Part 6 of my series on New Zealand's Martinborough/Wairarapa region

Escarpment Vineyard


So it was a wet old day when I visited Larry McKenna, one of the legends of the Martinborough wine scene. The sort of wet day where the dampness seems to seep into you. Terrible for photography; terrible for tasting wine. But still, it was a good visit, and even more so because I was tagging along with two of my wine heroes: Oz Clarke and James Halliday. If you’d told me back in 1993 when I first started drinking wine in earnest that one day I’d get to hang out with these legends of wine writing, I wouldn’t have believed you!

Oz Clarke, James Halliday and Larry McKenna in the cellar

Larry McKenna was the man behind Martinborough Vineyards, but is now responsible for his own project, Escarpment. It was established in 1999 as a partnership between Larry, his wife Sue, and Robert and Mem Kirby, and is based on a vineyard planted on the Te Muna river terraces, a few kilometres east of Martinborough town. 

Larry McKenna

The main focus is Pinot Noir, which accounts for 70% of plantings, but there’s also Chardonnay and a bit of Pinot Gris, Riesling and Pinot Blanc. The Chardonnay is pretty serious, but it’s the Pinot Noirs that steal the show, and in particular a new series of single-vineyard ‘Martinborough Insight’ wines: Kupe, Kiwa, Te Rehua and Pahi.

A cut-away showing the soils here

Larry says that in the old days these vineyards would have gone into Martinborough Vineyard’s wines, but now he leases them. They’re 25 years old (except for Kupe, which is 10), which is ancient for this region. ‘I’m trying to give people an insight into what Martinborough can do at an individual vineyard level,’ says Larry. ‘We think the wines have a consistent character from year to year. We could pick up others, but we think we are proving our point with these four.' All are on the same soil type and within a kilometre of each other. 

Larry uses natural ferments for all his reds and whites. For Chardonnay, he’s moving away from complete malo and added acid to leaving a bit of malic acid in the wine. The Chardonnay is whole bunch pressed to barrel, but Larry says that his press is too gentle now, and that next year he might crush about a quarter of the fruit. 


Tasted both at the winery and on subsequent occasions; date of tasting marked in month/year format. UK agent is Seckford (

Escarpment Pinot Blanc 2009 Martinborough, New Zealand
14% alcohol, 5 g/l residual sugar. Rounded, open, appley, fruity with some pear notes and a long finish. Interesting stuff. 89/100 01/12

Escarpment The Edge Pinot Gris 2011 Martinborough, New Zealand
12.5% alcohol. 10 g/litre residual sugar. Lively, fresh and a bit grapey with lovely fruit and some spicy notes. Fresh and vivid, and a little pithy. 88/100 01/12

Escarpment Pinot Gris 2010 Martinborough, New Zealand
14.5% alcohol. 6 g/litre residual sugar. Lively, rounded and quite complex with notes of grapes and herbs as well as a hint of sweetness. Good balance. 90/100 01/12

Escarpment Chardonnay 2009 Martinborough, New Zealand
14% alcohol. Rounded, textured, nutty and appley wuth some herb and spice notes and some pear fruit. Really different in style to most New Zealand Chardonnays, and full of interest. 92/100 01/12

Escarpment Kupe Chardonnay 2008 Martinborough, New Zealand
Quite taut and elegant with lovely fruit. Nice concentration with freshness and minerality. Restrained style but with great length. 92/100 02/10

Escarpment The Edge Pinot Noir 2010 Martinborough, New Zealand
Fresh, bright, sweet, pure cherry fruit nose. Perfumed. Supple, bright palate with sweet cherry fruit. Sappy edge. Delightful. 90/100 01/12

Escarpment Pinot Noir 2009 Martinborough, New Zealand
Sweet, open, juicy fresh cherry and red berry fruit here. Bright with a nicely mineral edge. Lovely fruit purity. 92/100 01/12

Escarpment KUPE Pinot Noir 2010 Martinborough, New Zealand
This is a close planted, high density vineyard, and the proportion of whole bunch varies from year to year. Beautifully vivid, intense ripe black cherry and plum fruit nose is so lively. The palate is dense, mineral and quite powerful with beautiful structure provided by the fine-grained tannins. Very ripe but fabulous. 95/100 01/12

Escarpment KUPE Pinot Noir 2008 Martinborough, New Zealand
Very lively and fresh with elegant juicy bright fruit. Cherries to the fore, with some spice and mineral notes. Lean and mineralic. Perfumed. 92/100 02/10

Escarpment TE REHUA Pinot Noir 2008 Martinborough, New Zealand
Beautifully sweet, cherryish nose is really elegant with nice silky structure, as well as hints of ginger and spice. Nice minerality to the fruit. Silky and juicy but with a serious side. 93/100 02/10

Escarpment PAHI Pinot Noir 2008 Martinborough, New Zealand
Beautifully focused and perfumed with lovely cherry fruit. Dense but very smooth with pure fruit. Sweetly fruited with black cherry fruit the key signature. 94/100 02/10

Escarpment KIWA Pinot Noir 2008 Martinborough, New Zealand
Larry McKenna has always battled with a certain amount of herbaceousness on this vineyard, but has decided to live with it. Lovely complex spicy, subtly green black cherry fruits. Lots of focus and intensity on the palate which shows nice minerality and some fine spiciness. Lovely precision and complexity here. 94/100 02/12


Part 1,Martinborough Pinot Noir: a remarkable vertical tasting
Part 2, Dry River
Part 3, Ata Rangi
Part 4, Gladstone Vineyard
Part 5, Martinborough Vineyard
Part 6, Cambridge Road
Part 7, Escarpment
Part 8, Palliser Estate

Wines tasted as indicated  
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