This week marks the end of an era for one of this country's most revered, most experienced and most passionate Pinot Noir pioneers, Larry McKenna, who retires from his role as general manager of The Escarpment Vineyard but not, he stresses, from wine. He will continue to manage a local Pinot Noir vineyard while also taking a brief break to see family in Australia; the place he was born and bred, despite having lived in New Zealand since 1980.
The Escarpment Vineyard is now owned by Torbreck in South Australia, which purchased the business in 2019 from McKenna and the other original investors.
McKenna was one of the first four winemakers in Martinborough and later founded The Escarpment Vineyard at Te Muna, 9 kilometres west of the village and, it turns out, slightly cooler in climate. This, says McKenna, is already becoming an advantage in an era of noticeably earlier harvests due to climate change.
McKenna confesses he knew little about high quality Pinot Noir when he first moved to Martinborough Vineyards in 1986 but that all changed after a trip to Burgundy
The lightbulb moment was going to Burgundy in 1990 where he worked part of vintage in Buzeron and Nuits St George before heading south to Provence.
"That trip was an eye opener as I worked for different Burgundians and got an insight into different philosophies and ideas when there, as well as seeing winemaking in the south of France."
The other thing that helped McKenna in his early Pinot Noir making days was that he met fellow Australian winemaker Garry Farr when working at Dujac. "We got to do the vintage together and we’ve been very good friends ever since, sharing ideas and learning from each other.”
McKenna is often referred to as the king of Pinot and he is indisputedly one of this country's most talented and experienced producers of this sensitive grape, as The Escarpment wines show.
While the winery is no longer in his hands, he retains a close affection for its land, the wines and the pioneering role he played in Martinborough - and will continue to exert an influence in the region and in winemaking in this country.
Watch this space.
And buy The Escarpment Pinot Noirs here...