Ata Rangi - 40 Years on The Land

Ata Rangi means ‘dawn sky’ or ‘new beginning’ in Māori, and this month marks 40 years since Clive Paton bought five hectares of bare, stony sheep paddock at the edge of Martinborough on which to plant vines. This bold move heralded a new dawn for Clive, his sister Alison and his wife Phyll Pattie, and, in doing so, he was one of a handful of people who pioneered grape growing in the area.

Ata Rangi’s first vineyard covered less than five hectares on deep, free-draining alluvial gravels, the original course of a local river which flows from the hills that flank the eastern side of the valley. Their oldest Pinot Noir vines, which include a clone allegedly smuggled from Burgundy, were planted in 1980. In 2010, the Ata Rangi Pinot Noir was given the title of ‘Tipuranga Teitei o Aotearoa’ (which translates from Maori as ‘Great Growth of New Zealand’ or ‘Grand Cru’), in recognition of their unique site and of the family’s commitment to evolving and developing New Zealand Pinot Noir. In January 2019, winemaker Helen Masters was awarded 2019 New Zealand Winemaker of the Year by Gourmet Traveller WINE magazine, a superb recognition of her 16 years’ work at Ata Rangi.

Alongside producing what is widely regarded as New Zealand’s top Pinot Noir, Ata Rangi is strongly committed to sustainability and conservation. This goes beyond their organically farmed vineyards, and is about broadening and strengthening their community.

In 2012, Clive was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his contribution to both viticulture and conservation in New Zealand. Clive’s replanting at the Ata Rangi Bush block goes from strength to strength, with more than 70,000 native and specimen trees being planted over the last 18 years. Ata Rangi continue to work with Project Crimson, and now with Trees that Count, to help with the planting of native trees in New Zealand. Their 'Crimson' Pinot Noir, named after Project Crimson, supports this work.

Winemaking is an energy-intensive business, especially during harvest. Harnessing solar energy gives Ata Rangi a way to help power both the winery and their local community. Nearly 140 solar panels on the roof of the cellar buildings and winery help them make the most of the Wairarapa’s high sunshine hours. Three years into using these, Ata Rangi is almost self-sufficient in their energy use during daylight hours.

Of course, the 2020 vintage will live long in the Ata Rangi team's memories: "As we look back over the last few months, we’re immensely proud of how [we] pulled together to complete our harvest during New Zealand’s COVID-19 lockdown. That shared sense of purpose already shows in the wines from 2020, a vintage that will always bring back strong memories. It was a great reminder that caring for our people, our land and our wine drives everything we do. 

"The weather conditions were perfect for harvest, enabling us to bring in the fruit beautifully clean - even though we only had a small team given COVID-19 restrictions. The wines are looking exceptional in barrel and in time will be a reminder that indeed there were some great things that came out of 2020!"

Hats off to the whole team at Ata Rangi. We can’t wait to see what the next 40 years will bring!