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General Blog

Escarpment Vineyard 2015 Barrel Samples

Travelling over the Rimutakas from Wellington to visit the Escarpment Vineyard in Te Muna Road in Martinborough was a good opportunity of catching up with Larry McKenna and his team after receiving my ‘Winery of the Year’ award in December last month (click here to see my article). The commemorative plaque was on the wall in the office along with other awards he and the Escarpment Vineyard has received. Larry reports that the feedback both in New Zealand and overseas has been very supportive, and the award capped off a very successful year.

Escarpment Vineyard awards - Winery of the Year 2015 top left

However, January is my regular time to have my first look at the previous vintage of Escarpment Vineyard wines, and my visit was primarily for this purpose. The white wines except for the Chardonnay are generally at a state where they can be assessed with some confidence, and the character of most of the reds can be seen, though some of the barrels may not have completed their malos. Of course, there is still some way before the wines are finished, so definitive judgements shouldn’t be made at this stage, but a good impression of the vintage and the wines can be gained.

There’s a feeling of confidence and stability at Escarpment nowadays, and some of this stems from the growing maturity of the wines. The 19 ha Te Muna Road vineyard was planted over 1999-2000, yielding the first commercially viable fruit in 2003. Pinot Noir is the focus, accounting for approx. 70% of the production, with Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Riesling making up the rest of the vines. Particularly special is the ‘Kupe’ block, 1.8 ha of close-planted Abel clone Pinot Noir vines. The Te Muna Road output is supplemented with fruit from other vineyards in the district, the ‘Te Rehua’, ‘Kiwa’ and ‘Pahi’ sites on the Martinborough Terrace notable. The latter vineyard has now been sold, but Larry has fruit from the ‘Dodd’ and ‘Dara’ vineyards coming on stream for the 2016 vintage. Whether these are of ‘Insight’ single vineyard quality remains to be seen. In any case, the impending 2016 vintage in Martinborough will be a small one due to frost events.

Larry Mckenna in the Kupe Vineyard

Tasting the 2015 Barrel Samples
My tasting was of the 2015 whites and Pinot Noirs in barrel. Larry and his winemaker Huw pointed out the evolving nature of what they are doing; earlier picking, long and slow barrel fermentation, plenty of lees contact with the whites, and much more careful extraction with the reds, to give greater freshness, fruit character and elegance, and to allow the complexing inputs to have their appropriate say. Following are my impressions. 2015 appears it will be a vintage of fresh, elegantly concentrated wines, the Pinot Noirs with classical dark cherry/berry and violet floral expression. The Pinot Noirs have high percentages of whole cluster, yet this is subtle and integrated.

Pinot Blanc: From 0.5 ha and in barrel since April. This is tight and firm on nose with pristine white stonefruit aromas, nearly austere in expression. On palate, very fresh, zingy and mouthwatering, showing white stonefruits without complication. This is tightly bound with a strong core and considerable fruit weight, with fine-textured grip throughout the line.

Pinot Gris: Indigenous yeast barrel-fermented. A classical example of the variety. Less weighty and textural than the Pinot Blanc, but far more aromatic with lifted florals and subtle mineral notes. Seemingly rich amd luscious, yet dry. This is fruit sweetness. The mouthfeel soft and gentle, the acidity lower. This is elegant and long on the finish, and very attractive for it.

Chardonnay: Picked earlier than previous vintages, going straight to barrel with no settling. The final wine will have 15% new oak. Clone 95 fruit, from a 2 y.o. barrel. Full, but concentrated nose with white stonefruits, nuts and background floral and flinty detail, revealing mineral elements. Lovely freshness and purity of stonefruit and nutty flavours. The textures are fine-grained, and the mouthfeel cut by fresh, fine acidity. This will be elegant and more fruit-expressive than earlier releases, but the wine has the body and presence that Chardonnay must possess.

Escarpment Pinot Noir: This is the district blend and has 50% whole cluster. Youthfully dark purple-red colour, this has a firm and deep nose of fragrant and ripe dark berry and cherry fruit with subtle whole cluster savoury stalk and violet florals. On palate quite firm and tight, complete and stylishly elegant with restraint. Maybe a tad austere at present, but lovely fine-grained tannins and excellent linearity. This should develop with finesse.

‘Pahi’ Pinot Noir: The last ‘Pahi’ bottling under Escarpment. 50% whole bunch. Very dark purple-red colour. This is all about finesse and florality on the nose, with beautifully lifted violets. Elegant in presentation, more elegant than the district blend, but with plum, liquorice and violets to the dark cherry fruit. The flavours immediate, with a fine-grained tannin grip that grows to lend significant structure.

‘Kiwa’ Pinot Noir: This sample still going through malo, 50% whole bunch. Dark purple-red colour. The nose is full and rounded with considerable density. Dark, savoury cherry-berry and floral core with aromatic stalk from whole cluster showing. Fulsome mouthfeel, with lovely richness, sweetness and accompanying acidity for balance. Blackberry and blackcurrant fruit with cassis liqueur notes, and subtle complexing savoury undergrowth nuances. Already showing the ‘Kiwa’ funkiness.

‘Te Rehua’ Pinot Noir: Very dark black-red with purple hues. Needs sulphuring, but clearly full and bold in aromatic fruit underneath. Ripe black fruits, and there will be an array of florals to emerge. Sweetly rich, juicy and mouthfilling on palate. Black fruits, florals and spices, with fine-grained tannin structure. The fruit richness prevails, and opens in the glass. The tannins are really silky here. 65% whole bunch, and judged perfectly.

‘Kupe’ Pinot Noir: Almost impenetrable black-purple colour. Vey full, densely packed with black fruits and fine, subtle layers of interest already showing. Savoury, floral, whole cluster stalk, all present and quite complete. On palate rich, luscious, smooth-textured, and concentrated with a dense amalgam of flavours that unfold in layers of detail and interest. The florality a feature, and the 70% whole bunch again harmonious and integral. This has refinement and a completeness, but at present is restrained and brooding. Could this be the best expression of ‘Kupe’ yet?

Huw Kinch, Escarpment Vineyard winemaker

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