Few people other than Masters of Wine students or proper wine geeks would find a chat about vine clones interesting. That is unless you were talking to Clive Paton, founder of Ata Rangi in New Zealand’s Martinborough region.
Whether you’ve heard it before or not, the recounting of ‘The Tale of the Gumboot Clone’ – and the creation of this iconic estate – never fails to amaze.
Paton was a dairy farmer until, age 28, he had ‘a mid-life crisis’, sold off the herd and bought an old 5ha sheep paddock on the edge of Martinborough. That was in 1980, when this region was not a wine region at all.
A couple of years earlier, Paton had read a scientific report that said Martinborough had potential for vinegrowing, with similar soils to Burgundy. So, with no grape-growing or winemaking experience, but the nouse of a farmer and knowledge of the land and climate, he decided to take a chance.
The author of that report, Derek Milne, was another chancer. He created Martinborough Vineyard with Stan Chifney while Neil McCallum started up Dry River. They and Paton are known as the four founders of this now-famous Pinot Noir region.
In 1982, to garner more winemaking experience Paton worked a vintage with Malcolm Abel who, in a previous life, was a customs officer at Auckland International Airport. As luck would have it, in the ’70s Abel stopped a potential smuggler trying to bring in a Pinot Noir vine cutting hidden inside a gumboot – a cutting allegedly from the famous Romanée-Conti vineyard.
The budding winemaker understood the significance of the find and sent the vine to the quarantine nursery, later buying it back and planting the first cuttings.
Paton found out about Abel’s plants and asked for 24 cuttings to try out in his own nascent vineyard, at a time when Pinot Noir was not a variety seen in New Zealand. Today the Gumboot, or Abel, Clone is at the heart of Ata Rangi Pinot Noir, producing Paton’s first vintage in 1985.
Paton recounted this story recently in London, when he and winemaker Helen Masters presented a ‘one-off, never-to-be-repeated’ 20-vintage vertical tasting of Martinborough Ata Rangi Pinot Noir from 1994 to 2013. For availability and prices, contact UK importer Liberty Wines.