Ata Rangi, meaning "dawn sky" or "new beginning" is a small New Zealand winery with an enviable international reputation for PInot Noir. Located at the southern end of the North Island, it is owned and managed by a family trio - Clive Paton, wife Phyll and Clive's sister Ali. Clive planted the first vines on a small, stony sheep paddock at the edge of the Martinborough village in 1980 as one of a handful of people who pioneered winegrowing in the area. Ata Rangi Pinot Noir is undoubtedly the flagship wine, and in 2010 was honoured with the inauguralTipuranga Teitei o Aotearoa or "Grand Cru of New Zealand". With a skilled team in place, including dynamic winemaker Helen Masters, Clive now has more time to focus on his commitment to conservation and to the Ata Rangi alliance with Project Crimson.
Phyll recalls: Ata Rangi was a small, stony sheep paddock when Clive bought it with a wad of cash from the sale of his herd of cows back in 1980. His farming mates thought he was mad; grapes were unheard of in the region. But Clive knew what he was in for. "I'd regularly skin my knees playing rugby there, so I knew exactly how stony the ground was." He'd developed a passion for red wine but couldn't afford 'the good stuff' so, in classic Kiwi-style, thought he'd have a go himself. Ali, Clive's sister, shared his vision and soon bought 5 acres next door before heading off shore to study and work in the London wine trade.
Martinborough was pretty basic in those days - gravel roads, two pubs, a grocery/farm-supply store, service station and a fish-n-chip shop. Clive's resolve was strengthened by a 1978 scientific report which showed Martinborough had a microclimate similar to that of Burgundy. It also had the driest and windiest climate in the North Island, was fringed to the north-east by a 25 metre deep, free-draining alluvial gravel terrace, and was only an hour from the lively capital city of Wellington.
The early days were tough. With no trees for shelter, young vines struggled against the howling nor-westers. Clive relied on the sale of pumpkins and garlic that he'd grown between the rows, and on family and friends who pitched in to help. He was also a solo Dad, raising young daughter Ness. Local farmer and mate of Clive's, John Stephen, put up cash to form an early partnership, keeping Ata Rangi afloat until the vines came into production. They also enlisted 100 'barrel share' investors, each of whom stumped up $50 (in a primitive en-primeur scheme) to fund the first barrels. By the time I ran into Clive in 1986 he'd just won his first Gold Medal, no small thanks to the legendary 'gumboot clone' of Pinot Noir. "Trust me" he said back then"Within ten years we'll be able to walk into the village and choose which cafe we'd like to go to." Though not entirely convinced, I threw in my Marlborough wine-making job and, in a leap of faith, bought John's share and moved north to join the family.
More than three decades later - backed by a string of awards and accolades - Ata Rangi is well established in 25 international markets and has an enviable reputation as one of the New World's most respected Pinot Noir producers. And Clive was right... Martinborough has transformed from a rural backwater to a laid-back, charmingly rustic wine village with a cluster of cafes, restaurants, quirky boutiques and a day-spa; a popular destination for wine-and-food lovers from all over the world, and a great escape from bustling city life.