New Zealand Road Trip: Chardonnay – Martinborough

Rimutaka Range with Martinborough in the distance.

At an hour’s drive northeast of Wellington you wind through the Rimutaka Ranges before descending down into the valley of Martinborough, a tiny town framed by the Ruamahanga and Huangarua Rivers. We are headed just outside the township to visit Larry McKenna of Escarpment Wines.

Escarpment Wine Centre Map annotated
Raised relief map at the Martinborough Wine Centre.

Martinborough is a sub-region of the wider Wairarapa wine region. Although small in production volume – less that 5% of annual production – the region is well known for its quality Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc which account for the majority of plantings here. What is not as well known is the quality Chardonnay being produced in the Martinborough region – there might only be 45 ha of Chardonnay planted in the entire Wairarapa region but it is certainly worth a closer look!

Credit: New Zealand Winegrowers

Standing at the Escarpment cellar door looking east you can see the Huangarua River running along the foot of the distant hills and this serves as a reminder of the alluvial soils on which some of the vines grow. Heading down to the cellar we spend the morning with Larry and the 2014 barrels.

Escarpment offers two Chardonnays in their portfolio; Escarpment Chardonnay and single vineyard Kupe Chardonnay. We tasted barrel samples of both and you can find my tasting notes below. The grapes for the Escarpment and Kupe Chardonnay are sourced entirely from the Te Muna Road site, where the cellar door is located – the terraces of free draining alluvial gravels providing an ideal environment for the vines.

Escarpment soil

In addition to Chardonnay we also tasted the Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and the four single vineyard Pinot Noir – all really rather fabulous and I must confess I did not, or rather could not, leave empty handed!

Next stop Hawke’s Bay and a look at the different styles of Chardonnay being produced further north …

Happy Drinking!




Escarpment Chardonnay 2014 (barrel sample) – winemaker Larry McKenna


The grapes for this wine were picked early in the harvest to preserve the natural acidity of the fruit. After pressing, the juice was transferred straight to barrel with each barrel containing a different fraction, or portion, of the pressed juice which then undergoes alcoholic and malolactic fermentation.

The wine we sampled was from a barrel that had a later fraction from the pressing so it was comparatively clearer with fewer solids in the juice. This sample will provide a component for the blend which will be composed at the conclusion of malolactic fermentation. Lees stirring is also used to enhance the texture and complexity of the wine.

The wine showed a good weight on the palate. There were notes of ripe citrus fruit, a good mineral burst and some zingy acidity to balance a touch of creaminess on the palate.

For so early in its life the wine was showing well – I look forward to seeing it in the bottle! (Photo kindly provided by Escarpment Wines.)

Escarpment Kupe Chardonnay 2014 (barrel sample) – winemaker Larry McKenna

Escarpment Kupe ChardonnayFollowing harvest the grapes are gently pressed and quickly transferred to barrel with full solids in the juice.

Fermentation uses wild yeasts and takes place in barrels, of which 20% are new and the wine is left to age on lees for 10 months before being bottled.

The nose showed notes of apple core, pear, peach and a touch of sweetness reminiscent of spun sugar. On the palate citrus and green fruit sat alongside struck match and wood notes from this young barrel wine. Already showing good complexity and structure, this is a wine that will develop nicely over time. (Photo kindly provided by Escarpment Wines.)


Related Happy Wine Woman Posts

New Zealand Road Trip: Chardonnay – Marlborough

New Zealand Road Trip: Chardonnay – Waipara

New Zealand Chardonnay – Kumeu River

Escarpment Pinot Noir


Escarpment Wine

New Zealand Wine

Published by Happy Wine Woman

Wine consultant currently based in Melbourne, Australia.

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