Porters Pinot Noir 2006, Martinborough, New Zealand

Drunk February 2014

The winery

Porters vineyard was first planted by Annabel and John Porter in 1992 with the first vintage in 1995. The vineyard is on Kitchener Street, the main road into Martinborough and is only five acres producing Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. Yields are low with their emphasis on producing grapes of the best quality every vintage, adopting organic principles and practices wherever possible. Vine prunings are either burnt or mulched back into the soil, the pips and skins from the pressed grapes are composted and used as mulch, and sprays are kept to a minimum. 

The average annual production is in the region of 750 dozen which makes Porters one of the smallest producers in Martinborough, a boutique winery indeed!

The wine

2006 was a bountiful vintage. The spring provided ideal conditions for flowering and fruit set leading into a warm summer. During the autumn, the cool evenings were a great foil to the heat of the day, and provided excellent conditions to promote physiological ripeness. There was more rain than normal over the season which meant that the vines did not experience the drought stress of previous vintages. The weather over vintage was fine and clear which enabled Porters to harvest Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris grapes in superb condition.

I really enjoyed this Martinborough Pinot - elegant and complex. Not heavy handed in any way. The nose is full of strawberry and cherry and the palate not only had the fruity notes but also spice and fine tannins with an excellent earthy character. Acidity was nicely balanced by the fruit and tannin. After drinking quite a few Oregon Pinot Noirs which had excessive acidity in the last few weeks, it was nice to try another great Pinot Noir from New Zealand which exhibited such excellent balance. New Zealand Pinot Noir I love you!

Bought Hard to Find wines, £19.99

Dry River Pinot Noir 2008, Martinborough, New Zealand

Fermented Grape Favourite

Drunk November 2013, 28-50 Wine Workshop & Kitchen, Maddox Street, London


The winery

The famous Dry River winery is based in Martinborough, at the Southern tip of the North Island of New Zealand.

The name Dry River carries an historical significance as the name of one of the earliest Wairarapa sheep stations (ca. 1877). This was later sold off by the Seddon government and renamed Dyerville, leaving the renamed Waihora River (circa 1900) and the renamed Dyerville Rd (1994) - both after Dry River - as the only reminders of this part of the area's farming history.

Neil McCallum

In 1979 Neil and Dawn McCallum planted a vineyard a few kilometres from Dyerville in a very dry, gravely and free-draining area now called the 'Martinborough Terrace' and they took the name Dry River for the vineyard and wines in what was to become another chapter of Martinborough's farming history. Their dream was to produce individual, high quality regional wines which faithfully reflect the 'terroir'.

In subsequent year's plantings on the Martinborough Terrace increased and fruit from the more recent plantings at nearby Craighall and Arapoff vineyards was also used. Part of Craighall was ultimately purchased by the winery in 1997/8 and all of the Arapoff vineyard in 2002 - the latter being renamed 'Lovat Vineyard'. In 2002 the winery and vineyards were sold to New York businessman Julian Robertson and Californian viticulturalist Reg Oliver, who owned the El Molino winery in St Helena.

In the period from 1979 to this point the area of vineyards had increased from only a few acres up to approximately 30 acres under cultivation. There are currently a staff of 7 with Wilco Lam as Winemaker looking after the day to day winery functionsunder the guidance of Antony MacKenzie. Robert Wills is the Viticulturalist and he has with him Rob Smith (Machinery Manager) and a loyal team which includes Nick James and Michelle Mills. 

Dawn and Neil had been looking for a site for a quality vineyard as early as 1979 and it was clear that Martinborough was the place to investigate. According to friend and soil scientist Dr Derek Milne (later founding partner of Martinborough Vineyard), the virtue of this locality was its 30-year record of the lowest rainfall in the North Island and a heat summation appropriate for growing quality cool-climate varieties such as Pinot noir, Riesling and etc. From the available data, the low rainfall area was limited to a tiny locality roughly 5 km in radius, and a study of soil maps revealed that the deep, free-draining gravels they sought within this were restricted to an even smaller part.

By 1986 there were five vineyards and wineries in existence - all planted on the gravels of Martinborough. The pioneers (Ata Rangi, Chifney, Dry River, Martinborough Vineyard and Te Kairanga) decided they would like to define and demarcate the terroir they had adopted, just as such areas are described and mapped in France and Germany, with the expectation that the wines produced from within this area would show similarities reflecting their origin. The crescent-shaped area lay along the edge of the river terrace formed by the Ruamahunga and Huangarua rivers about 20,000 years ago. This is now at the northern side of the township. It was about 1,000ha in total (according to my estimate, about 600ha was available for planting), and was comprised almost completely of free-draining gravels with the same very low rainfall and similar aspect, temperatures, wind-run and so on, and was therefore felt to be homogenous from a viticultural point of view.

From 1986, wines made from within this area were given a seal of origin by the 'Martinborough Winemakers Association', and in 1991 the area was named 'The Martinborough Terrace Appellation' to distinguish it from other types of terroir which were being explored nearby. Authentification of the defined area was administered by the 'Martinborough Terrace Appellation Committee' according to a set of rules and regulations descibed as 'Martinborough Terrace Appellation of Origin System'. Many hundreds of wines have borne the seal of origin, although nowadays the physical seal tends not to be used, simply because modern labelling machinery cannot easily apply it. 

The boundaries of the Martinborough Terrace (previously the 'Martinborough Delineated Vineyard Zone') was precisely and legally defined in 1986. 


The Dry River wine making philosophy can be summarised by "We have a complete philosophy. That is, the best expression of what we can do in the vineyard. As we go through the winemaking process, the decisions are not in terms of creating a particular style. They are what is best for the fruit, and what is best to preserve the characters that have been harvested. This is the beginning and the end of what we do."

On their Pinot Noir on why it ages so well, "A lot of it is in the vineyard. There are still decisions from the winemakers point of view. They are simpler: it is really just a question of pre or post-maceration, and how long. The other thing is that our winemaking is completely anaerobic. We believe in preserving the phenolics, not messing them up. At the end of the day there will always be some sort of light fining just to tune the phenolics. The concept of oxidative winemaking can be necessary, depending on the path you choose. If you haven’t got your phenolics right in the vineyard, then oxidative winemaking becomes necessary to tame the characters that you end up with."

The wine

Reddish purple in the glass. The nose is dominated by dark fruits, particularly raspberry with a hint of spice and floral notes.  The palate is smooth and elegant, with cherries, plum, spice and a hint of earthiness. Balanced with good acidity and refined tannins. A long and generous finish. Very impressive indeed! 

Escarpment The Edge Pinot Noir 2012, Martinborough, New Zealand

Drunk October 2013


The winery

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 McKenna

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 wine

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. 

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2011, Martinborough, New Zealand

Drunk October 2013, Hakkasan, London

92 points

 The winery

Ata Rangi, meaning "dawn sky" or "new beginning" is a small New Zealand winery with a big reputation for serious Pinot Noir. Located near Martinborough at the southern end of the North Island, it is owned and managed by a family trio - Clive Paton, his wife Phyll and his sister Alison.

According to wife Phyll - Clive planted his first vines at the edge of the Martinborough village in 1980 as one of a handful of people who pioneered winegrowing in the area. 

Ata Rangi was a small, stony sheep paddock when Clive bought it with a wad of cash from the sale of his herd of cows back in 1980. His farming mates thought he was mad; grapes were unheard of in the region. But Clive knew the area well. "I'd regularly skin my knees playing rugby there, so I knew exactly how stony the ground was." He'd developed a passion for red wine but couldn't afford 'the good stuff' so, in classic Kiwi-style, thought he'd have a go himself. Ali, Clive's sister, shared his vision and soon bought 5 acres next door before heading off shore to study and work in the London wine trade.

Martinborough was pretty basic in those days - gravel roads, two pubs, a grocery/farm-supply store, service station and a fish-n-chip shop. Clive's resolve was strengthened by a 1978 scientific report which showed Martinborough had a microclimate similar to that of Burgundy. It also had the driest and windiest climate in the North Island, was fringed to the north-east by a 25 metre deep, free-draining alluvial gravel terrace, and was only an hour from the lively capital city of Wellington.

The early days were tough. With no trees for shelter, young vines struggled against the howling nor-westers. Clive relied on the sale of pumpkins and garlic that he'd grown between the rows. He was also a solo Dad, raising young daughter Ness. Local farmer and mate of Clive's, John Stephen, put up cash to form an early partnership, keeping Ata Rangi afloat until the vines came into production. They also enlisted 100 'barrel share' investors, each of whom stumped up $50 (in a primitive en-primeur scheme) to fund the first barrels. 

In 1982, soon after purchasing the Ata Rangi home block, Clive called Auckland winemaker Malcolm Abel and volunteered to work a vintage. He knew that Malcolm was also chasing premium pinot noir, and the two soon became close friends. Malcolm died unexpectedly a year later and the Abel Vineyard itself was ultimately lost to urban sprawl.

But Malcolm had already given Clive some promising pinot cuttings, the offspring of a single vine cutting allegedly taken by a traveller from Burgundy’s finest estate, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti . The illegal cutting had been intercepted and confiscated at Auckland airport, where Malcolm, coincidentally, was working as a customs officer in the mid 70’s. He immediately understood its significance, and sent it straight to the state-owned viticulture research station of the day.  Malcolm waited patiently for the first cuttings to become available, and duly planted them.

To this day, the Abel Clone, or Gumboot Clone (legend has it the stolen cutting was hidden inside a Kiwi gumboot) remains at the heart of Ata Rangi Pinot Noir. 

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir is the winery's flagship wine, and in 2010 he was honoured with the title "Grand Cru of New Zealand". 

The wine

Grapes from vines that range in age from 10 - 30 years are meticulously hand-sorted as they arrive at the winery, with individual blocks and clones fermented separately. About ten months later a blind tasting, barrel by barrel, decides the first ‘cut’. The original 30-year old home block ‘Gumboot Clone’ and best plots of Dijon Clone are used. A warmer than average season delivered excellent ripeness not only to the berries but also to grape stems and seeds, allowing the team to include around 10% whole and intact bunches in the ferments. This technique chosen only in warm seasons allows a portion of ripe stem tannin to supplement the skin and seed tannins in bolstering a wine’s shape and structure. 

Crimson red in the glass, with deep aromas of vanilla, cherries. Flesh, tannins are fully expressed yet in a refined way but give the wine plenty of opportunity for ageing. The finish is long and complex. A great story around Ata Rangi and a lovely wine.