Urlar is a certified organic winery in the Gladstone sub-region of Wairarapa on New Zealand’s north island.

Owner: Angus Thomson and his wife Davina. Their children are Rory, Safi and Hamish.

Background: Urlar is a Gaelic word that means “The Earth”. Founder-owners Angus and Davina Thomson hail from Scotland. Angus is a fifth generation farmer with a family history in distilling – both grandfathers were in the whisky business in Forres.

Staff: Winemaker and Viticulturist: Guy McMaster.

Vineyards: 2011 31 hectares (77 acres or 94,000 vines) in Gladstone, Wairarapa. All planted roughly from 2004. Main grapes are Sauvignon Blanc (13 hectares or 32 acres; mass selection, all on 101-14), Pinot Noir (14 hectares or 35 acres; clones are 5, 115, 667, 114, 777, and Abel), Pinot Gris (2 hectares or 4.9 acres; clone 2/15) and Riesling (2 hectares or 4.9 acres). Two cane VSP (double guyot cane pruning), leaving 24 buds per vine. Fruting wires at 1.00 metre. Vine density of 3,030 ha planted at 2.2 x 1.5 metres.

Soil: Tauherenikau which is a shallow siltloam. The soil initially was pH 5.8 but by 2011 had reached pH 6.4.

Cover crops: Cover crops are sown every other row with a low-growing fescue mix. Chicory, red and white clover, lucerne and vetch are sown in the other rows. Buckwheat, lupins and phacelia are sown every tenth row to attract beneficial insects like the Tasmanica wasp which predates the leaf roller caterpillar which can cause botrytis bunch rot.

Biodynamics: 2011 The owners make their own Horn manure 500 and Horn silica 501 which are then sprayed on the vineyard several times per year. Dynamizing is by hand in barrels and in a flow form mortar which holds about 600-750 litres of sprayable liquid. An ATV is used for soil sprays. Peter Proctor’s cow pat pit preparation 502-507 (CCP) is also sprayed. Seaweed liquid manure is applied with every sulfur spray and is also sprayed on the soil on its own and with CPP and horn manure ‘500’. About 30 tons of Biodynamic compost 502-507 is made a year from straw, crushed grapes, grape stalks and tree lucerne when available. Manure comes from the estate’s own herd of highland cows.

Plant-based sprays: Plant-based sprays are made from seaweed, broom, ragwort, and willow as teas, and scotch thistle as a liquid manure which provide key trace elements. Weed control is performed with an under vine weeder. The cost is pretty much the same or slightly cheaper [than weedkilling] depending on the season. Before starting to make their Biodynamic preparations Urlar sourced them from the Biodynamic Association in New Zealand.

Certification: 2010 First vintage with full organic certification (BioGro 4962/1).

Production: 2008 4,000 cases (debut vintage). | 2009 5,500 cases. | 2010 7,500 cases. | 2011 12,500 cases. Aim to get to 18,000 cases. 

White wines

Pinot Gris, Urlar, Gladstone: 2009 Urlar Pinot Gris, Gladstone 2/15 is the clone. 100% barrel fermented in old French oak. Full MLF. Bone dry. 14% alcohol. 350 cases. NZ$28 cellar door in March 2011. Sold in the UK by Enotria to retail at £13. Winemaker Guy McMaster says “this wine is very popular in Australian restaurants. As we want a dry, food-friendly style we do a lot of work on the lees to fatten out the texture on the mid-palate, and make this wine like a lighter style of Chardonnay. Lees stirring can be quite oxidative however and as every vintage is different we have no set formula regarding how long or how vigorously we stir the lees. When we feel the canned pear flavours Pinot Gris has start to become reduced by the lees stirring we stop. With that textural richness on the mid-palate allied to this grape’s inherent acidity the wine handles heavy dishes like pork belly and roast duck as well as more delicate fusion dishes invovling scallops or crayfish.”

Red wines

Pinot Noir, Urlar, Gladstone: 2009 Hand picked at around 24.0-24.5 Brix. 50% wild ferment and 50% inoculated with Laffort’s RB2 which the French manufacturer describes as “yeast for fruity, elegant red wines, expressing the Pinot Noir varietal aroma.” Hand plunged. 10 months in oak, 25% new French. 14.5% alcohol. 2,200 cases. Winemaker Guy McMaster says “I want wine with a low pH, in the range of 3.45-3.6 so that the wine can age. Flavours are at the dark end of the fruit flavour spectrum, so plum, bramble and black cherry plus cedar and mocha, rather than the brighter red cherry spectrum.” UK £15 retail (via wholesaler Enotria). NZ$35 cellar door in April 2011.

Pinot Noir Select Parcels, Urlar, Gladstone2009 50% whole bunch. 30% new oak. Hand plunged. Good season. Cool spring. Warm November. Quick flowering. Warm but not hot run up to picking Nice fluidity, then a bit sticky but not flat (tasted on the first evening of the Organic Wine Conference, Blenheim 08th July 2015).

Riesling, Urlar, Gladstone: 2008 Urlar Riesling, Gladstone 13.0% alcohol. Geisenheim clone. Tank fermented. No MLF. 7g/l residual sugar. Nice chamomile tea or light honey colour with lime and zest flavours evolving into bright honey, acacia and gasoline at the winery Wed 30th March 2011. 400 cases. NZ$22 cellar door in 2011. | 2013 Urlar Riesling Hand. WBP. Steel. Cool ferment at 13-14ºC. 10% in old oak. 7,000 bottles. 7g/l RS. 12%. No MLF. Nice Riesling. Quite earthy, honey, nice spritz, subtle at end (tasted on the first evening of the Organic Wine Conference, Blenheim 08th July 2015.

Riesling, Noble Riesling, Urlar, Gladstone2009 Urlar Noble Riesling, Gladstone 13% alcohol. 114 g/l residual sugar. The 2008 [dry] Riesling had been selling so slowly that Urlar was thinking of not picking its Riesling in 2009. However the 2008 Riesling started flying out of the door after several good write-ups in the New Zealand wine press (from Peter Saunders, Michael Cooper, Raymond Chan) and by the time the decision was made to pick the Riesling noble rot had taken hold. Fermentation was stopped “when the unfermented sugar and the acid lined up” says Guy McMaster. “We wanted to make a dessert wine that had the freshness to clean your palate rather than with so much sugar it coated it. 800 litres produced. Sold in half bottles. Not sold in the UK. Germany was the biggest customer via a distributor near Munich called Wine in Motion (they also sell wines from Felton Road, Pegasus Bay, Highfield). Honey, apricot, lemon orange peel flavours, like English marmelade (Visit 30th March 2011).

Sauvignon Blanc, Urlar, Gladstone: 2010 Urlar Sauvignon Blanc, Gladstone Machine picked. 90% fermented in stainless steel. 10% barrel fermented with partial MLF and with only brief subsequent ageing in oak. Bottled within 6 months of crush. 2g/l residual sugar. 14% alcohol. 4,500 cases. NZ$22.50 cellar door in April 2011. £11 UK retail [wholesaled by Enotria]. Winemaker Guy McMaster told me (Visit 30th March 2011)  that ‘‘we get lower yields here than in Marlborough, around 8-10 tonnes per hectare. This means we tend to get riper-tasting fruit showing the tropical flavours more usually associated with Hawke’s Bay. With ripe fruit it is easier for us to move away from those herbal capsicum flavours, or the greener gooseberry and passionfruit aromas. The barrel component gives richness and weight on the mid-palate and lees stirring means we can get a savoury, food-friendly wine.”

Sauvignon Blanc Select Parcel, Urlar, Gladstone: 2013 Hand picked. WBP. 100% MLF. Aged in old barrels. 3,500 bottles.Very very good, like a twisty Chardonnay, light to mid-weight and buttery (Organic Wine Conference, Blenheim 08th July 2015).


Urlar Vineyard Ltd

99 East Taratahi Road, RD7

Masterton 5887

New Zealand

Tel+64 (0)6.370.1935 | Website: www.urlar.co.nz