The Gladstone Vineyard approach to grapegrowing in French terms is ‘lutte raisonnée’ or ‘reasoned struggle’ where the minimum use and dosages of chemicals possible are used. Here, it is called ‘biological viticulture’, Kyle employing the system and range of organic liquid biological cultures created by ‘BioAg’ over the last four years. The move away from conventional growing with high chemical inputs towards sustainability and environmentally friendly system was nerve-wracking for Kyle especially, worried about pest, disease and weed control, but the improvement in vine balance quickly became clear. Soil life and biodiversity are the aims of Gladstone Vineyard, with the total growing management coming into harmony, and it now includes organic and biodynamic practices. Kyle is in a working group with Pete Wilkins (ex Martinborough Vineyard, and now at Alana Estate) and Clive Paton of Ata Rangi who are all very pleased with the advances made with the biological viticulture method to date.
As with many of the producers in the greater Wairarapa region Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc are the principle varieties, these comprising 70% of the plantings. This is followed by Pinot Gris, Bordeaux varieties, Viognier and Riesling. The Gladstone Vineyard range is backed by the ‘12,000 Miles’ wines, the popularity of which are taking an increasing proportion of the 160 tonne annual crush.
Karl Johner and his son Patrick also have a family winery and operation in Germany, which has provided a fascinating synergy. The New Zealand wines must be an intriguing comparison with the German styles, but more importantly, the Dakins Road business is actually a complementary arm to the Johner enterprise. While Karl devotes much of his time to the Wairarapa winery and Patrick is more overseas, Steven Bates, now with the company 7 years, is left in charge of the day-to-day New Zealand side of things. Steven’s expertise is in the vineyard and management, but he also participates in the winemaking with Karl and itinerant Swiss winemaker Raphael over vintage. All of the production and bottling is done on site, with equipment imported from Germany. 60% of the 150-200 tonne annual production is exported, with Germany obviously a major destination for the wines.
The professionalism with which Borthwick Vineyard is run can be instantly gauged upon seeing the winery. It is an impressive and nearly imposing building with a pleasing wooden presentation, a large footprint and high ceilings. Built in 2004, it clearly has the potential to handle a great deal more than it currently processes, and the air is filled with the aromas of expensive oak. The layout is such that a cellar door is ready to be implemented if necessary, indicating the thought and planning gone into the site and construction. Behind the winery is the 20 ha vineyard, established in 1996. The vines are planted on an expansive and beautiful escarpment that flows down to the Ruamahanga river. 75% of the plantings are split evenly between Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc, the rest again evenly among Pinot Gris, Riesling and Chardonnay.
Braden Crosby is Paddy Borthwick’s winemaker, arriving in 2005. His role and abilities have stood Borthwick in good stead as the growing export markets are demanding more of Paddy’s time. Braden has Lisa Hodson tending the vines, and the vineyard performs extremely well, with archetype fruit being delivered for winemaking. There’s no desire to go down the more extreme and risky path of organics and biodynamics, and in the winemaking side, there’s no need to make wines that are cutting-edge or on the edge. It’s all part of getting the basics right, but the basics here are at a very high standard.
Angus Thomson, from a Scottish farming heritage, had visited New Zealand a number of times before settling with his wife Davina in the Wairarapa. With relatives in the district (Paddy Borthwick is a cousin), he had an affinity with the Gladstone district which Davina quickly shared. They fell in love with the site which now has their house overlooking their vineyard, and are totally committed to living in and working with the land, making wine that is truly representative of their location and region. They’ve brought a slice of the homeland with them, their family home full of the dark and sturdy furniture that is so typically Scottish, their hardy and resilient approach to growing, and respect for their environment. Representing their heritage, the label, Urlar, is Gaelic for ‘The Earth’.
The Urlar vineyard covers 32 ha, all a contiguous block, and is the first on Dakins Road, the address technically being East Taratahi Road. The winery is modern in design and its clean, simple lines are striking and inviting. At present, visits are by appointment, but the Thomsons plan a cellar door complex which will take in the attractive lake with panoramic views of the vines. 45% of the 32 ha are devoted to Pinot Noir, with 40% to Sauvignon Blanc, these two varieties the mainstays of the region. This is followed by approximately equal plantings of Riesling and Pinot Gris. The vineyard is managed by organic and biodynamic principles, and is certified BioGro organic.
Winemaker is the ever-smiling Guy McMaster, who along with the Thomsons, is dedicated to Gladstone and the Wairarapa, and is also passionate about having the wine reflect the terroir of the site. The style of the Urlar wines is one of richness and amplitude, a result of the slightly heavier soils away from the Ruamahanga river’s edge. This attribute has been present from the start and seems consistent, with vintage variation having only a moderate influence.
So it was with real pleasure to be asked to review the latest releases, the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling, and 2010 Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir to see the continuing work. Click here to read my reviews of these wines. www.urlar.co.nz