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Escarpment Vineyard Going to the Edge – The 2016 Barrel Samples

By November 17, 2016No Comments

Huw Kinch and Larry McKenna
with ‘wall of fame’ and a few of the many awards bestowed behind
Escarpment Vineyard are keen to push the boundaries of their white wines much as they have with their Pinot Noirs. They have changed their approach with the winemaking to explore skin contact and fermentation on skins. This does not mean going ‘natural’ or making ‘orange’ wine, well at least at this stage. Having been very successful with the terroir-expressive single vineyard ‘Insight’ Pinot Noirs, they’ve turned their attention to the whites, to have them offer more interest, texture and complexities. Larry McKenna and Huw Kinch have been toying with the concept for some time now, but with the 2016 whites, we will see a significant jump up in employing these techniques.

I had the opportunity of catching up with Larry and Huw to see and discuss the changes. There’s a lot of activity at Escarpment Vineyard, as though there’s a new lease of life. And it’s not because of the announcement that Larry was made a Fellow of New Zealand Winegrowers at the recent Air New Zealand Wine Awards trophy dinner! On the large scale, a new storage facility and warehouse has been built so that wines can be stored under more controlled conditions, and the Escarpment team can directly oversee deliveries and shipments. On this visit, the vineyard team was planting new Chardonnay cuttings, including the highly regard 548 Corton-Charlemagne clone along with others including a small amount of the ‘Musque’ clone. www.escarpment.co.nz

The Amphora Chardonnay
But Larry and Huw were particularly proud of their new 1,000 Litre amphora, imported from Spain to trial skin contact and skin fermentation. The amphora arrived just after harvest, so the Chardonnay within the amphora began its ferment in small vats and then transferred to the amphora. The wine has been in it since May, and they are relishing the differences resulting from the time in the amphora. Here’s my note on the Escarpment ‘Amphora’ Chardonnay 2016: Straw-yellow, not properly clear. Distinctively nutty with white stonefruit aromas. Tight, fine-grained phenolics, and crisp acidity showing. Huw reports a “pepperiness” from the skins. The wine will make a component in the finished wine, and it will be interesting to see at what level. Larry expressed a strong interest in the ‘egg fermenters’ as used by Tony Bish, so these could be acquired in due course.

The amphora
signalling an exciting new phase for Escarpment white wines
Tasting the 2016 Escarpment White Wine Barrel Samples
I was taken through a tasting of barrel samples of the white wines. Here are my notes:

Pinot Gris 2016, given overnight skin contact.
Slightly pink at present, and interestingly showing a red berry character on the nose. On the palate, the red fruits coming through, but the wine elegant, fresh, clean and crisp. More conventional if anything.

Pinot Blanc 2016, soaked on skins overnight.
Pale straw-yellow. Good depth on the nose with classic nutty, oxidative Pinot Blanc expression in the more rustic spectrum. Much finer on palate with good white stonefruit richness, fine textures and crisp acidity.

Pinot Blanc 2016, skin-fermented for 10 days.
This will make 25-30% of the blend. Light golden yellow. This is tightly bound with clear and clean, subtle aromatic white stonefruits. Noticeably textured on palate, this is dry and thirst-quenching. The wine is tightly bound with depth and intensity. An exciting component.

Chardonnay 2016 componentfrom barrel, not amphora.
Bright straw-yellow. Pungent gunflint sulphide reduction, very intense and powerful. This will need to be toned down. Good white stonefruit flavours show, with nuts and flint in support on the palate. Fine textures, good intensity, and showing crisp acidity.

Tasting the 2016 Pinot Noir Barrel Samples
It will go down on record that 2016 was a strange and in many ways unpredictable growing season for Pinot Noir for Escarpment Vineyard. Whilst the health of the fruit and cropping levels were good, ripening occurred differently to the normal patterns. Usually for Escarpment, the town blocks ripen up and are picked first, but in 2016, the Te Muna fruit came in ahead of the town fruit. Wind may have played a part in this result.

The newly-fermented wines were very hard to read, and ferments that should have shown high quality attributes didn’t do so. The situation early on had the team wondering if the vintage was indeed a quality one. However, as time progressed, the wines in barrel began to show much better and Larry and Huw see the potential high quality in the wines now.

I usually come to Escarpment to taste the barrel samples in late January, but since I was over, the opportunity presented itself for a tasting. The Pinot Noir wines had not gone through MLF, making them harder to understand than if I’d tasted then 2-3 months later. I offer my notes in any case:

Kiwa 2016 barrel sample with 50% whole bunch.
Dark purple red. This is tight and firm on nose, quite elegant really, but showing good depth and density. Lovely aromas of dark-red fruits with soft spices and excellent primary violet floral lift. On palate the fruit is rich and luscious, dark-red fruits and spices form an intense core, with fine-grained tannin grip. Lovely dark-red and violet florals feature. The acidity is noticeable – but this is pre-malo. This could be the most beautiful Kiwa for some time.

Te Rehua 2016 barrel sample with 65% whole bunch.
Black-red colour. Beautifully perfumed and intense with ripe black berried fruits and violet and black florals. On palate, the fruit richness, purity and clarity are the feature, this allied to sweetness and richness. Black are dark-red berry fruits, vibrant and primary. The whole bunch totally integral. This has serious tannin extraction, very fine-grained, and the palate enlivened by fresh acidity. This is showing Te Rehua personality already, and it will be a hit for sure.

Kupe Pinot Noir 2016 barrel sample with 70% whole bunch.
The 2016 Kupe may not be made, as the vineyard suffered a frosting, and the yields are pitiful, making the bottling of the limited quantities of the wine an academic exercise. My advice was to still go ahead. The price may need to go up. The colour is youthfully black-purple. On nose, very rich, complex and savoury showing Kupe terroir, Abel clone and whole cluster layers. Rich and luscious black fruits, surprisingly accessible and upfront, but the sweet fruit masking the considerable extract. Layers of savoury, complexing nuances. Again the acidity noticeable, as this is pre-malo. This tastes of Kupe terroir and style.


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