Tales of wine, people and travel

Martinborough winemaker makes his first sulphur free drop

It’s unfined, unfiltered, sulphur free and Noir, pictured left, is Larry McKenna’s first foray into “the hipster world of organic, minimal intervention winemaking”, says the Martinborough winemaker.

The grapes in the wine were grown on McKenna’s Escarpment Vineyard on Te Muna Road, 9 kilometres west of Martinborough. He used the Abel clone of Pinot, which was fermented with wild yeasts in clay amphora. McKenna then left the wine on skins for 270 days, prior to pressing the skins and bottling.

Escarpment Vineyard winemaker Larry McKenna

It’s the purist expression of Pinot Noir that McKenna says he has made yet under the Escarpment label, due to the lack of sulphur dioxide, fining or filtering. For these reasons, however, he suggests drinking the wine over the next year rather than aging it.

Noir is part of his new range of Artisan wines, which is all about experimenting and pushing boundaries. There are five wines in the range but the Noir is the only one with no added sulphur dioxide (SO2). The others wines contain about half the usual amount of SO2 and they are:

2017 Nina Rosé 13.3% ABV

Named after McKenna’s daughter, Nina Rose, and made 100% from Pinot Noir which was left on skins for six hours to gain a pale salmon colour prior to being fermented in old oak barrels to enhance the softness in this wine.

2017 Escarpment Noir 13% ABV

Organically grown Pinot Noir grapes were fermented in clay amphora with wild yeasts and left on skins for 270 days; it’s unfined, unfiltered and has no added sulphur dioxide so it’s a wine to drink now or within the next year, suggests winemaker Larry McKenna.

2016 Escarpment Blanc 13.4% ABV

Barrel fermented and aged in oak for 11 months prior to bottling, this wine is bone dry (it contains less than 1 gram per litre of residual grape sugar). It was inspired by the German wine region of Kaiserstuhl; well known for its spicy Pinot Blanc wines.

2017 Escarpment Ryan Riesling 11.3% ABV

This wine is named after McKenna’s son, Ryan, and it’s dry with a full bodied style, thanks to being fermented in oak and left on lees (decomposing yeast cells, left over from fermentation). It’s dry with just (1 gram per litre of residual grape sugar.

2016 Escarpment Gris 14.1% ABV

This is a barrel fermented Pinot Gris made as part of McKenna’s exploration into skin contact whites; after crushing the grapes, he soaked them overnight to dial up the colour in this wine. He then treated it to partial malolactic fermentation and lees stirring to enhance the wine’s texture and create a full bodied white that makes a valid alternative to Chardonnay, thanks to its body, its creamy notes and its dry style.

  • Larry McKenna is one year away from BioGro NZ certification.
  • Follow Larry McKenna on twitter @LarryMcPinot.

New Wine Auction Room opens in Auckland

Reece Warren, founder of the new Wine Auction Room in Auckland


Its doors might be metaphorical, unless you’re up for a chat about where and how your wine is stored, but the country’s new has opened business. Owner Reece Warren is the man behind the

The Wine Auction Room opened for business on 1 February 2018. Its first auction was in April online.

Joelle Thomson (JT): Whose idea was it to start a new wine auction business in New Zealand?

Reece Warren (RW): Since studying for my WSET Diploma in London in the early 1990s and going to Christies and Sotherby’s wine auctions it was always something I wanted to do. I had the opportunity to join Webb’s as Head of Rare and Fine Wine a couple of years ago and loved my job there. Unfortunately our parent company (Mossgreen in Australia) went into liquidation at the end of last year and Webb’s was liquidated as well even though we had been trading well. So the New Year was greeted with a loss of my dream job. There were a few options on the table for me but after lengthy discussions with my wife we came to this. I’ve loved my career in the very passionate wine industry but had I not started my own auction house I would have left the industry.

JT: What types of wines are you looking for to sell?

RW: Any wine or spirit that is in a saleable condition. Many believe the wine auctions that we hold are just for wines that are expensive or unobtainable but that couldn’t be further from the truth. There are often bargains and many everyday wines available that have often been cellared and are ready for drinking or can be cellared longer. As an example in the current online auction (June) the lowest reserve is $16, for a wine that retails at $30, and the highest reserve is $2000, for a wine that has an average price around the world at present of $3650. It is also a great opportunity to find that special vintage for a birthday or celebration that may have left the retail environment.

JT: How fussy are you about the storage conditions of the wines that you sell?

RW: So fussy. This is one of the most important aspects of my job. You can never tell what is in the bottle as it is sealed but we can make sure that the wine has been stored in a way that is suitable for storing wines for the long term. As we can’t visit every cellar we get wines from I place a lot of trust with the vendors about their storage and what they tell me in the many questions I ask them about their cellars. People who can’t answer these questions generally don’t know how to cellar wine correctly. I do turn down wines if I don’t believe they have been stored well and I have sent wines back to the vendor and refused to auction them.

JT: Where is the Wine Auction Room and can wine lovers visit?

RW: The Wine Auction Room is in Grey Lynn. I have an office very close to our temperature controlled storage. There’s not much to see but me and a lot of wine books/magazines but I welcome anyone in for a conversation (or a glass!) as I’m a wine lover too so chatting about wine is my happy place.

JT: How often do you hold wine auctions?

RW: Looking to hold auctions monthly as either online or live. There will be no auction in July as I’m looking forward to learning about the many different varieties in Greece and Croatia while travelling there.

JT: How do wine collectors submit wine to you for auction?

RW: Give me call or send me an email and we can discuss what you have. (021 465 554 or

JT: What’s the best wine you’ve ever had to auction?

RW: This is so hard to answer. The most expensive bottle I’ve sold was an imperial (six litre bottle) of Chateau Haut Brion. The best wines are those that give the buyer the best experience. A recent purchase of mine from the last auction was a couple of bottles of 2005 Tardieu-Laurent Vieilles Vignes Cornas at $50 + Fees (our fees are 17.5% + GST of the hammer price so these cost me $60.06 each) – it was fantastic and far cheaper than the current vintage in retail. The best part was that it has turned a friend who is a Barossa Shiraz man onto the virtues of the wonderful wines from the Rhone.

JT: What was the worst?

RW: Wines that don’t make it to auction. I’ve had many people who have got a bottle of something dodgy from the 1970s they want to auction. The wines were never any good back then and they certainly aren’t  any better now. Just because it is old, it isn’t necessarily good. The most upsetting consignment was a case of Chateau Haut Brion from a relatively recent vintage that hadn’t been stored well, had begun to leak and become very expensive vinegar. That was sent back to the vendor with advice on how to cellar his wines.

Buy, sell and find out more about New Zealand’s brand spanking new in Auckland by contacting Reece Warren, phone 021 465 554 and online at

One of the first to put Pinot on NZ wine map

Thanks Paul Mason from Martinborough Vineyards for a fascinating look back at some of the first wines to put Pinot on the New Zealand wine map.

Individualistic, consistent and delicious are the words that sprang to mind at last night’s tasting at Regional Wines & Spirits with Mason, who led 23 customers (including yours truly, on behalf of the store – to introduce Mason) through a fascinating historic snapshot of Martinborough Vineyard wines.

The winery began in 1980 and was one of the first four vineyards in Wellington’s nearest wine region. The tasting was a great opportunity to see wines that have been remarkably consistent, despite a rollercoaster of vintage weather variation, three different winemakers and a change in ownership. The three different winemakers have clearly had similar ideas and are obviously responsible for carrying the style consistently – it’s an elegant style, for wont of a better word.


Tasting highlights

We began with three whites; Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. It was the Riesling and Chardonnay that gained the biggest fans in the room; both wines had noticeably fresh, crisp acidity which balanced the bells (15 grams of residual sugar in the Riesling) and whistles (creamy malolactic work in the Chardonnay.

The first wine was Riesling, which is the only grape that is not estate grown but is rather bought in from the nearby Jackson Block, situated on the left hand side of the road in to Martinborough. The winery used to produce a wide range of Riesling styles. Today Manu Riesling is the only one made and the 2017 vintage was from a challenging year, in which botrytis played a role in the wine – made from grapes harvested in three different picks.

2017 Martinborough Manu Riesling

A medium dry style with 15 grams of residual sugar, which tastes drier than the word ‘medium’ may imply. It is well balanced with high acidity and dialed up intensity of flavour with ginger, lemon grass and lemon zest. It’s medium bodied with medium acid, about 10.5% ABV and a long finish.

2017 Martinborough Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc

Intense aromas of fresh green herbs, green apples, medium body and long finish. Refreshing.

2016 Martinborough Vineyards Chardonnay

Fresh and full bodied with recognizable creamy flavours balanced by lively acidity and spicy appeal from the use of 25% new oak to mature this wine.

2014 Martinborough Vineyard Syrah Viognier

The two grapes in this wine were co-fermented and it includes a smidgeon of Viognier at 3%. A popular style with the tasters.

2016 Martinborough Vineyards Te Tera Pinot Noir  

Really good Pinot Noir for the price with earthy flavours, light body, refreshingly lively acidity – the hallmark of Pinot Noir – and a lovely fruity appeal.

2015 Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir

A very small vintage from a low crop year due to poor flowering, so the flavours are of concentrated red fruit with earthy mushroom notes and a long finish. I loved this wine, which reminds of the very first Martinborough Vineyards Pinot Noir I ever tasted back in the mid 1990s.

2013 Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir

One of the best vintages for Pinot Noir, says winemaker Paul Mason, due to the fact the year was so warm and dry so there was low to no irrigation and the grapes were naturally well balanced. This wine is developing with earthy notes but still clearly has a long life ahead.

2009 Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir

A very hot year (hottest ever in Martinborough with 39 degrees in January following the Melbourne bushfires) which then turned cool and wet at harvest. This was quite a savoury wine early on and winemaker Paul Mason says it’s been interesting to watch it evolve further in that direction.

It made me want to reach for the kitchen and make mushroom risotto…

2013 Martinborough Vineyard Marie Zelie

Tiny volumes, 12 to 15 months in oak and a couple more years of bottle age are part of the story of this reserve Pinot from Martinborough Vineyard. Winemaker Paul Mason is not aiming to make a big statement wine with the Marie Zelie Pinots and since they are only made in certain years, he says it’s important to retain consistency as much as possible. So this wine is, like its little sibling above, an earthy style which is a step up in body, acidity and length. It’s named after Marie Zelie, a Frenchwoman who planted the first vineyard in the Wairarapa in the 1890s and then, due to a combination of phylloxera and near prohibition, the vineyard was pulled out. Maries’ great niece married Derek Milne, who was one of the founders of Martinborough Vineyard.

The 2013 vintage saw only 5 barrels of this wine made; only 1% of the winery’s Pinot production.

2006 Martinborough Vineyard Marie Zelie

This was a pretty warm vintage with deeper colour, higher tannins and richness of flavour.

Far fuller bodied and more robust; a very different style for Martinborough Vineyards and one that is immediately appeal and lush. Great to see what different vintages produce.


Martinborough Vineyards fact file 

1980– the year the winery began with Larry McKenna as the first winemaker

2004 – the year that Paul Mason joined as assistant winemaker to Claire Mulholland

2014 – the winery was sold to Foley Family Vineyards, which also owns Te Kairanga Wines in Martinborough, Wharekauhau Lodge on the southern Wairarapa coast and Lighthouse Gin.


Martinborough Vineyard wines are available at Regional Wines & Spirits, both in store and online… hop on over to the website for more info:

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