October 28, 2014
Ata Rangi: From Sheep Farm to Grand Cru
In 1980, Clive Paton sold his herd of cows and bought a stony sheep field on the North Island of New Zealand, with grapes on the brain. At that time, viticulture was hardly big business in the region, but Clive’s love of red wine inspired him to “have a go” at making it himself—mostly so he could have something that he liked to drink. At the time, Martinborough was an unlikely contender for next big wine region, with its gravel roads, two pubs, grocery store that doubled as a farm supplier, and fish and chip shop. But Clive had read a 1978 report that showed its climatic similarities to Burgundy, and he knew his hometown’s 25-meter-deep alluvial gravel terrace would be perfect for growing Pinot Noir. Soon he’d convinced his sister to buy 5 acres next door.
In the early days, their young vines struggled against the dry, windy climate. They sold pumpkins and garlic he’d planted in between rows to make ends meet, and relied on help from friends and family. In 1986, they won their first Gold Medal, and it was at this point that Clive’s wife decided to quit her job and join in the fun. Since then, they’ve established themselves as one of the most important producers in the region.
Pinot is at the center of the Ata Rangi production, and each vintage is a clear expression of their time and place. The 2009 vintage (limited in stock) was a nail biter, with a calm start, a heat spike, and then ultimately a long hang time on the vine. The wine is soft and velvety with notes of stone, rose petal, and sweet berry. It maintains a vibrant acidity and has a subtle approach. The 2011 vintage (in stock), on the other hand, was hot, and the wine is juicy, bright, and expressive. The mineral notes are deep, and dark plum and chocolate accent the palate.In addition to Pinot, Ata Rangi makes fine, food-friendly Sauvignon Blanc that exudes stone fruit with underlying herbal and flinty characteristics.
Ata Rangi means “dawn sky” or “new beginning,” and this project was just that for both the Patton family and the Martinborough region. As Martinborough continues to make a name internationally for its Pinot Noir, Ata Rangi is earning recognition for its central role in defining the region’s style. In 2010, it won the country’s “Tipuranga Teiteim o Aotearoa” award, translated from the Maori as the Grand Cru of New Zealand.