Ata Rangi 2013 Barrel Samples: let's get geeky on NZ Pinot

Ata Rangi 2013 Barrel Samples

Another thread on the board Consistently NZ's best pinot noir ... ? - WINE TALK - WineBerserkers has been discussing the development and consistence of NZ Pinot Noir producers and terroirs. The notes from a tasting of barrel samples below seem a good rejoinder to that discussion as they give, what was for us, an insight into the wines of one of the top Pinot producers in New Zealand, Ata Rangi

Ata Rangi ‘s winemaker Helen Masters has joined many of our formal and informal gatherings to taste and drink wines with some of the Wellington regulars who on this occasion were joined by Brodie. On a previous evening she had kindly offered a tasting première outside of the winery: 7 barrel samples of 2013 Pinot Noir right before Helen and her team start the blending. None of the barrels had been racked.

2013 produced a long and stable growing seasons with just about perfect conditions. The industry is heralding this as a great vintage 2013 'a vintage to remember' say New Zealand winemakers - Decanter with healthy crops in the whole country. This was also the case in Martinborough where growing pinot can be quite a challenge.

Martinborough is a very small vine growing area (See map here: Ultimate New Zealand Wine Guide: History, Types, and More - with especially challenging conditions. While Martinborough is much further North than Central Otago (about 600kms) and therefore closer to the equator, it has cooler growing conditions and grapes are picked much later.

Howard posted some comments on the climate and geology of Martinborough which provide a quick introduction

The 7 samples we tasted are representative of the blend of Ata Rangi’s Pinot Noir, with different plots, clones, terroirs and vine ages. All of the vineyards are located within or very close to the village of Martinborough see maps:, Ultimate New Zealand Wine Guide: History, Types, and More - The wines were served blind and discussed before Helen revealed them. While Helen did not tell it to us at the time, all the samples were for the top Ata Rangi Pinot Noir except for sample 4 which will be released on its own for the 2013 vintage.

Ata Rangi releases 2 different pinot noirs every year: a wine called Crimson (10 to 20 year old vines) and made for early drinking; and Ata Rangi Pinot Noir, the flagship wine. Ata Rangi has released a single vineyard cuvée wine in 2006 and 2008 ( and this will be the case for the 2013 vintage.

All technical details were provided by Helen. Each sample has a name the origins of which might reflect parcel origins or something else.

Sample 1
Freshly crushed and bright red berry fruit; cherries, raspberry, some plums. Good detail and layering. Some subtle secondary unami and savoury touch. Rich sweet fruit on palate; forward and mouth-coating. Fruit-infused mid palate. More acids than tannins which give the wine brightness and preserves elegance.

“Hiro and Kusuda”
Dimattina vineyard, all Dijon clones- 19-year old vines (some of the first Dijon clones in NZ)
• 30% whole bunch
• 17 days total ferment time
• Brix 23.4
• organically grown

Sample 2
More subdued than sample 1 as this one shows some reduction and some leesy/barrel character. Fruit is also in the red spectrum (raspberry and cherries). Floral lift and a slight confectionary character.
On entry, there is a bit of spritz and then rich sweet fruit. This sample has more earthy and savoury character than the first one (the complexing influence of its slight reductive character?) but it also has bright acidity and tannins.

Cambrae vineyard; Dijon clones: 115, 667, 114. 20 year-old vines.
• 25% whole bunch
• 6-day preferment
• 17 days total ferment
• Brix: 23.9
Sample 3
Deeper colour than previous and more profound aromas. Darker fruit spectrum with wood and brambly spices.
Again a bit of spritz on entry. Darker fruit on palate with more tannins and spices. Rich and imposing wine with a mid palate that is quite broad and coating. Plenty of acidity and focus. More clay in this vineyard seems to explain the extra weight.

Serioulsy nuts vineyard; clay between gravel. Dijon clones: 115, 667, 777; 12 year-old vineyard.
• 26% whole bunch
• 8-day preferment maceration
• 20 days of total ferment
• Brix: 23.5

Sample 4
Some reductive/barrel character. Bright red fruit and some spices. More feral character with pronounced acidity and savoury notes. Fresh and lively palate. Rich acids and tannins. Dominated by structure and especially acidity at this point. Vine age might the explanation for the vibrancy and forwardness of this wine.

“McCrone “
McCrone vineyard, 11 years old; 40% Abel clone, 40% Dijon (115 and 777); 20% clone 5. The vineyard has more clay between the gravels.
• 25% whole bunch
• 3-day preferment maceration
• 18 days total tank time
• Brix 23.5

Will go in a separate release (as did the 06 and 08).

Sample 5
More subdued. Darker fruit: black cherries and stonefruit (plum). Layered and rich with elegance.
More tannic structure again. Good freshness and structure. Old vine feel.
Longer extraction time and tannins make this a big wine.

“Aidrie and Huck”
Blend of Ata Rangi home block vineyard and the adjacent Champ Ali. All clone 5 (Pommard); 25-25 year old vines.
• 18% whole bunch
• 8-day preferment maceration
• 22 days in total tank time
• Brix 23.2

Sample 6
Dark fruit and savoury/earthy character. Very Martinborough. Richness and structure on palate. Savoury, spices, brambly fruit on palate Complex and old vine character with sappiness and concentration.

“Berry Fish”
Claddagh vineyard; 18 year-old vines. Mix of Abel ( and 10/5 clones. Dry farmed.
• No whole bunch
• 13 days total tank time
• Brix: 23.4
• Little extraction

Sample 7
This has the focus and concentration of small berry fruit; it’s rich and layered. Red and dark fruit, some cassis.
Velvety palate: lots of structure. Big wine; layered and saturated. Mid palate and back palate have tannic grip. This needs integration but this a distinctly appealing wine.

“Sir Ed”
32 year-old Abel Clone vines.
• No whole bunch
• 8-day preferment maceration
• 26 days of total tank time
• Brix: 23.8

After the discussion of the samples we also tasted the following:

Blend of 6 samples (samples 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7)
Helen performed a blending of the 6 samples which represent something close to what the final blend of the Ata Rangi wine will be.
Expressive and layered. Florality, and vibrancy, with complex characters. Good concentration and focus. Rich and expressive fruit with good acidity and tannins. A wine with power and with balance.

We also tasted out of bottle two wines from the 2012 vintage.

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2012
Much cooler vintage, picked one month later than 2013. Sappy vinocity in a restrained fruit expression. Good structure and balance. Will develop more quickly than the 2013 and will show savory character earlier. Some of the cooler Ata Rangi vintages (such as 2004 and 2007, Howard notes) have produced what can be called Burgundian wines and this could be the case here.

William Grace 2012 Martinborough Pinot Noir
The first vintage of Mark St Clair’s small production Pinot Noir (Paul Mason from Martinborough vineyard is the winemaker). The vines are 3-years old: organic and not irrigated; 115 and Abel clones. 12.5% alcohol.
Light touch, fresh red fruit with balance and restraint. Good pinocity framed by subtle touches of wood. In this cooler vintage, the wine shows balance and typicity.

Some conclusions

The samples revealed very different expressions of pinot and Martinborough terroir. We were all looking for the characteristics we associate with this sub-region (savoury, restrained and structured wines) and while we found them in different parts, it seems that the clonal assemblage has much to do with this expectation. The Abel clone (and Pommard to an extent) remains a key ingredient to Martinborough as expressed by Ata Rangi, but clearly the Dijon clones are providing the florality and detailed structure which renders the wines especially appealing. The Abel clone has an interesting story:

While some of the samples showed evidence a pungent and reduced characters (in a complexing but not a faulty way), it seems that Helen uses this as an ingredient for the blend. The blended sample certainly did not show any reductive character but it was the most complex wine.

The blending Helen performed produced the typicity we expect of Martinborough and the complexity which made that “sample” the most satisfying. As NZ Pinot continues to progress, it will be interesting to see what happens to the development of single vineyard wines as opposed to blends of vineyards. Ata Rangi’s strategy seems to focus on a high quality estate wine which achieves complexity and interest every year but certainly reflects vintage (the contrast between 2012 and 2013 is a good example). Considering how much there is still to discover about Pinot and New Zealand, the focus on estate wine (and if you’ve looked at the map you’ll understand that these are vineyards a stonethrow away from each other) has distinct merits. It is also worth mentioning that Ata Rangi’s price structure has remained reasonable and that they are resisting the marketing which equates high prestige wines with charging the highest prices.

Old(er) vine character was evident in samples 5, 6 and 7 with their extra sappiness and focus. The Abel Clone samples were also the ones which had been less extracted in the winemaking process (no whole bunch; no preferment maceration) but they were certainly big and complex wines.

As to vintage 2013, we thought the wines had richness and complexity but no hints of over-ripeness and surmaturité. As mentioned above, 2013 was a climatically outstanding vintage, and on the evidence of this, Ata Rangi seems to have managed things well to avoid clumsy wines. Quite the contrary, these should be excellent wines.

The geek factor of this sample tasting was of course stratospheric. We felt that we understood Ata Rangi’s wines better from that experience.

Thanks to Helen for bringing these samples from the other side of the Rimutaka Hills.

Thanks for these brilliant notes Thierry - this was a fascinating tasting and a great educational experience from Ata Rangi’s talented wine maker. The final blend seemed better than any of the components, which supports the case for blending when everyone else is going down the individual vineyard pathway.

Thierry, nicely put together summary.

Thanks very much to Helen for putting this on, absolutely fascinating.

I’ve been following and buying Ata Rangi’s PNs for 20 years. However, I was completely thrown when Helen took out sample 4 (the McCrone) and blended ALL the other six samples to produce a blend that was unmistakeably AR signature, in a way that none of the individual samples was. The six samples where so different - from red fruit to black fruit spectrum for example, as Thierry describes - the sum seemed so much greater than the parts. I had expected the AR to be from a smaller subset of the samples with some of the more red fruited samples going say into the Crimson.

The now blended 2013 seemed very much in the crowd pleasing style of successful vintages like 2006 or 2008.

Looking back at my notes, I kicked myself for not picking the sample 4 as the McCrone. The sample was very comparable to the 2008 McCrone I had a month or so before.

And then, as Thierry says, the AR PN 2012 in bottle was a fascinating contrast. Presumably from a similar parcel, showed Ata Rangi absolutely respecting vintage, in a year with more variable weather than 2013. As Thierry says, I could see parallels here with AR PNs 2004 and 2007. As a Burgundy drinker I like those atypical, leaner vintages. It will be interesting to taste those two vintages side-by-side in future years, to see how they develop and compare. I would expect them to retain their vintage characteristics and not converge.

Finally, as Andrew says, the tasting raises the question of whether it is better to blend or pursue single vineyard in this terroir. For Ata Rangi, having tried these samples, I have to agree with the approach they have taken.

What an interesting tasting. Many thanks here for these detailed notes.

Thanks Andrew, Howard and Don.

Other producers are moving towards single vineyards or have been there for quite a while: Felton Road, Mount Difficulty, Rippon… The McCrone vineyard obviously has its own release for AR but not on a yearly basis. In some cases, blending can really mean using wines from different sub-regions (Bannockburn; Lowburn Gibbston…). At AR, and considering how small the Martinboroguh area is, it’s fruit from within a very small area.
I am not sure if others have as broad a clonal range as AR, but from recollection, FR and Rippon do have quite a range of clones.
Seeing Helen’s technical notes, the levels of extractions do vary quite considerably. I found that especially interesting.

Hi Thierry,

thanks for posting the detailed notes. I agree the comparison of the barrel samples to the final blend for the 2013 was very illuminating and certainly supports Ata Rangi’s decision to create a blend for their premier pinot. The final blend was so much better than the elements.

I thought Helen’s comments about clonal variations was very interesting. Some of the barrel samples reflected different clones rather than different soils or terroirs. As such it may well be premature for NZ pinot makers to be getting too serious about single vineyard wines. From this perspective, NZ pinot makers need to (a) determine which clones as best suited to their sites and (b) wait until the vines are mature. Only then will NZ be able to produce true single vineyard pinots which reflect and communicate the differences in climat and soil.

I know this journey has started but I sense it will take quite a long time before this results will become clear. Patience will be required for us Kiwi’s who hope for great things from NZ pinots.

Cheers Brodie

Thanks for the notes Thierry.
I never realised that AR had so many plots and had vines so old…for NZ.
McCrone, do AR regard this plot as their best and if, so is it the clones or the soil or is there a particular micro climate here that make this site special?
Really looking forward to some fantastic wines from our 2013 vintage, from all around New Zealand, we had such a fantastic summer, even here in Auckland we had no… or extremely little rain in Jannary, February or March…

Cheers, Thierry, fascinating report -
I think Martinborough is my favourite source of NZ PN.
I like many of the wines very much. I used to buy occasionally (Ata Rangi, Porter, Martinborough Vineyards, Escarpment, Dry River the few times I actually came across it). Trouble is, most are quite expensive even in NZ, and, by the time they reach Europe, they play in a very tough league pricewise…

Wayne, as I understand it the McCrone vineyard is named for the McCrone family who have some ownership interest in it, even though it is within the Ata Rangi portfolio and management. That is why it is bottled separately, I don’t think it is regarded as a reserve label.

Yes, the 2013 AR PN in bottle should be special. And it is a good vintage across NZ. I was lucky enough to be shown the 2013 Stonyridge Larose, a leading Bordeaux blend, in barrel by Martin Pickering when I visited. Truly spectacular.

Tvrtko, I imagine this NZ wine, produced in internationally tiny quantities, is expensive in overseas markets. In NZ AR PN is well priced on a QPR basis IMO. The price has not been increased in the last 5 years and is half the price of some estates’ top labels that have much less of a track record.


Indeed, I understand that. My comment was general, not a criticism of Ata Rangi’s pricing as such, which, I agree, remains a relative value compared to some others - as well as a better wine than most of its “competitors”, at least from where I stand. BTW, what are they typically selling for in NZ these days? (When I was last there, I could still find it in the 50-60 NZD range, if memory serves - )

Tvrtko, yes point taken. I can pick AR PN up for NZ$65-70 (about US$56 or EU41), I don’t see it discounted however.

Cheers, Howard

Howard, so are you a buyer of the 2013Stonyridge Larose at $125 a bottle (up 25% over 2012)? I find the price increase to be a bit over the and unnecessary.


Brodie, is that the EP price? Are you on the Stonyridge list?

I’m not because I would not want to commit to buying most vintages (or whatever the commitment is). I don’t know but am guessing that they think 2013 is excellent and so they are justifying the price increase that way? Even at that price I might ask a friend on the list to get me a couple of bottles as a one off because I rate the vintage. And of course the retail price is totally insane.

Best, Howard

Thanks for the notes guys, would love to attend a tasting like this.

Ata Rangi is definitely among my favorite NZ producers. Sounds like the 2013 is one to look out for.

For the stateside folks, this Pinot is a screaming deal here - you can find it as low as US$40.

I think it’s an interesting discussion on the single vineyard vs. blended approach. I must admit i lean towards a Single Vineyard rather than blended approach, but i’m not sure i can articulate well. Obviously this has been the Burgundian practice for a very very long time and therefore has influence. I guess i’m intrigued by the site expression taking this approach, and the comparison it allows. One other thought, I wonder if a blend will show better when it is young as it combines and balances various elemnts. With age, I wonder if the SVs will stand out more. I certainly think clones are a big factor and why i favor huge clonal diversity at each site.

Ata Rangi should consider maybe bottling a barrel or two of each of the SV wines that contribute to the blend (a little like Rockford’s SVS). This would also be a good way to reward loyal direct buyers too. They should also consider an Old Vines (or Mature Vines) bottling.

How is the 2010 vintage of Ata Rangi? (The only bottle I have)
Advice on when to best enjoy it?

Well, but the Burgundian practice is to make single vineyards only for the vineyards that deserve it.
I think that Jeremy Seysses in the interview with Levi Dalton said that when you make wines out of a Grand Cru you realize that they give complete wines, that don’t need to be complemented by (or, worse, corrected with) anything.
So, I guess that even following the Burgundian paradigm one has to say: it depends.

Absolutely fair point. I guess the question to the Ata Rangi team and folks who tried the wines would be, did any of the individual lots feel like they deserved to be bottled on their own?

I’ve never had the 2010, but in my experience they typically start drinking well quite early on.
The oldest I’ve had was the '00 at nearly 12 in 2012 (I think '00 was considered a very good Ata Rangi vintage): still very good, but I think I liked it a tad better when it was younger.
(I should probably refrain from making all these pronouncements: I’ve been entirely out of the NZ loop for a couple of years now, and I have the impression that there is just so much going on there all the time).

One interesting aspect of the tasting is that Helen was presenting these samples to a bunch of burgophiles, and of course Helen herself is a burgophile and a great taster.
Again, the vineyards which constitute the blend are very close to each other. This is not a blend of vineyards of different sub-regions or from vineyards with significantly different terroir. As the notes suggest, there are in some cases more clay than in other places but the topsoil is shallow and alluvial subsoil is close to the surface. When talking to Helen, it is also clear that the blending is not an exercise in “correcting” the wine. I seem to remember that Helen stated that all the components went into the wine and that vintage expression is a key aspect of the wine. And any vertical tasting of AR will show that vintage variation is very much the norm.
I am personally agnostic about but interested by the move toward single vineyard PN in NZ. I certainly see this as one of the key characteristics of Burgundy and understand that this could be an objective for local producers but I do not think it should be an end in itself. There are some good examples here already (escarpment comes to mind but obviously FR, Rippon and Mount Difficulty are very much doing this). However, we should be realistic enough to see this as a marketing exercise too and a search of recognition according to the rules of Burgundy. But none of the PN vineyards in NZ are more 30-35 years old. There has to be room for experimentation if all directions: single vineyards yes, but also the approach that AR is taking.

Clayton, for similar reasons to you I lean SV. I definitely preferred samples like 5, 6 and 7 to the earlier, more red fruited ones. It’s interesting that the four of us who were there and have posted here thought that the sum was greater than the aggregation of the parts (I think that would also be the view of those who don’t post on WBs).

I cannot dismiss that a blend might be more appealing early but that over time the terroir of a good SV might come through better …

And of course there is a practical element here, some of these individual plots or parcels may be too small for commercial production as SVs, but I don’t know the details …

Your experiments sound interesting. Helen will have thought about these things and does follow this board so it will be interesting to discuss these topics with her, once her busy harvest period has passed …

Gilberto, re the 2010, I have not had this since (from memory) 2012 when it was very primary, powerful and tannic. I’m guessing it has probably opened up a bit since then then but, if it were me, I’d wait 2+ years. I’m presently drinking my 2004s and 2005s.

Cheers, Howard