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Urlar with Carol Bunn

By March 9, 2016No Comments

Angus Thomson and Carol Bunn

Highly experienced winemaker Carol Bunn has joined Angus and Davina Thomson at the Urlar winery in Gladstone, taking over from Guy McMaster, who, after 9 years, has moved to Palliser Estate in Martinborough. Carol took on the role at the start of this year, after she and her twin sister, textile artist Susan, had decided to move from Arrowtown in Central Otago to the Wairarapa. Carol brings with her a wealth of knowledge and proven ability, especially in working with Pinot Noir, and this will add immensely to the strength of the region.

Graduating from Lincoln in 1995, Carol’s first wine job was actually at Dry River, in Martinborough. She then gained further experience in winemaking positions around New Zealand and overseas, before taking on the winemaking responsibility at Akarua, in Bannockburn, Central Otago in 2001. From there, she became the founding winemaker at the VinPro contract facility in Cromwell, in 2004, staying on until 2009. In 2010, Carol set up her own business, ‘Wine Artisan’ offering wine consultancy while allowing her to follow her other passion of cooking. Her latest consultancy position was from the 2015 vintage at Giesen, looking after the premium reds that came off the recently acquired, famous ‘Clayvin’ vineyard in Marlborough. Her career has seen considerable and notable successes with wines she has made winning numerous top awards at wine shows.

Angus Thomson with Pinot Noir berries

New Challenges
Urlar was established in 2004 by Angus and Davina Thomson, planting vines with organics in mind from the start. According to Angus, the plants and vineyard, though certified BioGro organic in 2010, are just now coming into balance and maturity. The Thomsons have been moving into biodynamics, seeing this as the next step up in respecting the environment and also in wine quality. There is much consideration at even canopy growth, this being encouraged by natural additions including seaweed, fish and micro-organisms. Earlier irrigation with different durations is being explored, to promote deeper root growth.

There are 31 ha of vines, with approximately 14 ha of Pinot Noir, accounting for around 40% of the production, 12 ha of Sauvignon Blanc resulting in 50% of the output, and the remaining 5 ha of Pinot Gris and Riesling making 10% of the 14,500 case annual production. The Pinot Noir clones are 5, 115, 114, 667, 777 and Abel, the latter Angus wishes there was more of. Angus is also considering adding Chardonnay to the vineyard.

Carol’s move to Urlar brings new challenges and the opportunity of extending her abilities and experience. Though well-versed in the techniques of organic viticulture, it is the full immersion of working the vineyard that will be new territory for Carol. Her new position will see her responsible, with Angus, for the making of the wines from the ground up, with the soil and the vines as the starting point. It will take a number of seasons and vintages to become properly familiar with the vineyard. Also new will be her integral and personal involvement with a family business. Both parties pleasingly report an immediate connection!

Carol joins a strong team, consisting of Bevan Lambess, vineyard manager at Urlar for 6 years, and relative newcomer Ben Crabtree, assistant winemaker, at Urlar for 8 months, but with experience in the district. The other important team member Karen Sims covers administration and logistics, backing up the sales and marketing work that Angus looks after. No doubt Carol will be having a role in the latter area as well as her viticultural and winemaking duties. www.urlar.co.nz

Carol Bunn with Pinot Noir bunch
Tasting the 2015 Wines
Since arriving at Urlar, Carol has picked up the wines from the 2015 vintage that were grown and vinified by Guy McMaster. She has now finalised the blending, so the wines are in essence the result of both Guy and herself. She and Angus acknowledge the base quality of the wines is due to the work carried out by Guy, but it could be said that the final balance and detail is from her input. Carol and Angus took me through a tasting of tank samples of four of the wines. They will be bottled in the near future. Here are my impressions.

Urlar ‘Select Parcels’ Gladstone Pinot Noir 2015 Tank Sample
Fully barrel-fermented with solids, 10 months in seasoned oak with batonnage. Interestingly, the strong thiol-passionfruit flavours have receded in Urlar’s Sauvignon Blancs, and Angus attributes this to the growing maturity of the vines. The ‘Select Parcels’ bottlings will increasingly be selected from vineyard, as well as at barrel stage. Light golden hues. Tightly bound green stonefruit and complexing minerally aromas, rather than overt fruit, subtle citrus notes unfold. Quite firm and taut on palate, youthfully austere, but with green stonefruit and minerals to the fore. Very subtle lees and flint nuances. This is based on textures and phenolic structure.

Urlar Gladstone Pinot Gris 2015 Tank Sample
14.0% alc., full barrel-ferment and lees work. This is the more complex style as instituted from the first vintage. Light golden-yellow colour. The nose is well-packed with yellow stonefruit aromas along with floral lift and layers of flint and minerals. Also quite bold on palate, full, firm and deep in flavour and structure. Savoury yellow stonefruits with richness countered by fine phenolig grip. All lifted and enlivened by subtle aromatic cut and lift. This looks particularly good and interesting.

‘Other Label’ Wairarapa Pinot Noir 2015 Tank Sample
Fruit not going into the Urlar label. Blended by Carol and it shows the detail and skill that is her trademark. This has 20% new oak, yet to be finished and bottled. Light purple-red with some depth. Fragrant, but firm nose of dark cherries and violet florals. Darker cherry and berry fruits with floral aromatics and dark herb nuances. Quite deep and up-front in expression. Concentration and firm tannins at present. Slight pith bitterness on the finish, with some slight dryness. This could be a bargain in the works.

Urlar Gladstone Pinot Noir 2015 Tank Sample
The final blend, as put together by Carol. Approx. 15% whole bunch and 20% new oak. There will not be a ‘Select Parcels’ wine this vintage. Light purple-red colour, youthful in appearance. Much more elegant and with greater finesse and detail than previous sample. Lovely dark cherry and violet florals, very typical of Wairarapa 2015 vintage samples I have seen. Rich, stylishly sweet fruit allied to beautiful perfumes. Nuances of herb and whole cluster interest. This has a very tightly bound core and the extraction is classy and refined. Long and elegant on the finish.

Carol Bunn – Drawing tank samples


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