New winery of the month - The Escarpment Vineyard

Posted by Joelle Thomson on

Escarpment Pinot Noir is made by one of New Zealand's most admired winemakers, Larry McKenna, one of the first to make wine in Martinborough.

Buy The Escarpment Vineyard special priced wines here.

Who doesn't adore great Pinot Noir when it's made in a delicate but powerful style. Sound like an oxymoron? Understandably it may sound like just that, but Larry has forged a reputation for Pinots that live up to being silky, smooth, velvet gloves wrapped in structured, powerful, long lived iron fists, if you'll excuse the pun.

This month is the opportunity to try his excellent wines made in a range of styles, all dry and nearly all barrel fermented, including his adventurously weighty Pinot Blanc and zesty Riesling.

Larry uses grapes grown on the winery's home block vineyard on Te Muna Road, nine kilometres east of Martinborough and also around the village of Martinborough. This allows him to dabble in a variety of clones, including Abel, 667, 777, 114, 115 and clone 5 for Pinot Noir, among others for Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Riesling and there is a rosé, which is made from... you guessed it, Pinot Noir. 

Not content to sit on his laurels, Larry delves into wine in all its delicious diversity, producing savoury, fruit driven, earthy, fresh wines and other popular styles, such as his Noir Pinot Noir. This is a low fi wine, made entirely from hand harvested grapes. He describes this as a minimal intervention Pinot Noir. It's a savoury style with depth and structure provided by extended time on skins for the grapes and barrel aging for the finished wine, which spends 11 months maturing prior to being bottled unfiltered. This is another of Larry's incremental steps to make a structured, savoury Pinot Noir. It is bottled with low sulphur dioxide and drinks well now but can hold for two to three years. 

History of The Escarpment Vineyard

Larry McKenna was one of the first winemakers in Martinborough and has had a pivotal role in pioneering Pinot Noir in New Zealand. He was born and bred in Australia and began winemaking in the Wairarapa region at Martinborough Vineyards in the early days of modern New Zealand wine. In 1999 he founded The Escarpment Vineyard on Te Muna Road, a dramatically beautiful valley, nine kilometres east of the Martinborough township. 

The Escarpment Vineyard was purchased by Torbreck Wines in South Australia in 2018 and Larry remains at the winery, along with winemaker Tim Bourne. 

Escarpment wines

The Escarpment Vineyard Pinot Noirs are highly collectible wines, especially the four top tier, single vineyard editions, the pinnacle of which is Kupe, which is named after Nga Waka-o-Kupe; three flat topped hills on the Aorangi Ranges. These distinctive hills resemble upturned canoes, the Maori name for which is kupe, hence the name.

Larry McKenna loves a Chardonnay made in a fresh, crisp style with creamy texture but balanced by bright acidity, a medium to full body and a long finish. So, if big buttery Chardonnays are your thing, this wine will meet your hopes in a textural fashion. It's made from grapes grown on Te Muna Road, Martinborough, which were planted in 1999. The wine goes through malolactic fermentation with lees stirring to enhance texture and maturation for 11 months in French oak, 20% new.

The barrel fermented Pinot Gris is a great alternative to Chardonnay, which was inspired by the classical French approach to Pinot Gris, using lees stirring and partial malolactic fermentation to add texture, weight and dryness to burn. It's made from 100% Martinborough grapes, all grown on Te Muna Road.

Winemaker Larry McKenna recommends cellaring it for up to five years - or enjoy right now. 

* The Escarpment Vineyard wines are all on special this June at Regional. Buy here.

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