The following was written on “The Empty Glass Wine Blog” in March 2013:
The healthy buzz, which tends to accompany all trade fairs, seems to have little effect on the laid back composure of Urlar owner and Scotsman, Angus Thomson. Although this air of relaxation Thomson exhales around him is no doubt much easier maintained given the astounding quality of the offerings of his rather startlingly young vines brought with him to Wine New Zealand’s annual trade fair in Dublin this February.
Admirably Thomson even has the good humour to find amusement with the somewhat worrying frequency he is quizzed on the meaning of the winery’s name, ‘Urlar’, noting in a subsequent meeting that he “must have answered the question 500 times” (Actually as Thomson explains, Urlar means Earth in ancient Scottish Gaelic. And in the light of the Biodynamic approach and focus on sustainable agriculture that Thomson applies makes rather a lot of sense)
Thomson’s charm seems to have enticed more than just the punters of the New Zealand wine fair mind you, having managed to steal away assistant winemaker, Guy McMaster, from Martinborough winery Escarpment. Not only has he nabbed himself a winemaker from Martinborough, but he adds with a cheeky and playful tone that he is constantly “attempting to let them put Martinborough on their label, which they don’t seem to keen on at the moment”. One begins to think that Thomson’s repetitive inquisition as to the meaning of ‘Urlar’ may be some form of universal karma.
Outside of charm and winemaking talent, how are the cards stacked for husband and wife pair Angus and Davina? Set in Gladstone the guys seem to have hit upon some excellent terroirs and seem intent on keeping them that way. Beginning in 2007 they started to use Biodynamic processes, and in 2010, the Urlar vineyards were quite rightly certified as BIOGRO.
More importantly, does all this show through? Well, actually, yes, in rather an assertive style. Despite the youth of the vines these wines are all about a sense of place, they innately refuse to wear the whitewash, one size fits all, thin monotone fruit bomb attire many New Zealand wines have trademarked. There is massive credit due to the guys for not falling into this trap too; the fruity Kiwi Sauv-Pinot combo is undeniably (and rather more arguably unfortunately) a big and easy seller.
This terroirist style of winemaking in the new world is a substantial risk in many ways. First you need the right terroir, and that’s not easy to find. Secondly, it’s going very strongly against your traditional market. Yet, a bit of hard work and a few vintages in the Thomsons are reaping their rather rich rewards; distinct and elegant wines that demand attention. (Bearing in mind with some of the stock on Irish shelves at the moment coming from vines as young as 6 years old, the feat is no small one either). This is most definitely one to watch.