Martinborough winemaker Larry McKenna has resigned from The Escarpment Vineyard in the same week that two of his wines made the top 10 in the latest NZWinerater.com’s Pinot Noir Results 2021.
The resignation this week has been on the cards, says McKenna, who turns 70 this year and has no plans to fully retire. He is stepping away from the role of general manager at The Escarpment Vineyard.
He founded the high ranking brand in 1998, planted the first vines a year later and released the first Escarpment wine in 2002. From what he describes as ‘the get-go’, McKenna has made some of New Zealand’s most impressive Pinot Noirs, mostly single vineyard wines with a high proportion of whole bunch fermentation. “This has often made for wines with a lighter colour but always with incredible power and structure underlying the taste,” he says.
This week, the relatively new NZ Winerater.com (owned and founded by Master of Wine Steve Bennett and winemaker Lynnette Hudson) ranked Martinborough as its top Pinot Noir region. The pair blind tasted 119 Pinot Noirs from all over New Zealand and the top 10 wines included eight from Martinborough with the other two from North Canterbury and Marlborough.
It’s a result that McKenna describes as “A bit of coup for the Martinborough district.”
He will remain at The Escarpment until the end of April 2022 to oversee the next vintage made in the new winery that he is currently managing the construction of. It is based on a design he conceptualised 20 years ago. He has also taken over the management of the three hectare, high density vineyard, Ma Maison, south of Martinborough. The fruit will be sold to The Escarpment for at least the next year. This will enable him to remain involved with The Escarpment.
This is the 16th interview on this website based on the famous Proust questionnaire, which originated in 1886 – find out more here.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My children, Ryan and Nina and deciding to immigrate to New Zealand in 1980.
What is your current state of mind?
Relaxing into getting my head around resigning (not retiring) from The Escarpment Vineyard this month.
What is your favourite part of winemaking?
The first ferment each year. Watching the first fruit begin its uninoculated 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 Bonne Mare 2013 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 and Mt Aspiring.
What do you most dislike in wine?
Wine is too much about the brand perception and the expectation rather than the actual quality of wine in the bottle. It’s so amorphous. I certainly lean towards the scientific side of wine and 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, so growing older. Didn’t even see it coming, that alone plan for it.
What is your greatest extravagance?
What is your greatest regret?
Not moving to Central Otago in 1998 and missing out on Little Feat in Melbourne in 1976 because of a train strike.
What talent would you most like to have?
To be a linguist, particularly 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?
What do you most value in your friends?
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. 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. All you need.