Drunk October 2013
Situated 5 km east of Martinborough village, Escarpment’s 24 hectares of distinctive alluvial gravel, terraced land stretches out along the banks of the Huangarua River.
Overlooking the vineyard are the Aorangi Ranges, the very hills made famous by Kupe the great Polynesian voyager who discovered New Zealand, according to Maori legend. Kupe left his three canoes, Nga Waka, on top of the range, giving rise to the now familiar landmark of the district, the “Nga Waka-o-Kupe” or three flat-topped hills on top of the range, which resemble unturned canoes. This warrior and his story provide the inspiration for the vineyard’s distinctive brand and logo.
Escarpment Vineyard was established in 1998 as a joint business venture between Robert & Mem Kirby (of Australia’s Village Roadshow) and Larry & Sue McKenna. The impetus behind establishing this vineyard came from the four’s deep love for Pinot Noir. Meeting by chance in 1998 through Dr Richard Smith, Larry and Robert quickly hit it off and realised they had more than a love for the grape in common. Serious talk about establishing a definitive New World vineyard began in earnest even then and the ‘idea whose time has come’ has resulted in one of the most significant vineyard developments in the New Zealand district of Martinborough.
Larry has firmly established himself as a leading Pinot Noir winemaker in New Zealand and has been called everything from the ‘Prince of Pinot Noir’, the ‘Godfather of Pinot Noir’, a Pinot Noir ‘legend’, and ‘maestro’. He takes a collaborative approach to wine making and believes in sharing his knowledge and understanding with fellow winemakers to ensure collective learning and progression occurs.
Born and bred in Adelaide, Australia he graduated from the Roseworthy Agricultural College there in 1976 and has nearly three decades of wine making experience under his belt. After travelling for a stint through Europe sampling the wine culture, he ‘cut his teeth’ with fellow Roseworthy student, John Hancock, at Delegat’s Wine Estate in Auckland, New Zealand.
In 1986 Larry left Auckland to take up the position of CEO/Winemaker at Martinborough Vineyard in the Wairarapa region. From 1986 to 1999 he grew this company from 20 to 160 tonnes and firmly put Martinborough Vineyard and himself on the world map as one of the pre-eminent New World Pinot Noir producers and winemakers.
They soon discovered the Te Muna river terraces across the other side of the hill and knew this was it for them! Being an extension of Martinborough’s famed “terrace” land, the Te Muna site offered all the right “attributes”, with land a-plenty for their purposes. Larry and Sue firmly believe the Te Muna valley is the new future of Martinborough. Evidence for this is seen in the range of new vineyards being established in the area, including much talked about Craggy Range.
The Edge is a 100% Martinborough Pinot Noir, grown on the alluvial gravel terraces for which the district has become famous.
The season was unusually cool and wetter than normal resulting in elegant restrained wines with lower alcohols. Hand harvested, hand plunged in open topped fermenters and handled using gravity where possible – minimum pumping used.
When this is on offer at Waitrose, this is an excellent introduction to the wines of Escarpment and Larry McKenna, one of the pioneers of Martinborough wine, as well as to New Zealand Pinot Noir. The entry level product in the Escarpment range, this was a very enjoyable, smooth, Pinot. Not a powerful nose but plenty of fruit on the palate dominated by Cherry, Strawberry and blueberry with savoury and earthy, green notes. The latter greenness making this not quite as structured as other NZ Pinot's. Now I'd like to try some of his other Pinot's in their range - Kupe, Paha and Kiwa.