Meet the maker: Bruce Dukes of Domaine Naturaliste
Published Tuesday, June 16, 2020 in Talking Local
How did a young man from WA end up making wine for the iconic Niebaum-Coppola winery in Napa Valley? Yes, that Coppola. Hollywood royalty. The movie-making family behind The Godfather, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Lost in Translation and so many other classics.
Bruce Dukes, owner and chief winemaker at Wilyabrup’s Domaine Naturaliste is affable and down to earth. For one thing, he doesn’t care for labels. “Owner, chief winemaker – I don’t care! To me it’s about making good wine that people will enjoy.”
He has a rich backstory however, so I ask him, how did he end up at one of the most famous wineries in Napa?
It started back when he was a boy obsessed with plants and science. While other children his age were playing with action figures, young Bruce was questioning how compost was made and how lemonade and ginger beer got bubbles. This fascination led to a degree in agricultural science from UWA and a burgeoning career as an agronomist – something that would come in handy later down the track as a winemaker with a focus on sustainability.
“It was during that degree I realised it was wine that would allow me to join all of my interests together. After a few years working in the industry – and loving it – I went to grad school in California at UC Davis,” he says.
UC Davis is one of the world’s finest schools for winemakers and a melting pot of students from all over the globe. After graduating, he went hunting for a job in the famous Napa Valley.
“It was 1993 during spring break, which was also vintage time, that I applied for a job with one of the great producers of the world, Niebaum-Coppola [now with the original name of Inglenook]. It was owned by Francis Ford Coppola, and it was a fantastic experience for a young winemaker – not just for wines, but also for the culture and the history of the area.”
For five years Bruce worked on site in a barn that was built in the 1860s, just a few yards from where the patriarch of the Coppola family worked his creative magic. There was a research library with a full-time librarian, impressive stone buildings built in the nineteenth century, and all with a strong cultural nod to the indigenous people of the region, the Wappo.
“It was a surreal experience for a lad from Western Australia. I really enjoyed the place and the vibe, and I loved the cultural aspects of it all,” he says fondly.
This sentiment stuck with Bruce when he returned to the Margaret River wine region, first to make wines at Pierro. He established his own consultancy, and has been the master of his own domain and self-employed for more than 20 years.
The opportunity for a vineyard of his own came while he was the chief winemaker for Knee Deep Wines, when owners Phil and Sue Childs decided to shut up shop. With in-depth knowledge of the mature vines on the 34-hectare property, he was well qualified to become the new owner and custodian. This became Domaine Naturaliste.
Today, his winery is well-known for its beautiful cabernet and chardonnay and only going from strength to strength, recently named Halliday’s Best Value Winery for 2020.
Bruce has a laser focus on understanding and respecting the characteristics of the grapes. He makes wine styles to highlight the personality of the grape, producing fragrant, balanced wine that suits the South West WA climate and coastal foods. (“You don’t force the geeky maths kid into being the athlete! I run with the strength of each personality.”)
Come down for a visit, Bruce says. And don’t be shy to have a chat and ask questions.
“Everyone starts their journey in wine somewhere. I’m just happy to meet anyone who has an interest. I’m deadly serious with my wines but you can make it whatever you want it to be. Wine is like any hobby. You can simply be someone who likes to sit back and enjoy a glass or you can take that love and knowledge to any level.”
“Wine isn’t just a beverage. There’s a whole culture around fine wine and fine food, and I don’t mean white tablecloths. It’s the chunk of local farmhouse cheese and a glass of wine. That’s the purity of experience I’m talking about.”
And here’s the exciting part, you can go in the draw to enjoy an exclusive Vine & Wine experience with Bruce.
Private Properties and Domaine Naturaliste have teamed up for an exclusive giveaway. Stay during August and September 2020, and go in the draw for a Margaret River winery experience to remember during your stay. One experience available per month.
“It’s a bespoke event hosted by me that you can’t book anywhere else at any other time. We’ll have three vintages each of my flagship Artus chardonnay and Morus cabernet, and we’ll match it with cheese and charcuterie,” Bruce explains.
“We’ll get boots on and have a walk through the vineyard. It’ll be an intimate experience and probably last a good couple of hours; it’ll be great fun. The tasting will be inside the cellar, but the cellar door is surrounded by bifold doors. You can literally go and pat the merlot vines from your chair.”
If you’re feeling a little shy or think a wine experience isn’t for you because you don’t know enough? Never fear, Bruce says.
“It’s my job to be obsessed with the fine details of wine, but for everyone else, you’re there to enjoy yourself.”
To enter the draw, book your holiday for August or September (one experience available when you stay in either of those months). Prizes will be drawn on 31 July and 31 August, and Private Properties will notify the winner by email.
Enjoy our beautiful South West. Browse our portfolio to find your perfect luxury holiday home in the Margaret River region.