Martinborough Pioneers Clive Patton, his wife Phyll, and his sister Alison, set up Ata Rangi back in 1980 on the edge of the township – one of only a handful at the time to plant there. This year marks their 40th vintage, a milestone worth celebrating for sure, but the truth is there’s a considerable list of achievements this dynamic Family Owned business should be celebrating!
Ata Rangi translates as ‘dawn sky’ or ‘new beginning’ – a beautiful sentiment for what the Patton’s hoped to achieve with their new venture at the time. Not only did they choose a relatively new region in which to produce their stunning wines, but more importantly they wanted to do it in a very different way. They were ahead of the curve…in fact, they were one of only a few wineries in NZ to start the curve!
The nineteen seventies and eighties were a time of intensive farming practises, with a heavy reliance on fertilizers to get maximum output from the land, without putting much back into it. Clive knew this all too well from his earlier days in Dairy Farming, and he was concerned with the legacy we would leave for future generations. He could visibly see the effects of this type of farming on our soil, waterways, our forests and birdlife, and like many he was increasingly concerned about the chemicals going into not only our land but our food and drink.
So, in 1980 he took the plunge, selling his small herd of Dairy Cows to buy a very stony five-hectare block on the edge of Martinborough town. It was a barren block previously used for sheep grazing, but Phil had been inspired by a recent soil study showing Martinborough as suitable for grape-growing. He had grown up playing rugby there, so knew all too well from untold scraped knees that nurturing young vines to flourish there would be hard work….but Phil had a knack for seeing things as they should be…not what they had been.
Clive was joined by sister Alison who bought an adjoining two-hectare block, he planted this in Pinot Noir while she was offshore learning the International Wine Trade in London. Clive married Phyll in 1987 having met her in Marlborough years earlier where she was working as a winemaker. This took their dynamic duo to a trio, with a single unwavering focus on sustainable wine growing.
Initially Phyll looked after white wine production and Clive red wines, until such time that the business required a unified and dedicated Winemaker who wasn’t also running the day-to-day stuff. Winemaker Helen Masters joined the team in 2003, a position she has held ever since. Both parties have enjoyed this fit, each finding their niche with Helen’s tenure. Just as vines get better with age, soils flourish with more nourishment, winemakers gain better understanding of all the elements with time, and the wines develop their own style and remain consistent because of these factors.
There have been numerous accolades over the years highlighting this synergy, but two in particular simply cannot go without mention. The first was the inaugural Tipuranga Teitei o Aotearoa award in 2010. This title translates as “Grand Cru or Great Growth of NZ”. It is an extremely prestigious award, unique to NZ that recognises excellence in Pinot Noir production, that can only be achieved with vine age, proven quality, authenticity, and undoubted global recognition. And the second tribute to their long-lasting partnership was Helen’s well deserved 2019 NZ Winemaker of the Year title from Gourmet Traveller Magazine.
Having Helen in the Winemaking hot seat also freed up Clive to focus on his conservation work, setting up Aorangi Conservation Trust. Together the trust has planted over 75,000 trees in the last 15 years – both native and ground durable eucalypts for future use as vineyard and farm posts. The ultimate aim of the Trust is to reintroduce threatened native bird species, while protecting the regenerating native forest. He also set up Project Crimson that has restored the iconic red-flowering Rata, with proceeds from their more youthful Pinot - aptly named Crimson, as well as recruiting private fundraising. Clive was recognised for his considerable contribution to NZ conservation and viticulture in the 2012 Queen’s Birthday Honours list, when he was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit.
And in between setting up Conservation Trusts and establishing their own successful business, they have also been instrumental in setting up a framework of guidelines and support to other wineries wishing to operate in a sustainable manner with the introduction of Sustainable Winegrowing NZ. And for those wineries who wish to go a step further and commit more to other conservation projects there is the Guardians Programme. Also a founding member of The Family of Twelve – NZ’s Wine Family made up of likeminded Family Owned Wineries focussed on Sustainability.
Having worked for decades to help establish a framework, Ata Rangi themselves achieved full Organic status in 2014, and is one of only a handful of ISO-14001 certified wineries in the world.
On a day to day level this means establishing a platform where bio-diversity governs everything, where weeds are dealt to by under-vine weeding tools and insects biologically. Large scale compost is made onsite from grape stalks, skins, pips and yeast lees. Biodiversity is enhanced by mixed native shelter-belts and inter-row wildflower planting.
It’s impossible not be impressed with what Ata Rangi have achieved in the last forty years. Not only have they put Martinborough and NZ on the World Wine Map, they have also contributed to our success in establishing NZ Pinot Noir specifically, they were instrumental in reshaping vineyard and winemaking practises to become more sustainable, they have shared this knowledge willingly with the rest of our Industry, and of course they have helped to conserve our indigenous forests and birdlife.
They are salt of our earth people, and have been exceptional ambassadors for New Zealand, with an unwavering belief in their role as caretakers of this land – leaving it in better shape than they found it.
If you’d like to support their vision and experience some of NZ’s most consistent quality wines - Buy Ata Rangi Wines online here.