Escarpment Vineyards in New Zealand’s Martinborough region is home to one of the country’s most iconic and influential winemakers. Larry McKenna is, simply, a living legend. From his involvement with Martinborough Vineyards back in 1986 (becoming the region’s first professional winemaker in the process) to the present day, Larry has set about defining the terroir of this rapidly emerging Pinot Noir hotspot. Realising early on that Pinot Noir could thrive in his corner of the southern hemisphere Larry planted a number of vineyards, including the now famous Kupe vineyard, to highlight just how good Martinborough could be. Various clones, including the notorious gum-boot clone of Romanée-Conti fame were utilised, together with Burgundian-style high density planting in the Kupe site. Having established Escarpment back in 1999, the vineyards are now really hitting their stride.
I was lucky enough to attend a lunch hosted by Larry recently, where he introduced us to the latest instalment of his Insight Series of single vineyard Pinot Noirs, the 2014s. Following on from the hugely-lauded 2013 releases, stylistically each cuvée was very individual in the glass, with the different vineyard expressions surely capable of finding an appreciative audience; from elegant and refined Burgundy-inspired Kiwa to deeply-flavoured and unashamedly New World Pahi. The Te Rehua vineyard is Chambolle-Musigny in New World clothes; full of black cherry and plum flavours. We finished with Larry’s jewel in the crown; Kupe. Bold and intoxicating, there is a core of intensity and tightly-wound, ultra-fine tannins. With a density of cherry fruit with disarmingly approachable structure and freshness, Kupe is a singular wine and a star of New Zealand Pinot Noir. Larry’s 2014s were quite simply astonishing.
Though difficult to source in volume, such is the demand, Larry’s wines offer great value. Frontier are very honoured to receive a direct allocation of these fabulous wines to offer to our customers so please do drop me an email if you would like to secure a bottle or two!
As a final note, I wanted to mention part of a conversation I had with Larry just after the tasting. He told me that he had hardly slept the previous night; such were his nerves over the looming 2014 vintage launch that we had just attended. It shows the human side of the great man that even after all of these years and after rafts of outstanding reviews and awards, he should still get butterflies over the performance of his beautiful wines.
He needn’t have worried, though I am kind of glad he did. It is this attention to detail which has made him the hero he is, and rendered his wines the expressive heartbeat of Martinborough.