By BARBARA GILLHAM
An interest in the environment and awareness of the importance of giving back to the soil has played an enormous part in the lives of Angus and Davina Thomson of Urlar Wines.
A fifth-generation farmer, Angus had grown wheat and barley on his 202ha property in Scotland for the whisky industry before moving to Wairarapa.
With his family history linked closely to the whisky industry, Angus and Davina's decision to establish a vineyard and produce wine was undoubtedly as surprising to family as their decision to move to New Zealand.
The couple, who had no previous wine experience, bought a 31ha property near Masterton and set about planting 94,000 vines on its ancient free-draining gravels, a task they completed in 2004.
During those early days they relied heavily on the experience and advice from others established in the wine industry, which was happily given.
With their interest in the environment, the Thomsons' decision to move into biodynamics and organics was a natural step.
The principles behind this method are about managing the vineyard as a balanced and sustainable farming unit. This includes recycling through composts and liquid manures and increasing plant biodiversity through planting inter-row crops.
The use of biodynamic practices has brought many changes to the vineyard.
A lot is done according to the rhythmic influences of the moon, sun, planets and stars and activities such as applying foliar feeds are timed with the ascending moon as the vine is believed to be more active during this period.
Racking the wine is timed with the descending moon, ensuring the wine is calm, and quality and flavours are retained.
The couple's small herd of Highland cows plays an important role in the vineyard, enriching the soil with manure which is used in a number of biodynamic preparations, including cowpat pits, compost piles and, perhaps most interesting, cow-horn manure (known as preparation 500).
Cow-horn manure is made by putting cow manure into a cow's horn and burying it through the winter months.