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Helen Masters talks pinot noir

Ata Rangi winemaker Helen Masters (Photo: Ata Rangi Wines)

Is there a pinot noir producer or region that has been your stylistic guiding light?

“There are a number of producers from all around the world that I have been impressed for very different reasons

Dom. Armand Rousseau – for power and consistency

Dom. Denis Bachelet – perfume and vibrancy

Bell Hill – for integrity in reflecting a site and making striking wines”

Best vintage for pinot noir in the last decade?

“2015”

And the worst?

“2005 – it started with spring frosts damaging the buds, then a windy cool spring causing very poor fruit set resulting in very low crops. Then rain around picking caused small berries to shrivel. The resulting wine is dark and broody but with less flow and elegance then I would like.”

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir has, justifiably in my view, a reputation for being very age worthy. That goes against the popular view that NZ pinot noir is best enjoyed young. Has age worthiness always been a character of your Pinot or has it increased over the years?

“Age worthiness has always been a character of Ata Rangi Pinot Noir. In 2015 we did a series of vertical tastings and to me the stand out was 1994. The maximum vine age was only about 14 years, but the wines had fantastic length and flow. I think this is contributed to the high proportion of the Abel pinot noir clone we have planted here.”

Does the iconic status of your pinot noir inhibit experimentation?

“Not at all, we are learning and developing alongside our friends and neighbours. Testing new ideas helps to redefine and think through current accepted practices. But I don’t want the ‘noise’ of the winemaker to overshadow character of the season, so experimentation with patience.”

Do you plan to make any refinements to your pinot noir style in the future?

“I am excited with what vine age is bringing, ripeness at lower brix, more stable pH, these factors will allow us to make more elegant but complex wines.”

Any plans to increase production of pinot noir?

“Our present production feels right. Pinot noir takes a lot of work in the vineyard and at the size we are now we can achieve a high level of detailed care.”

In 2010, Ata Rangi Pinot Noir, along with Felton Road Pinot Noir, was honoured with the inaugural Tipuranga Teitei o Aotearoa or ‘Grand Cru of New Zealand’. That’s a powerful endorsement. Did the award stimulate demand?

“I think it was powerful in that it was NZ honouring their own, it sort of marked a turning point in terms of the way producers thought about themselves. No longer just relying on endorsement from outside of NZ, but that collectively as producers we had a sense of what made New Zealand pinot noir compelling.”

Favourite vintage?

“The 2006 is drinking beautifully now, the 2015 vintage is exciting, one I watch with anticipation.”

Favourite food match?

“Summer is my favourite season for food. Anything cooked over an open fire, with a fresh salad is perfect. Somehow any wine works with this.”

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