Expressing Regionality in Margaret River at Domaine Naturaliste
It is so easy to chat with Bruce, winemaker and owner of Domaine Naturaliste in Margaret River. I feel like I’ve known him a few years when I have only met him a handful of times but that’s his personality. He is care free, he laughs a lot plus he makes award winning wine, who cannot fail to like this guy?
I wasn’t able to meet with Bruce in person as he was travelling and wasn’t heading to Adelaide any time soon, so we caught up on the phone. I had first met Bruce at the Gourmet Escape in November 2013 on the day it was published in the paper that James Halliday had awarded Domaine Naturaliste’s first release, the 2012 Rebus Cabernet Sauvignon 98 points.
Since Domaine Naturaliste was set up in 2012, its wines and the winery has won numerous awards. Just last week they were awarded Best Value Winery in Australia at the 2020 Halliday Wine Companion Awards. Last year they opened their cellar door at the vineyard on Johnson Road in Willyabrup. Bruce explains that he set up the cellar door in order to communicate the Domaine Naturaliste story with the people who enjoy his wines. Bruce is a people person and loves spending time in the market place to understand the market better, meet customers, sales representatives and develop relationships.
I understand the cellar door is located in a spectacular spot surrounded by vines and along with a tasting bench, there is the option of cheese and charcuterie to complement the experience. Bruce’s wife Wendy works for the business in marketing, support and administration as well as helping Bruce host wine tastings.
The Domaine Naturaliste 35-hectare vineyard is situated in the northern precinct of Willyabrup in Margaret River. There are 21 hectares under vines with all about 20 years old. Bruce also sources fruit from a few other specific sites in Margaret River based on their terroir. Annually they produce about 13 000 cases and export to the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Singapore, Thailand and Holland.
I wanted to understand how his passion for wine started and how he keeps going in such a competitive environment.
Agronomy and Wine
Bruce grew up in City Beach loving the beaches and the water and was a very regular fisherman. He explains his pathway into wine which started with a degree in Agronomy began as a child with a fascination of plants and microbiology. During his childhood his hobby was also growing vegetables and making compost.
Bruce adds, ”In grade 5 at school, a couple of mates and I would hand juice sultana table grapes from my back yard, then put the juice in glass bottles on my desk at school. I would watch with amazement as the cloudy juice began to effervesce, and that just fascinated me; as it still does now. The study of agronomy was my next progression.”
At UWA Bruce was involved in a research project with the Department of Agriculture, which investigated how grapevine nutrition impacts wine quality. It was this that sparked an interest in wine. He soon discovered that many of the reference papers came from the University of California, Davis, from the laboratory of Professor Cornelius Ough, a world-renowned wine scientist so Bruce contacted him. He was soon on a plane to become a research scientist in his laboratory and then after he completed his degree, he went on to study at Master’s at the University of California in Viticulture and Oenology. He then spent four years at Francis Ford Coppola’s Niebaum-Coppola winery in California. He moved back to WA, working as a winemaker and General Manager at Pierro and making wine for different producers before setting up Domaine Naturaliste in 2012.
Establishing Domaine Naturaliste in 2012
After spending years making wine for other people at other wineries, Bruce wanted a base and a winery from where he could offer smaller producers the right infrastructure and equipment in a style they wanted. He wanted to focus on the fruit and skills of winemaking and a new home would allow him to do this.
For Bruce, setting up his consultancy and his winery has been a lifelong focus. He now has a mature business with high quality systems and people and he believes it is important to invest heavily in both. As he explains, best practice in business isn’t just winemaking. He has a point, it is also key to ensure insurance, compliance and the staff are on board.
Bruce feels lucky to work in a team of a team of about six and his very supportive wife Wendy.
Regionality in Margaret River
Bruce is focused on making wines that reflect the fruit from where they are sourced. He aims to understand the composition of the fruit and translate this to “meaningful styles of wines.” Describing a meaningful style, Bruce is looking for acid balance and a style that will exist for the long term because they are good and go well with food, not because they are quirky.
He goes on to highlight how he makes different styles of wines depending on where they sourced using the three different styles of Chardonnays as an example:
Domaine Naturaliste Discovery Chardonnay: “The fruit is from the northern part of Marg River where the fruit has a bolder and richer texture. As it is northern fruit, it has lower levels of acidity and therefore as a result, it will suit a style of no malolactic fermentation and minor contributions from oak.” Malolactic fermentation is where tart-tasting malic acid (think granny smith apples) which is present in grape must, is converted then to softer creamier lactic acid (think milk and butter).
Domaine Naturaliste Floris Chardonnay: “The fruit for this wine is sourced from the cooler south, in the centre of Margaret River. Due to its climate, it benefits from some time in oak; 1/3 new French oak with little malo to soften the wine. As Bruce explains, ”It has the right balance of acid without fiddling.”
Domaine Naturaliste Artus Chardonnay: “This is stylistically very different. Full malolactic fermentation was important to soften this fruit which comes from the coolest region. With its initially high acidity, after malolactic fermentation, the wine is still naturally balanced.”
Bruce’s favourite grape variety
Based in Margaret River perhaps it is no surprise that Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are Bruce’s favourite. He explains, “Chardonnay and Cabernet fascinate me because of its ability to reflect the personality of its site, and then to reradiate this personality for many years to come!”
With the big brands out there and the competitive industry, what keeps you going and your brand alive?
“Personality, wine quality and authenticity. In such a commoditized world, I think wine lovers really enjoy connecting with a grower and winemaker who is hands on. It’s my day job, my night job and weekend job! I have been part of the industry for 3 decades, and a person who invests in it in a human sense. For example, for the last 20 years, I have hosted at least one young international winemaker each year. It was three this vintage.”
How does Bruce spend his days off?
Bruce loves relaxing with friends and family and has just come back from renting a houseboat on the Loire River in France with all his family and with the Warrens; another winemaking family from Margaret River (Marq Wines).
Bruce adds, “I aspire to cook rustic dishes, typically open grilling using local hardwoods such as Mallee roots and grape vines.”
And a perfect weekend?
“A perfect weekend typically revolves around my oldest son, Oscar’s Australian Rules Football game, which is typically late afternoon. My wife, Wendy manages the under 16 team, and I am the score board operator, with my mate Mark Warren. After the game, we often go back to my house, light the fire pit and cook dinner, and sometimes even open a great bottle! Simple. Perfect.”
Towards the end of our chat, Bruce said, “Greatness is what you aspire to with refinement and time.” I have no doubt this will be true for Bruce and the team at Domaine Naturaliste if not already achieved.
Where to buy Domaine Naturaliste wines
As well as selling the wines at the cellar door, you can find the wines at independent retailers and in restaurants. Being available here suits Bruce’s style with the more personal connections. He goes on to explain, “I need my story communicated by passionate people who know me, such as the team from Swanny cellars. I have been in an out of that store for over 30 years! We sell in Australia, US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Singapore, Thailand and a hat full in Holland.”
The below range of Domaine Naturaliste wines will be open and on tasting at Swanny Cellars Friday 16th August from 4-7pm.
-Domaine Naturaliste Discovery Sauvignon Blanc Semillon
-Domaine Naturaliste Discovery Syrah
-Domaine Naturaliste Rebus Cabernet Sauvignon
-Domaine Naturaliste Artus Chardonnay
Drop in and meet more of the team!
Text written by Ruth Turnbull, Swanny Cellar’s Roaming Reporter.
About the Roaming Reporter:
Ruth Turnbull is the Roaming Reporter for Swanbourne Cellars. Having studied the WSET Advanced Certificate and WSET Diploma in Wines and Spirits, Ruth has worked in the wine trade in both London and Perth for over 15 years. While living in WA, Ruth was a regular Panel member on the Liquor Barons Panel and managed the digital marketing for Swanbourne Cellars. Now based in Adelaide, Ruth focuses on meeting the winemakers and the people behind the brand in order to highlight and share their story on the Swanbourne Cellars blog and social media channels.