lined up. Specifically, I admire and have great respect for Ken Wright of Ken Wright Cellars in Carlton, Oregon and Rick Kinsbrunner of Giaconda Vineyard in Victoria, Australia.”
Martin has had his fair share of accolades and awards over his 30-plus year career in winemaking. When I inquired as to his proudest moments professionally, he answered, “Personally, I am very proud of being a winemaker who has started my own business and taken on that larger role. I am most proud of my family – I would not have achieved this without them.”
A family man with a fantastic work ethic, Martin has taken 2 weeks of holiday in 20 years. One of my favorite things that he said to me was, “You need to understand what you are doing and always evaluate it and then evaluate it again.” When not drinking B.C. wine, he enjoys Spanish wines, Old Vine Zinfandels and Petit Syrah. One of his favorite food and wine pairings is a piri-piri chicken and a good Viognier.
Martin’s unrelenting commitment, vision and skill for quality winemaking raises the bar for most other British Columbia wineries. He values excellence and it shows in his wines, which truly represent some of the best from the region.
Excellent La Frenz wines to try:
2011 Reserve Chardonnay
2011 Malbec ‘Rockyfeller Vineyard’
2011 Merlot ‘Rattlesnake Vineyard’
2011 Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Sonoran Vineyard’
2012 Vintage Port