The wines of Ata Rangi
Visiting one of the pioneers of New Zealand's Martinborough region


Ata Rangi is now one of New Zealands most celebrated wineries. But its beginnings, back in 1980, were actually quite humble.

Clive Paton (above) was 28 at the time, and he’d just had a mid-life crisis. He’d been farming a bit further down the valley from where he now is, but decided a change of scene was needed. So he headed into Wellington to buy a wine shop. This fell through, and he ended buying a 12 acre paddock on the edge of the village of Martinborough. He was going to make wine.

Clive’s choice was influenced by a map that had been produced a couple of years earlier by Dr Derek Milne. As a soil scientist, Milne had been commissioned by the New Zealand government to chart potential remaining vineyard areas that had not been planted, and Martinborough was one of them.

One of the original vineyard blocks

Clive came looking with three foolscap pages of this map and also correlations between the temperatures in Martinborough and those in Burgundy. ‘People thought I was mad,’ he said, ‘but I never contemplated failing.’ It wasn’t easy. He started with nothing, and was bringing up his five year old daughter on his own.

Martinborough was uncharted territory, but it had three things going for it. First, the free-draining gravel terraces; second, the lowest rainfall in North Island; and third, it was just an hour away from Wellington. ‘It was perfect for me,’ says Clive. ‘I wouldn’t want to be further away from a city.’ He gave the new venture a time period (10 years), but within 6 years he knew it would be a remarkable place, even taking into account the el niño years of 81, 82 and 83 that led to big winds and dry conditions, which set things back a couple of years.

Two years after Clive started, his sister Alison joined forces with him, buying a couple of adjoining hectares of land. She is now an equal partner in the winery, along with Clive and his wife Phyll Pattie (who joined the project in 1987).

Phyll and Clive

The estate now has 100 acres of vineyard, most of which are trellised using the Scott Henry method (with double canopies, one growing downwards), which were adopted in the early 80s when they realized the row spacing was too wide at 3 m (to suit tractors). Undervine weeding is the difficult issue here because of the downward growing canopy, and mechanical cultivation is tricky because of the stony soils. Clive says he is going towards organic viticulture, but the last hurdle is under these vines.

Clive makes the wines along with winemaker Helen Masters.


Ata Rangi Summer Rosé 2009
Lovely bright wine with gentle strawberry and cherry fruit. Nicely textured with real interest. 88/100

Ata Rangi Lismore Pinot Gris 2009
Beautfully textured with a combination of rich, grapey, spicy notes and fresh minerality. Nice freshness and focus, yet also depth of flavour. 92/100

Ata Rangi Sauvignon Blanc 2009
This crops quite low here, at 3–4 tons/hectare. Lovely combination of minerality, tropical fruit and lovely texture and length. Balanced, restrained and gently herbal. 91/100

Ata Rangi Craighall Chardonnay 2008
From own-rooted 17 year old Mendoza clone vines. Lovely intense, toasty nose with bold, rich complex fruit. The palate has vivid fruit expression: peach, pear, fig, along with a bit of oak. 93/100

Ata Rangi Crimson Pinot Noir 2008
Fresh, pure and elegant with aromatic red cherry fruit on the nose. The palate has real focus and purity. Fresh with bright cherry fruit and a touch of herbiness. Lovely wine. 91/100

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2008
From 17–30 year old vines of a range of clones, this is made for drinking in the 5–10 year bracket. Beautifully fresh and focused floral dark cherry fruit nose. The palate has a hint of meatiness and some nice spicy structure. Textured and complex but still has freshness: real potential for development. (This has been screwcapped since 2002.) 93/100

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2003
Some evolution on the nose, which shows herbs, cherries and a hint of cola character. The palate shows sweet bright fruit but also some undergrowth and earthy notes, as well as meatiness. Juicy, drinkable and nicely complex. 92/100

Ata Rangi Célèbre 2007
A blend of 40% Merlot, 30% Syrah and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, with a dash of Malbec. Wonderfully perfumed aromatics of blackcurrant, spice and a bit of gravel. The palate is rich but fresh with nice minerality and a gravelly edge. Focused and delicious with nice tannins. 93/100

See a short film of the visit:

Older notes, From 2007:

Ata Rangi 'Craighall' Chardonnay 2005 Martinborough
Quite focused. Very bold and fresh fruit with well integrated oak. It's concentrated, classy, bright, minerally and lemony with some spiciness. A sophisticated Chardonnay. 92/100 (RRP £21.95)

Ata Rangi 'Crimson' Pinot Noir 2005 Martinborough
Lovely fresh, focused cherry fruit nose with some earthy, spicy complexity. The palate has lovely expressive fruit with a bit of sweetness and a nice earthy edge. Brilliant balance here: it's nicely elegant. 92/100 (RRP £14.95)

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2005 Marlborough
Complex, elegant, meaty and spicy with dark cherry fruit on the nose. There's some earthy depth here. The palate is concentrated and classy with meaty, spicy complexity and some nice firm, refined tannic structure. A brilliant wine. 94/100 (£27.95)

Ata Rangi 'Célèbre' Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah 2004 Martinborough
The nose is minerally, gravelly and smooth, with some subtlety. The palate is expressive. Not big, but showing smooth, sweet fruit. Good complexity here: lovely balance is the key. 92/100

From November 2004:

Ata Rangi Craighall Chardonnay 2002 Martinborough
The top Chardonnay from a single vineyard of 2.8 hectares. Ripe intense fruit on the nose. The palate is showy with ripe, expressive herby, nutty fruit. Very intense with notes of caramel and figs. Fruit driven and intense with good acidity. Very good/excellent 90/100

Ata Rangi Célèbre 2001 Martinborough
A red wine that’s a blend of Syrah, Merlot and Cabernets. Deep coloured. There’s a bit of a herbal edge to the rich, intense blackcurrant fruit. Bold. Good acidity on the wonderfully fruity palate, with a blackcurrant essence character. Very tasty. Very good/excellent 90/00

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2001 Martinborough
This has a reputation as being consistently one of New Zealand’s best Pinots, and I can understand why. Perfumed, herb-tinged undergrowthy nose is varietally true. The midweight palate is quite complex with a distinctive herbal undergrowthy edge and some meatiness. Tasty and quite elegant. Very good/excellent 91/100 

See also:


Part 1,Martinborough Pinot Noir: a remarkable vertical tasting
Part 2, Dry River
Part 3, Ata Rangi
Part 4, Gladstone Vineyard
Part 5, Martinborough Vineyard
Part 6, Cambridge Road
Part 7, Escarpment
Part 8, Palliser Estate

Wines tasted 02/10, unless otherwise indicated  
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