Larry McKenna


Winery of the Year 2015

2015 Certainly has been a great year for Escarpment!

On the back of the near perfect 2013 vintage we are thrilled to receive another outstanding accolade.
Raymond Chan (Wine Reviews) has named Escarpment Vineyard as his Winery Of The Year 2015. This certainly caps off a great year and is further recognition of this excellent vintage.

Raymond was the first wine writer to fully recognise and support the quality of these wines after tasting the young barrelled wines in October 2013. Ever vigilant he is the first to “head over the hill” and want to hear about and taste the latest vintage.

Thank you Raymond for your ongoing support of our adventures with wine!

View more via Raymonds Blog, or alternatively read the exert below:


“The Raymond Chan Wine Reviews ‘Winery of the Year’ for 2015 is awarded to the Escarpment Vineyard, the vineyard and winery of Larry McKenna in Te Muna Road in Martinborough. Larry McKenna is no stranger to top awards and accolades, as he has an illustrious history of winemaking, especially with Pinot Noir since he moved from Auckland to what was the relatively unknown village of Martinborough in 1986. Larry, then at Martinborough Vineyards, along with Clive Paton of Ata Rangi, and Dr Neil McCallum of Dry River were the triumvirate that brought Martinborough and indeed New Zealand to the world’s attention as a vignoble capable of producing world class Pinot Noir wines.

In 1998 Larry and his then-wife Sue teamed up with Robert and Mem Kirby of Australia to set up a new venture, named the Escarpment Vineyard in the promising Te Muna Road area south of the Martinborough township, releasing his first Escarpment Pinot Noir with a 2001 vintage. Te Muna Road shares the same soils as the Martinborough Terrace, and its location and slightly higher altitude lends slower and later ripening, and a greater range in diurnal growing temperatures, resulting arguably in greater aromatics and finesse. Te Muna Road is burgeoning with plantings by well-known producers based in town and also successful producers such as Julicher Estate, Redbank, Big Sky, Te Hera, Pond Paddock and Craggy Range who are located there. Larry’s intuition, experience, skills and expertise has led to the Te Muna Road area adding considerably to Martinborough’s and New Zealand’s Pinot Noir reputation.

If one thinks that Larry McKenna is single-minded about the promotion of the Escarpment Vineyard and Te Muna Road, you could not be more mistaken. While Larry is a passionate advocate for the Martinborough district and the Wairarapa in general, he encourages the making of top-class Pinot Noir throughout New Zealand, including Marlborough, Nelson, Waipara and Otago, realising that our expression of diversity, regionality, site and terroir is crucial to the success of the variety on the world stage. Of course, if you ask him, he’ll say that New Zealand’s best Pinot Noirs come from Martinborough!

Wines of Great Complexity and Structure
Burgundy and Pinot Noir enthusiasts understand the incredible range of expression that are the result of site, terroir and the winemakers’ hand, and embrace the differences. Larry McKenna’s winemaking philosophy is to hand-craft wines of interest, complexity, texture and structure. He is extremely sensitive to the fact that his Pinot Noirs must also express origin and a sense of place. To me, his wines show fully ripened dark red and black fruit characters which are framed by significant and considerable tannin structure. He carefully monitors the times on skins and is not afraid of what may be regarded as high proportions of whole clusters. Larry may well be one of the most adventurous winemakers in the proper use of whole bunches. Indigenous yeast fermentations and oaking are important elements, and the judicious use of all these components is judged with what the growing season has provided. Clearly the wines have the structure and ability to age well.

The other important aspect of the Escarpment wines is how they reflect their origins. With the 2003 vintage, he introduced his flagship ‘Kupe’ single vineyard Pinot Noir, from close-planted, low-trained Abel clone vines. I was one of the guest pickers harvesting the grapes. This has proven to consistently be the most powerful and concentrated and complex of his Pinot Noir wines. It can handle and receives the highest proportion of whole clusters, the 2013 vintage with 70%, as well as the most oaking. In 2006 Larry introduced three other single vineyard expressions, demonstrating the different terroirs in Martinborough. Called the ‘Insight’ range, they literally provided an insight into the characteristics of established old vines from sites, these being the ‘Barton’ vineyard in Huangarua Road, this wine called ‘Te Rehua’, the ‘Cleland’ vineyard on Cambridge Road, this labelled ‘Kiwa’, and the ‘McCreanor’ site on Princess Street, named ‘Pahi’. From their inaugural vintage, they have displayed the same behaviour and wine style every year made, giving proof to the expression of terroir in Martinborough. I should note that on Jack McCreanor’s passing, the ‘Pahi’ vineyard has been sold, so Larry is seeking fruit from another ‘A Grade’ vineyard.

World Class Pinot Noir
The Escarpment Vineyard Pinot Noirs must be considered some of this country’s very best. Larry has ensured all of his Pinot Noirs are of this standard, and because of this, I’ve always featured the Escarpment Vineyard as a contender for my ‘Winery of the Year’ award. However, it was the stupendous quality of the 2013 vintage wines that saw the Escarpment Vineyard come through as my winner, despite some extremely strong competition from wineries in Hawke’ Bay and Central Otago, both these regions experiencing stellar vintages as well.

For the 2013 wines, I rated the Escarpment ‘Kupe’ Pinot Noir 20.0/20. It is full, complex, structured and complete, and it pushes the boundaries. I rated the ‘Te Rehua’ Pinot Noir 19.5+/20, this having a beautiful aromatic and rich fruit quality. The ‘Kiwa’ Pinot Noir is a more complex and ‘funky’ style, some see as European in character, and I rated it 19.5/20. I love this wine. And the ‘Pahi’ is the most elegant, perfumed and refined, undeniably gorgeous, and I scored it 19.0/20. The Martinborough regional blend Pinot Noir earned an 18.5+/20. This is fully representative of the Martinborough district as a whole, and carries the signature Escarpment robustness and complexity. Unfortunately the scores do not tell the full story, and one must drink the wines to experience and appreciate their proper nature and glory. They are all magnificent and very individual wines.

The 2013 wines have received critical acclaim from all quarters of the globe since I first published my reviews in July, earlier this year. The praise comes from commentators of much greater repute than I could ever have, so I am pleased to be in their company in seeing these wines of world class.

The Bigger Picture at Escarpment
In 2012, the Kirbys decided to put their share of Escarpment Vineyard up for sale. It was an unsettling time for Larry and indeed followers of New Zealand Pinot Noir, not knowing the future for one of this country’s best labels. While there were a number of interested parties, the Kirbys have now decided to reinvest back into the Escarpment Vineyard, and there will be increased ferment space and more warehousing, along with plans to finish off the winery.

Much of the recent work at the Escarpment Vineyard has been in the vineyards, and there is the intention to head towards organic viticulture following a number of trials over the years. Rowan Hoskins, son of Nick Hoskins who has had a major input in the establishment and development of many of the vineyards in Martinborough, is the incumbent Escarpment viticulturist. While we tend to associate the Escarpment Vineyard solely with Larry McKenna, Larry is quick to give considerable credit to his winemaker Huw Kinch who joined the company in 2008. Huw is fully involved in all the vineyard and winemaking decisions with Larry, and they work most effectively as a team. The other essential person at the Escarpment Vineyard is Catherine Ellis, the global business manager, of Borneo-Chinese descent, coming from Australia, with extensive contacts throughout Asia. Larry’s son Ryan has taken a step into the wine industry too, now having completed several vintages in various parts of the world. It appears that Larry may have a natural successor…

Typical of the contemporary winemaker, Larry McKenna and the Escarpment Vineyard are fully immersed in traditional and modern marketing, with very active Facebook and Twitter accounts. It doesn’t take much to keep up with the news at the Escarpment Vineyard.”




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