Coriole, McLaren Vale Mark Bates

Top Vineyards

Hugh and Molly Lloyd bought the Chaffeys Road vineyard that would become Coriole in 1967, producing the first estate wine in 1969, which was labelled ‘Claret’, though it was all shiraz from the 1919-planted vines on the property. Today, Coriole is run by Hugh and Molly’s son Mark Lloyd along with his sons, Duncan and Peter. Shiraz is still a mainstay, along with cabernet sauvignon, but those regional heroes are joined by climate-apt varieties like fiano and nero d’avola, while Coriole has been continuously growing and making sangiovese longer than anyone else in this country. The vineyard is managed by Mark Bates, who farms organically (not certified) with a strong focus on biodiversity and employs technology to target areas through precision agriculture.

While Bates says the oldest vines were formally acknowledged as having been planted in 1919, there is some anecdotal evidence that those vines may indeed be much older, potentially from 1875, or prior. The oldest buildings at Coriole, which have been lovingly preserved, date to the 1860s, and an 1875 article in the South Australian Register suggests that vines were present on the property at the time. Whatever the age, those venerable shiraz vines produce the estate’s flagship wine, the ‘Lloyd Reserve’.

The later plantings are better documented, with additions made in 1969, ’85 and 2001. Today the varietal mix reflects very much the history and the progress of the estate, with shiraz, cabernet and chenin blanc joined by nero d’avola, montepulciuano, fiano and sangiovese, and not as tokens, with those last two varieties being equally important as the heritage varieties.

“As a grape-grower, we have to always be thinking about how we are using the land to get the best for the next vintage, but also vintage 2050.”

Coriole is a pioneer of both sangiovese and fiano in this country. Fiano was imported by the CSIRO in 1978, but it took Coriole (along with Chalmers in the Murray Darling) to plant it meaningfully, making the first commercial Australian version in 2005 (again, along with Chalmers, who debuted it in the same year). Sangiovese, though, is perhaps the ‘alternative’ variety most linked to Coriole.

Sangiovese had already been planted in this country before Mark Lloyd committed a section of the home vineyard to it in 1985 after an inspirational trip to Italy. That could have become a footnote, but Lloyd pursued the variety with real fervour, becoming a significant pioneer of Italian grapes – and so-called alternative varieties – in this country. Today, sangiovese sits alongside shiraz as Coriole’s most important variety in an estate that is still firmly family run, with Duncan (winemaker) and Peter (general manager) joining their father, Mark, in the business.

“With the third generation of Lloyds now heavily involved in the business, there is the feeling of stewardship rather than ownership over the land for future generations,” says Bates. “Coriole will always be a winegrowing and winemaking business, but it is also a public place for people to come and enjoy wine, dining, food products and the natural scenery.”

For the Lloyds and Bates, that sense of continuity and improvement is pivotal. “As a grape-grower, we have to always be thinking about how we are using the land to get the best for the next vintage, but also vintage 2050,” says Bates. “We also need to think about the current other uses for the same land and link that back to any viticultural decisions.”

Precision agriculture plays an important part in the viticulture at Coriole, with satellite imagery employed to identify the needs of specific parts of the vineyard more accurately, which results in targeted applications of compost as well as irrigation. Water is sourced from a bore as well as the Willunga Basin recycling program, and use is also being further examined, with trunk swelling and contractions being measured to determine the stress status of the vines. Bates says that this is being matched with climate data to both save water and mitigate against the possibility of permanent vine damage caused by hydric stress.

Although not certified, Bates says that he farms organically. Herbicides were eschewed over a decade ago, with mechanical weeding employed, though that is less and less common. “We are now largely allowing the natural growth to do its thing,” he says. “By monitoring our vines closely, we have found we can manage any competition for water with the added benefits of increased soil life and natural water infiltration as well as building up organic carbon levels. We are currently expanding this philosophy by trialling diverse seed mixes as cover crops with a mix of flowering plants also for beneficial insects. Results are showing increased soil carbon levels and big smiles from the winemaking team.”

Coriole has always preserved areas of remnant native scrub, only ever intruding over the years to remove invasive species such as wild olives and boneseed. Recent land acquisitions have added another 4 hectares of both vineyard and scrub. “These native areas are important parts of the ecosystem in allowing refuge for native fauna,” says Bates. “There has also been a recent emphasis on establishing small pockets of diverse native plantings where space allows. Embankments, odd-shaped headlands and the odd vine row have all been targeted to ensure we are increasing our biodiversity wherever possible.”

Bates notes that they conduct trials every year to better understand their site, about how the vines react to different conditions and management techniques, and how that translates to the finished wines. But he emphasises that the local viticultural community is just as important. “Collaboration is a vital part of viticulture,” he says. “The more conversations we have with other vignerons about their experiences then the more we learn. It’s always great to head out on one of the McLaren Vale field days to see another vineyard with local vignerons all asking questions and comparing ideas. There is a great emphasis on high-quality, sustainable grape growing in McLaren Vale, and that requires engaged people on the ground sharing ideas.”

Coriole is a microcosm of McLaren Vale’s broad diversity of geology and soils that Bates counts himself lucky to work with, along with a raft of other vineyard variations. “There are south-east facing slopes through to full north facing,” he says. “There are contoured vineyards providing a 180-degree change in orientation along one row. There are shallow soils on impenetrable limestone and 100-plus-year-old vines with roots at over 3 metres deep. While these are all challenges, they can also be seen as opportunities – tools to influence the grapes grown and ultimately the wine style produced.”

Bates works closely with Duncan Lloyd and the winemaking team to produce fruit that fits a shift under Lloyd’s tenure for more elegant and vibrant styles. “Over recent years, we have been aiming for brighter fruit characters in shiraz,” says Bates. “We have achieved this with a better balance of canopy to fruit providing protection from sun and ultimately shrivel and sun-damaged berries. With healthier soils we have been able to promote even canopy growth across each block, which helps achieve our goals. Coriole is a fantastic site for shiraz, with wines of intensity, great savoury notes and long driving tannin. The trick now is finding the balance between brighter fruit but still with the tannin and depth of flavour to achieve premium wine styles.”

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