Bruce Dukes has packed a large amount of vine and wine knowledge into a 30-year career. The journey started with a degree in agriculture at the University of Western Australia (1985-90), next working as assistant winemaker at Margaret River’s Pierro (1991-93), interposed with time as assistant oenologist at University of California, Davis (1991 vintage) and assistant winemaker at the Niebaum-Coppola Winery (1994-98), where he was involved in the redevelopment of the famous Inglenook Vineyards.
After five years in California, Dukes was lured back to Margaret River to become winemaker and general manager at Pierro for three years. During this time he was actively involved in postgraduate work, a logical precursor to the building of Naturaliste Vintners, a custom crush winemaking facility (est. 2003) that seeks to go beyond the basic steps of vinification by bringing viticultural practices and styles into the equation.
I knew nothing of this background until Dukes’ name began to crop up in tasting Australia-wide releases for my annual Wine Companion. When he and his family added Domaine Naturaliste as the vehicle of their own separately branded wines from 2012, the pieces fell into place.
So much so, indeed, that Domaine Naturaliste is given the title of Best Value Winery in the 2020 Wine Companion. Chardonnay rules the roost, but cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc, sauvignon blanc semillon and syrah can (and do) upset the pattern from time to time. Dukes has an interesting take, partly derived from his time in California: while his primary aim is to allow wines to freely express their origin and varietal character, he also sees food matches as crucially important.
The final segment of a carefully planned – and executed – business was the acquisition in 2018 of a 35ha property with 21ha of vines planted 20 years ago. The world is his wine.
2018 Domaine Naturaliste Discovery Margaret River Chardonnay
Sourced from Wilyabrup and Carbunup. It is built on a deep-set core of natural acidity and the deliberate fermentation and maturation in 100% used French barriques. An elegant wine with perfect balance and length, the jasmine scents of the bouquet deliciously seductive. 13% alc, screwcap
95 points, drink to 2027, $24
2018 Domaine Naturaliste Floris Margaret River Chardonnay
All about complexity and texture, the richer fruit from the Wallcliffe district absorbing 10 months in French barriques (30% new, but low-medium toast). Fresh grapefruit also takes care of the oak of a carefully built wine. 13% alc, screwcap
96 points, drink to 2026, $30
2018 Domaine Naturaliste Artus Margaret River Chardonnay
The grapes come from Karridale in the distinctly cool, Southern Ocean-influenced, far south of Margaret River. Whole-bunch pressed, cloudy juice and wild ferment in 40% new French barriques, cultured mlf. White stone fruit flavours build richness and structure. 13% alc, screwcap
97 points, drink to 2030, $49