Helen Masters – NZ Winemaker of the Year ‘Gourmet Traveller Wine'
Helen Master's announced as Gourmet Traveller Wine ‘NZ Winemaker of the Year 2019'. In the company of finalists' Dr Andrew Hedley of Framingham, Kevin Judd of Greywacke, Jen Parr of Valli, James Healy of Dog Point Vineyard, and Peter Cowley of Te Mata Estate – it is an incredible accolade. There is no better way to kick off our feature on the most remarkable and interesting people of our fascinating industry, than with a true legend in NZ winemaking. Helen has been the winemaker at Ata Rangi since 2003 and created world-class wines of excellence since day one. She is the face of Ata Rangi here and in 30 overseas markets. As one of our finest producers, Ata Rangi are a big contributor to our premium reputation internationally. Congratulations to Helen and the Ata Rangi team.
FWDCo: Congratulations! How does it feel to be NZ Winemaker of the Year?
Helen: Happy, humbled and grateful! It's not just the award itself, but the fact that my co-nominees are amazing industry people for whom I have tremendous admiration and respect.
FWDCo: What inspired you to become a winemaker?
Helen: Large family dinners as a child where wine was part of the meal and caused lively debate. Which was a much better alternative to fiery discussion on religion or politics…
FWDCo: How would you describe your approach to winemaking?
Helen: It's very much linked to the vineyard. From September onwards, that's where my thoughts are, gaining insight into what the season will deliver. What we'll make is set in a way by the bunch architecture and the climatic conditions experienced over the ripening period. Once the decision has been made to pick, I'm very careful not to overlay the fruit with any strong winemaking characteristics. To help encourage expression of regionality, we allow a wide range of yeasts from vineyard and winery to do the fermentation, with no inoculated yeasts, and in our white wines we employ a heavy amount of lees to bring more texture and length.
FWDCo: What do you rate as the greatest wine you've ever made (yes, choose your favourite child)?
Helen: I'm incredibly proud of the 2013 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir. To me, it encapsulates an excellent combination of Martinborough's characteristics and a great season. A wonderful array of aromatics from exotic to floral, with real tension and concentration to match.
FWDCo: Funniest moment winemaking?
Helen: There are so many moments around harvest, when we usually have a great bunch of people from overseas. Working long hours, humour is important to keep ourselves going. We once had an American intern who submerged his whole body in Pinot Noir leaves and ran around terrorising everyone as if he was in a B-grade horror movie.
FWDCo: Most memorable food and wine experience?
Helen: Truly too many to single out. One of the great aspects of this career is that winemakers get to travel the world and present our wines in amazing places, like Michelin-starred restaurants. I've be lucky enough to try our wines matched with such truly great food, that sometimes I've been left completely speechless.
FWDCo: What do you love to drink apart from Ata Rangi of course?
Helen: I like to drink a wide range of wines but most often it's Pinot Noir, red Burgundy and wines from Piedmont.
FWDCo: When you're not winemaking, what do you love to do?
Helen: Gardening's great. Being able to produce my own fruit and veges is deeply satisfying.
FWDCo: Your favourite holiday spot?
Helen: With the kids growing up, we've often spent time in Coromandel. However, sometimes the best holiday spot is at home, just being able to relax and enjoy our house, land and the Martinborough environs.
FWDCo: Top thing to do in Martinborough i.e. best kept secret for visitors?
Helen: Patuna Chasm. It's a real marker of the incredible geology of the ancient river valley here. At the narrow chasm part, you can walk through a deep limestone channel and see seashells embedded in the rockface hundreds of metres above sea level.
FWDCo:What's the next big thing in New Zealand wine?
Helen: Far be it for me to make a prediction! We're still very young at the game in winemaking in New Zealand. There's still so much to learn even with the current varieties we have planted. One thing's for sure, with so many talented and intrepid people in the industry, the future won't be boring.
Browse our selection of Ata Rangi wines online.