We are huge fans of Dune wines. Honest wines with attitude, intensity, balance; all with fruit from their own healthy vineyards. The Lloyd brothers have been converting their vineyard to organic to restore soil health. They see it as the way of the future but are honest about their concerns. It’s refreshing to have vignerons that are frank and honest about how they make their wines – just one more reason why we support Dune.
What was your motivation to start the Dune brand and where does the name come from?
Our family bought the vineyard around 12 years ago and hastily set about bringing it up to scratch. Around 2014 I stared to see some real potential in the fruit and the wines produced but stylistically the wines were different than those produced off our other vineyards. (i.e. softer tannin, more fragrant, medium bodied). I got excited and decided to get a project off the ground. It came apparent that southern Mediterranean varieties were performing very well on this site, so we planted more.
The name, well I originally wanted to call it SUNE but someone said I should I call it DUNE and it kinda stuck! Also a subtle reference to the fact that the soils of the region are predominantly deep sands on clay.
What was it like to grow up surrounded by vineyards and how has that influenced the Dune brand?
It was great! we of course didn’t know any different, it was certainly a free and exciting childhood. Like any other kid growing up around agriculture you inherently get to understand the seasons and the crucial role they play.
It also became apparent pretty early on that finding the right varieties for the region is key if you want to produce good wines and an easier time in the vineyard.
Dune is currently converting to organics, why have you chosen to go down this path?
When the vineyard was purchased it was run as a ‘conventional’ grape growing property with the key priorities being maximising the amount of fruit produced and from those varieties that suit the market (but not necessarily the region). Large amounts of water were used, herbicide strip for weed management as well as synthetic fertilisers. As a result, the land was dead, you may as well have been growing hydroponically. The focus became about restoring soil health, building organic matter into the soil and doing away with synthetic fertiliser and herbicide.
I do also have concerns around organics….i.e In some cases a product produced under an organic system could have quadruple the amount of fossil fuel burned to manage so it is important to look at the whole picture.
When are you planning to have certification?
Not sure- it has been a negotiation to enable us to have all our vineyards certified under the same licence. (other wise it would’ve cost far too much) We seem to have reached an agreement now and can proceed.
The other hold up has been that we have one family vineyard in another part of Mclaren Vale that is plated on a steep hillside, our weed management approach has required some significant investment in machinery and understanding but we’re pretty much there now.
Can you describe some of the organic practices you implement?
Weed management is now via a dodge plough that essentially weeds in between each vine thus reducing competition for water. Organic matter and compost is worked into the soil rather than delivering synthetic fertiliser via fertigation.
Disease pressure is vastly reduced by planting suitable varieties such as nero d’avola, mourvedre, grenache blanc and the unsuitable varieties were removed.
What are Dune’s signature style characteristics?
Bright aromatics, fine tannin, medium bodied, unique wines that show a mix of bright fruit but also savoury characters. We also feel that wine should have a certain degree of refreshment and great structural definition so tannin management is important.
Would you describe Dune winemaking as NOT minimal intervention? What do you mean by this?
The term minimal intervention drives me nuts. It has no legal definition and as such is meaningless. Consumers tend to gravitate towards such terms as it makes them feel better about their purchase but often they have simply been misled.
We intervene a lot both in the vineyard and the winery, our goal is to make the best wine possible. But we do believe that by making decisions early (i.e. before the grapes are even on the vine) we can get a better result by doing less later.
Our PYLA vineyard is planted to six different late ripening Mediterranean varieties that we pick together and co-ferment.
It may also sound simple but by planting the right varieties for the region and employing good viticultural management you shouldn’t need to add anything to the process.
But consumers should also be aware that just because a wine is marketed as organic it doesn’t mean it hasn’t been made with added yeasts, added acid, high sulphur, added tannin, copper , etc etc etc
Your wines are made with little sulphur, some without, is it challenging to make wine this way?
We have absolutely no issues with sulphur in winemaking and strongly promote its use. The amount of people that believe they are allergic to sulphur is just bizarre as it simply isn’t the case.
The reason we experiment with some lower and no sulphur wines is purely sensory. i.e. we sometimes find ourselves less enthusiastic about a barrel of wine once it has been sulphured (i.e. in the initial stages sulphur can bind up flavour and aromatics. On the inverse sulphur is generally present in most of the wines I enjoy)
Our no sulphur wine is now a very deliberate approach that starts at pruning time. We understand that to make a no sulphur wine all sorts of issues can come your way , mousi taint, brettanyomces, oxidisation, aldehyde etc etc . to have the best chance of success we believe you need fruit in great balance. So we restrict yields in the vineyard. In wines made with no sulphur you want a low pH as this is antimicrobial . we ferment on skins and transfer to clean ( i.e recently steamed barrels) and keep the barrels fully topped. They are safe until malolactic fermentation has finished ( as small amounts of co2 are produced) after which we keep the barrels well topped with some co2 to try to keep things fresh. After 6 months or so the wines are filtered into bottle.
You grew up the McLaren Vale region, why is it suited to organic viticulture?
It’s a classic Mediterranean environment with cool, wet winters and warm dry winters.
With the right varieties selection disease pressure is generally low, threats such as powdery mildew which are common be controlled with organic sulphur. The issue is if we have wet weather at harvest. botrytis can become harder to manage under an organic system but everyyear there are more and effective organic products coming onto the market( shame they have to cost so much more!)
What major changes do you see for the organic wine category over the next few years?
It is my feeling that it will simply be expected in years to come so you may as well jump on board now. to be honest the added level of bureaucracy, record keeping and extra bills to pay is a real turn off and has been the main reason for not coming on board earlier.
Dune feature in this months General Choice pack