Martinborough, New Zealand
See Ata Rangi wines we sell
Ata Rangi (which means “dawn sky” or “new beginning”) is today a flourishing vineyard owned and managed by Clive Paton, his wife Phyll, Clive’s sister Alison and winemaker Oliver Masters. ATA RANGI was a barren 5-hectare paddock when Clive Paton bought it in 1980. He was one of a handful of winemaking pioneers in Martinborough, then a forgotten rural settlement, who were attracted to the area by three key features - the localised, free-draining shingle terrace some 20 metres deep, the lowest rainfall records of anywhere in the North Island, and the proximity to the capital city of Wellington, just an hour away.
Clive, who'd farmed in the area, knew the land well. He chose mainly red varieties - Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah - and set out in pursuit of world class wines. Pinot Noir's potential shone from the start - the early wines were widely appreciated for their texture and for their pure fruit expression of the variety. The early days were tough with no income, no trees or shelter belts (the Wairarapa is renowned for its relentless, drying nor-westers) and little experience. Clive grew pumpkins and garlic between the rows, carting them to the markets in Wellington.
His faith in the area paid off. In 1995, and again in 1996 and 2001, Ata Rangi Pinot Noirs won the coveted Bouchard-Finlayson Trophy for Best Pinot Noir at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in London. This international recognition came after a decade of gold medal and trophy successes in Australasian wine competitions.
Ata Rangi and the family team have gradually expanded since those early beginnings. Clive's sister Alison, who'd been working in the wine trade in London, purchased 2 hectares adjoining the original block in 1982. A few years later, Clive was joined by Phyll Pattie, formerly a winemaker in Marlborough. Talented winemaker Oliver Masters came on board full time in 1994.
Ata Rangi now harvests fruit from around 85 acres, including Walnut Ridge vineyard. Of this total, 75% is either owned or is fully leased and managed by the company, allowing strict control of cropping levels and quality. The balance is from three contract growers (Max and Liz Stevens' Cambrae Vineyard, Ro and Lyle Griffiths' Lismore Vineyard - both a stone's throw away - and the Petrie family's block in East Taratahi, 20 minutes north of Martinborough.) Sites are all very similar; shallow silt-loam over deep, free-draining alluvial gravels and rainfall is very low at approx 700mm per annum.
Particular effort goes into achieving balanced vines, delivering consistently ripe, quality bunches. Hand leaf plucking over the summer ensures open canopies. Yields are very low, typically 1.5 to 2 T/acre (4 T/hectare). This is due to the usually cool, very windy spring weather which affects fruit set and also to the lean, stony soils which are low in vigour and fertility. All grapes are hand-picked. Vines are now 24 years old, a factor in the wines ascending quality, as is this hands-on emphasis in the vineyard.
For Pinot Noir, the main clones favoured and planted are Abel (aka the Ata Rangi clone) which, legend has it, was brought in illegally from France in the late 70's; the Dijon selections, mainly 667, 777, 114 and 115; Pomard, also known as Clone 5 and a smaller amount of 10/5. Most plants are on rootstock - typically 3309 or 101/14.
On-going vineyard monitoring and improvement means that unsuitable clones and/or damaged or ungrafted vines are replaced according to a planned programme with more appropriate, high quality vines. These vines take at least 4 years to come into viable production, and around six years to reach full production depending on the trellis system chosen.