Ata Rangi - Martinborough, Wairarapa, New Zealand
Welcome to Martinborough's 'Grand Cru' Vineyard.
Next up in Martinborough came the well-known winery, Ata Rangi.
One of the region's founding vineyards, Ata Rangi's oldest plantings are now over 34 years old.
The Maori phrase 'Ata Rangi' means "dawn sky" or "new beginnings" and little did Clive Paton know, that his new beginning (swapping dairy farming for grape-growing) would also mean a new beginning for all of the tiny community of Martinborough.
Along with a handful of other producers, the Patons started a viticultural area that would soon be known as one of New Zealand's finest growers of Pinot Noir.
In fact at the International Pinot Noir event held in Wellington in 2010, Ata Rangi was awarded with "Tipuranga Teitei o Aotearoa" translated in English as "The Great Growth of New Zealand", in other words, a Grand Cru vineyard for New Zealand's Pinot Noir.
Ata Rangi's cellar door is a modest affair, a small building and car park located within the vineyard and brimming with down-home charm.
Before I could even leave my car I was already greeted by one of the vineyard dogs. This is one of my favourite things about vineyards, there are always plenty of friendly animals around.
Heading inside I was greeted by Gillie, a temporary import from the Pinot Noir vineyards of Oregon, USA.
A tasting here will run you about $5 and for that you will be guided through at least 6 world-class wines.
Sauvignon Blanc 2013:
If you have ever tried a Martinborough Sauv Blanc before, you will know they are very distinct from their Marlborough cousins.
Much more restrained than the Sauv's we are used to, this wine is full of green melon, lemon and guava, continuing from the nose across the palate.
A soft style for the year, this was achieved by fermenting 20% of the juice with indigenous yeasts in neutral oak barrels, with all wine remaining on lees for three months.
A complex style, it will certainly develop more with age and be more food friendly than your average New Zealand Sauv.
Lismore Pinot Gris 2013:
Hailing from the nearby Lismore vineyard, managed by friends of the Paton's, Ro and Lyle Griffiths, this Pinot Gris is a tightly wound ball of acidity that explodes as you pour it into the glass. Full to the brim with fresh apple and pear characters, this Pinot Gris still manages to have a soft, filling palate that is both well-textured and fine at the same time.
Well balanced at 8g/L of residual sugar, this is a wine meant to paired with delicate seafood and South-East Asian inspired meals.
Petrie Chardonnay 2012:
Here we come to an interesting style of Chardonnay. A different expression than I am used to, Petrie Chardonnay is not the bigger, bolder style that commands the palate, but rather a softer, easier-drinking style that would well suit those who have thought Chardonnay no longer for them.
Grown 20 minutes to the North, the Petrie vineyard is at a higher elevation, and is cooler due to this.
Full of fine minerality, and bursting with fresh pear and grapefruit characters, this Chardonay is without much oak influence across the palate (despite 8 months on less in french oak barriques and puncheons). If you have steered clear of oaked Chardonnays, please do yourself a favour and steer yourself towards a bottle of this and drink it young.
Craighall Chardonnay 2012:
If you were to pick a white wine that Ata Rangi is most known for, Craighall Chardonnay would be the one.
The fruit comes from the vineyard directly across from the home block, so the terrior is basically identical.
Craighall vineyard is wind-swept with stony soils and very little rainfall, making it the perfect place for the Mendoza clone of Chardonnay, developed high in the Argentine side of the Andes Mountains.
Known for being remarkably low-yielding, these 30 year old vines produce fruit with excellent concentration and balance.
The resulting wine has everything a young Chardonnay could ask for, elegance, body, minerality, grace and again the fine balance to bring all this together to create something truly special.
Young and soft at this age, this wine is meant to mature, so give yourself at least 5-8 years in the cellar, extending to 10-15 if you really want to see a Chardonnay shine.
'Crimson' Pinot Noir 2012:
This is an interesting example of Pinot Noir, that one could describe as lush, full of fresh crushed cherries and alluring ripe red berry aromas.
An early drinking style, fruit for this wine was sourced from vines that range between 12 and 22 years of age, mixing the maturity of those older vines with the life and fresh flavours of the younger plants.
This integration of flavours means that this wine shows well at this young age as well as allowing it age for up to 5 years.
The name Crimson was inspired by the work of a major NZ Charitable Conservation Trust known as "Project Crimson" which aims to protect and renew our spectacular red-flowering rata and pohutukawa - New Zealand's iconic native 'Christmas trees'.
Pinot Noir 2012:
A blind barrel tasting separates this Pinot from the 'Crimson', with the fruit from the original 30 year old home block vineyard tending to end up being used for this wine. This is due to their extra weight, complexity and fine tannin structure.
This wine spends 10 months in French oak with a combination of Pinot Noir clones being used. Most notably these are the Dijon clones (created by the University of Dijon in Burgundy) and the local 'Gumboot' clone which is also known as the 'Abel' clone.
Legend tells that this clone of Pinot Noir is descended from cuttings stolen in the mid 1970's by an unknown thief from the most famous producer in Burgundy, France : Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC).
This cutting was then smuggled inside a gumboot and ended up being intercepted by Auckland Airport customs officer Malcolm Abel, who sent the cutting to the state-run viticultural facility in Te Kauwhata.
Clive obtained the offspring of this cutting after working with Abel at his West Auckland vineyard during the early 80's.
Soft and supple, this wine displays notes of freshly-picked herbs and red-currents. A fine tannin structure and smooth mouthfeel have produced a style that will continue to develop over the next 5 years to be gamey, with subtle spice that will match well with duck meals.
A Bordeaux style blend in Martinborough is a thing of rare beauty.
This wine is a blend of 60% Merlot 30% Syrah and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon with the Merlot and Cabernet vines now being 30 years old.
This masterful blend, produces a wine that is spicy, dark and has a juicy mouthfeel that portrays a tight, young wine which will open up into pure, unadulterated brilliance when given the proper aging.
Approachable and should drink well after 4-5 years but give at least 8-12 years for this wine to show true majesty.