On Wednesday night I attended a masterclass hosted by two of New Zealand’s leading winemarkers: Larry McKenna of Martinborough’s Escarpment and Rudi Bauer of Central Otago’s Quartz Reef. Organised by nzwineonline.com.au and held at the very picturesque Coast restaurant in Cockle Bay, the evening proved a wonderful opportunity to sample pinot noir from the two most acclaimed wine regions for the variety in New Zealand.

Both winemakers have drawn on Burgundy for inspiration for their pinot noir. Their winemaking practices reflect the very best of Old and New World traditions as characterised by complete respect for their respective terroirs and a willingness to experiment with new ideas to improve the quality of their wines. Austrian born Rudi did several vintages in Burgundy, as well as California and at Rippon in New Zealand before starting Quartz Reef in 1996. Larry grew up in Adelaide, studied at Roseworthy College and worked in Europe and New Zealand before co-founding Escarpment in 1998.


Larry talked about how the winemaking philosophy of the renowned Burgundy estate Domaine Dujac has influenced his own approach. Dujac vinifies its pinot noir with little or no de-stemming of the grapes, with winemaker Jacques Seysses being convinced that it gives the wines greater complexity. Larry explained that he includes whole bunches in the fermentation for his pinot noir. The fruit for the 2009 vintage, for example, was a little riper than 2008, so a slightly higher percentage of whole bunches (approximately 40%) were used to enhance the wine’s complexity and tannin structure. The fruitier and more savoury perfume aromas of the Escarpment Pinot Noir 2009 made it our table’s choice over the more subdued but still very good 2008.

The Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown recently described Rudi’s winemaking style as “both understated and powerful.” Quartz Reef’s single vineyard Bendigo Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008 was a perfect example of Perrotti-Brown’s observation. Dark red in colour with intense red berry aromas, the wine is elegantly balanced with a backbone of fine grained tannins and a crisp acidity that suggests excellent potential for ageing.

The winemakers also presented two impressive examples of pinot gris – a variety that to date has a bit of a spotted history in New Zealand because it’s proven quite difficult to grow.

Pinot Gris is the only white wine made by Quartz Reef. The 2010 vintage was a medium bodied, delightfully aromatic, bright wine with a rich texture and a dry long mineral finish. Fermented with indigenous yeasts in stainless steel vats, Rudi credits extended lees stirring for giving the wine its rich texture and impressive mouth feel.

In contrast, the 2010 Escarpment Pinot Gris is made in a more Burgundian style. Fermented in non-new oak barrels, it was given a complete malolactic fermentation and extended lees stirring before barrel maturation. This beautifully balanced full bodied wine has delicately perfumed aromas and a rich, silky texture.

Definitely two great wineries to keep an eye on. If you’re interested in purchasing the wines, nzwineonline.com.au has a good selection.

Photo Credits: Rudi Bauer of Quartz Reef and Larry McKenna of Escarpment

Merrill Witt, Editor