Joelle Thomson

Writer, author, journalist

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Friday wine with Larry McKenna in Martinborough

He is often referred to as the king of Pinot and for good reason. Larry McKenna is one of the most experienced winemakers in New Zealand, having forged a name for producing a vast number of the best Pinot Noirs in the country since the early days of Martinborough Vineyards. He was one of the first four winemakers in this remote rural wine region, a place he remains, despite his passion for the mountains and majesty of Central Otago. 

Here is an earlier Friday wine chat with Larry, published late last year following his resignation as general manager from The Escarpment Vineyard, but not, he says, his departure from the wine industry, of which he remains firmly a part. 

This interview is based on Proust questionnaire which originated in 1886 - read more here

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

My children, Ryan and Nina and therefore deciding to immigrate to New Zealand in 1980.

What is your current state of mind?

Relaxing into getting my head around resigning (not retirement) from Escarpment Vineyard.

What is your favourite part of winemaking?

The first ferment each year. Watching the first fruit begin its un-inoculated fermentation. All that happened is the fruit has been picked destemmed (or not) and placed in a tank. Fermentation starts a few days later; so clean, fruity and magical/mystical. We were certainly meant to enjoy wine. It’s almost religious or makes you feel religious.

Do you have a most treasured wine?

It progresses and evolves. Currently I’m itching to open a 2013 Bonne Mare from Lucien le Moine.

Where is your favourite wine region?

To visit or to drink? Margaret River and Burgundy, particularly Chablis.

When and where are you at your happiest?

Outside. Standing in a river or on top of Aoraki Mt Cook or Mt Aspiring.

What do you most dislike in wine?

Wine is too much about perception of the brand and the expectation rather than the actual quality of the wine in the bottle. It’s so amorphous. I certainly lean towards the scientific side of wine/winemaking rather than the creative side. Obviously it has both sides but my understanding is very much on the technical and logical side.

What is your greatest fear?

I’m about to turn 70 (at the time of writing, in 2021) so growing older. Didn’t even see it coming that alone plan for it.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Restaurants.

What is your greatest regret?

Not moving to Central Otago in 1998 and missing out on Little Feat in Melbourne (1976) because of a train strike.

What talent would you most like to have?

To be a linguist, particularly to speak Chinese and French.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Homelessness and being destitute. I think this leads to so many of society’s problems such as excessive drug use, unemployment, poor health and poor relationships.

What is the trait that you most deplore in yourself?

Excess.

What do you most value in your friends?

Their presence.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

No worries. WTF is going on.

What is your favourite meal?

I have to ask for two courses here. Fish with Chardonnay and game meat with Pinot Noir.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing what do you think it would be?

A dolphin. They seem to be eternally happy which is about all you can ask for. It's all you need.