Diversity and Australian wine go hand in hand. Over 130 grape varieties are grown from Margaret River in the west to Granite Belt in the east. Every day winemaker Chris Thomas lives this diversity at Dowie Doole.
Walking through the McLaren Vale vineyards tasting fruit. Vermentino, Shiraz, Tempranillo and Chenin Blanc to name but a few. Crushing grapes and crafting delicious wine. Selling and promoting Dowie Doole wines across the world. Doing all the things to manage a vibrant Australian wine business. All this in 15 years since graduating with a winemaking degree. With people like Chris Thomas at the helm, Australian wine's future looks bright.
Over the hills and across to the Vale
Chris Thomas is South Australian born and bred, but he doesn't come from a local winemaking dynasty. He can't trace his heritage back to a Penfold, Henschke or Hardy. A passion for wine came from his parents. Many weekend’s included visits to cellar doors and wineries and he loved the family trips to the Adelaide Hills and Barossa, but his heart fell for one region - McLaren Vale. He knew from a young age that it would have a strong impact on his life.
At high school it's fair to say Chris was a bit of a geek. He loved maths and science and took the most difficult subjects. However, he also had a passion for performance. In drama class he could express a different side of himself and he enjoyed telling a compelling story, a skill that contributed to his future career in wine.
As high school drew to a close, he looked ahead to further studies. Engineering combined maths and science but an old friend had just finished a degree in Oenology. He raved and raved about it. It was fun, it was creative, it combined art and science in an unique way. Plus, the Australian wine industry was booming. A new journey in wine was beginning.
"I had a scientific background but enjoyed exploring my creative side... I thought winemaking would be an amazing job. I could keep my artistic side going in the creation of wine, whilst using my love for science!"
From maths and science to wine geek
Starting a degree can be daunting and few know what they want to do. For Chris Thomas the path was clear. He wanted to be a winemaker in McLaren Vale. At Adelaide University he learnt the story of countless regions and wine styles. He learnt the history and evolution of wine across the world. Nothing stole his heart or changed his focus. He wanted to make great wines. He wanted to share his love for McLaren Vale with the world.
On finishing his degree Chris headed to McLaren Vale. He scored a vintage placement at Serafino Wines and it became a vital step in shaping his future in wine. He loved working at Serafino and he met his first two wine mentors: one showed him the winemaking ropes, the other business.
McLaren Vale: History & (R)Evolution
Learning from the best in the business
Steve (Serafino) Maglieri is many things to many people. He helped shape modern McLaren Vale. He's an alternative varieties pioneer and he helped put McLaren Vale on the wine tourism map. He's a bastion of the local Italian community and he’s a Member of the Order of Australia (AM). An honour bestowed for outstanding achievement and service. Steve arrived in Australia from Italy in 1964 and within two years he'd planted the first vines that would grow to 350 acres. He built his own wine brand from start to finish. Steve schooled Chris in all aspects of wine, instilling the importance of hard work and ensuring he focused on quality and value from vine to glass.
The other mentor at Serafino was winemaker Scott Rawlinson. Scott had experience working for some of the biggest names in Australian wine. He'd travelled the world working on projects big and small. At the heart of his wine philosophy was authenticity. Respecting the process to best express the region's terroir and geology. One taste of Dowie Doole wines today reveals how Chris has taken this to heart.
Making important moves in McLaren Vale
For Chris a vintage job turned into a six-year dream start in the wine game. Chris' winemaking skills and business nous were getting noticed. Norm Doole, one of the founders of Dowie Doole, came calling. Norm and co-founder Drew Dowie realised they needed a succession plan. They wanted the winery to grow and wanted someone to protect and build on their legacy. So, in 2011 Chris Thomas joined Dowie Doole. A great McLaren Vale winery was about to go to another level.
Norm and Drew liked what they saw with Chris. He ticked all of the boxes they'd hoped for - he was a brilliant winemaker and a passionate advocate for McLaren Vale. Within a few years, they offered Chris part ownership of Dowie Doole. In 2015, Chris and a group of like-minded shareholders purchased the winery. You might have to pinch yourself. Chris graduated winemaking in 2003 and within twelve years he’d become Chief Winemaker and Managing Director.
No rest for the ambitious
Chris was the master of his own destiny. We've learnt enough to know Chris wasn't going to rest on his laurels. Every aspect of Dowie Doole has been built upon, which is important if you want your brand to be synonymous with the best of the best. In the last two years, Chris and his team have purchased 79 hectares of vineyard. They've moved into a new modern winery with an eye to the future. The wines are tasting better than ever and it’s the beginning of something special.
"McLaren Vale is such an amazing place to grow grapes. It has incredibly diverse geology, and a unique climate. Being so close to the ocean gives it a maritime influence. With so many soil types... it's an interesting place to make wine with such diverse terroirs."
Chester Osborn from d'Arenberg, Corrina Wright at Oliver's Taranga, Steve Pannell at SC Pannell. McLaren Vale isn't short of globally renowned advocates. It won't be long until another one will be added to that list. Chris is as passionate about winemaking and he travels the world promoting McLaren Vale and Dowie Doole wines.
South East Asia, China, Hong Kong, China, UK, Germany and on and on. A third of the year, Chris is out pounding the pavement, sharing his love for Australian wine. Chris's own words paint the picture...
"I feel a buzz for premium Australian wine. The reception has been fantastic! However... I feel we have plenty of room to increase knowledge on the premium nature of Australian wines. And how unique our terroirs are across all of Australia."
The future's bright in McLaren Vale
McLaren Vale is one of the hottest names in Australian wine. The region makes stunning Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. Over the past few years, however, the world has awoken to McLaren Vale Grenache. It's a variety Chris loves working with. He's converted 1965 plantings from machine-pruning to bush vine canopy. Terrible decision from an accountant's perspective, but for Chris it's the best way to grow Grenache in McLaren Vale. In the winery he treats the fruit with a soft hand and minimal oak. The quality of the wines? It proves Chris's assertion in spades.
Chris' passion for the region and for diversity means he is meticulous. Alternative varieties are planted precisely for the best possible fruit. Chenin Blanc grows best at a high elevation. The sandy soils of the elevated Blewitt Springs vineyard are perfect. Tempranillo and Vermentino work best closer to the ocean. The Tatachilla vineyard is a short stroll from the waves. These alternative varieties are finding a new home with outstanding terroirs.
Fifteen years into his wine career, Chris Thomas has achieved a heck of a lot. Award-winning winemaker. Wine business innovator. You get the feeling he's building something special in McLaren Vale. Something special but something sustainable. In the short term, Chris and the Dowie Doole team will focus in the vineyard. Converting to biodynamics is one of the steps underway. Steps that will continue to improve the quality of the fruit Chris works with. All at the same time as Chris travels the world, sharing his love for his region and wines.
We've all got a friend who tells us of the time they saw that star perform live. In the days before they were huge. In a dusty basement with a handful of hardcore fans. You get the feeling there’ll be people in the wine trade doing the same in a decade. They knew Chris and his wines long before he was a star. Had that now-legendary Grenache and Tempranillo blend that everyone still talks about. Had it at Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck back in the day. If you ever hear that Chris Thomas is in town then take our word for it. Run, don’t walk. You might get to taste the exciting future for Australian wine. Innovative. Diverse. Delicious.
Meet Chris Thomas from Dowie Doole at the Australia Trade Tasting in London on 22 January 2019. Chris will be pouring fourteen of his wines on Table 27 with UK importer Armit Wines. There will also be many other producers from McLaren Vale and other Australian regions at this annual tasting for UK trade.
For more details about the Australia Trade Tastings and to sign up to attend, please see here.