On the Trail

New Zealand's DRC Origins

Ryan Woodhouse

Very few pinot noirs can rival Ata Rangi in quality, consistency or pedigree. The wines have been called the “highwater mark” for the varietal in New Zealand, and I've been hand-selling  them since I first started selling wine back in the UK. Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate has also long recognized their excellence, stating recently: “The pinots have always been great, and yet even in a world where the pinot benchmark gets higher every year, Ata Rangi is better than ever.” This acclaim was not won over night, however; Ata Rangi is one of the most established and storied producers in the country, but that respect has been earned over decades. Clive Patton, Ata Rangi’s owner and founder, planted the first vines on an old sheep paddock back in the early 1980’s, essentially pioneering the region of Martinborough. He had a vision; an understanding that this land was capable of producing majestic pinot noir, but beyond his prescience there's something uniquely special about Ata Rangi's vines themselves. It's a rather enthralling story, to say the least.

Much of Ata Rangi’s plantings are of a varietal clone known locally as the “Abel” or “Gumboot” clone. This specific clone of pinot noir was propagated from a single cutting taken from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti in Burgundy and smuggled into New Zealand in the mid-1970’s. The cutting was allegedly hidden inside a gumboot (rain boot) but discovered by a customs officer named Malcolm Abel. Mr. Abel, being a wine enthusiast himself, realized the significance of the cutting and took it (via quarantine) to the countries viticulture research center. He would eventually plant his own vineyard from the clone in Auckland. In 1982, Clive worked with Malcolm Abel on that very vineyard and took his own cuttings to establish Ata Rangi. Decades later the Abel Clone is also referred to as the Ata Rangi Clone, such is the importance of these early plantings to the nation’s viticultural narrative. That means that when you drink Ata Rangi pinot noir today, you're drinking a wine that can trace its roots back to the most heralded (and expensive) wines in the world.

What’s perhaps even more exciting is that we’re now working with Ata Rangi on a direct import basis. A legendary estate that is one of the icons of New Zealand is working directly with K&L. We’re currently prepping an email about the 2014 Ata Rangi pinot noir, a wine that has received absolutely rave reviews from the genre’s most established critics. The wine is pure, elegantly powerful, full of complex fruit, earth and spice; it is exactly why so many of us fall head-over-heels for pinot noir in the first place. Last year our allocation sold out in just a few days, so we loaded up the boat this time around. I have to believe that once our customers get a taste of this release and learn of the wine’s prestigious origins, we’ll be sold out once again.

-Ryan Woodhouse