Sam Dunlevy’s Berg Herring is a McLaren Vale label focused on the future, with a deep investigation into heat-tolerant Mediterranean varieties that are thriving in the warming climate, and a style built around earlier picking and minimal intervention to fashion fruit-forward wines that are pitched for wine drinkers – Dunlevy included – who are increasingly embracing bright styles made for earlier consumption.
While Dunlevy is focused on the potential future star Vale varieties, with fiano, nero d’avola, vermentino and touriga key drivers – and saperavi and barbera featuring in a blend – he’s not ignoring the incumbents, with a straight shiraz, grenache and shiraz blend, and a grenache rosé also in the Berg Herring stable. “I don’t stick to any rules in the making of my wines,” he says, “I try to be as minimal as possible with intervention and additions, making wines they are fruit forward and balanced, technically sound but have enough interest to give some personality.
“I am trying to make the best wine possible and work with what is in front of me to achieve this. Hand-picking at lower Baume with good acid alleviates the need for heavy handed treatment; 100 per cent whole bunch fermentation is also an important part of my reds, but I always press off stalks before the alcohol passes 10 per cent, otherwise bunchiness dominates the fruit.”
“I have a focus on emerging varieties in McLaren Vale. There are no preconceived ideas about how alternative wines should look in Australia, so they are an opportunity to make wines in a fruit-forward style, geared toward early consumption. Wines I love to drink. They are also the future, the varieties that we will see coming to the fore as climate change makes for harsher growing conditions. Vermentino, fiano, nero d’avola and touriga are proving to be bulletproof in the warm dry climate.”
Sam Dunlevy started on the wine path young, with his parents planting a vineyard on the farm he grew up on, in Willunga. He was 12 at the time, with it having significant enough influence to see him embark on his winemaking degree at the tender age of 17. He graduated from The University of Adelaide in 2003, then embarked on a seven-year practical apprenticeship at home and around the globe, with stints in New Zealand, Canada and multiple vintages in Spain, as well as at McLaren Vale stars, Kangarilla Road, Gemtree and Wirra Wirra.
In 2011, he took on a winemaking role with McLaren Vale’s Fuse Wine Services, with duties split between commercial winemaking and managing a 150-tonne winery focused on small batches. During his time there, Dunlevy developed a deep interest in alternative varieties and an experimental approach, which led him to pursue his own brand in 2017.
“In 2015, my partner Chloe and I bought a property in the laid-back town of Sellicks Beach, which included an old church that was built in 1862,” says Dunlevy. “This was the start of the Berg journey for us, from there getting the brand and label up and running and then converting the church into a cellar door.”
While working on the cellar door and brand, Dunlevy took a role with Belvidere Winery in Langhorne Creek, which is a significant contract winemaking affair, with the storage capacity of 20 million litres at any one time. That day job couldn’t be further from the Berg Herring ethos, though, with a few tonnes of fruit kicking off the first vintage in 2018. The label grew to 20 tonnes in 2020, which is still a microscopic speck in the Langhorne Creek winery where Dunlevy makes all the wines.
2020 was also the year that the pair swung open the church doors to the public, on Boxing Day, no less. “Sellicks Beach has a general store and a pub…not much else. The majority of our visitors are locals, pumped that a new venue has appeared. We had no idea of the wine loving community that was here until we opened the doors, it has been a pleasant surprise, and Chloe has just resigned to run Berg fulltime. The vision is to sell Berg exclusively through cellar door. To sell enough for us to be comfortably employed by Berg with time to enjoy life outside wine also.”
Unlike so many, that cellar door is not surrounded by a vineyard, rather taking in the views of the beach, with Dunlevy sourcing fruit from across the Vale, and from a slew of recently arrived varieties that are making a significant impression. “I have a focus on emerging varieties in McLaren Vale. There are no preconceived ideas about how alternative wines should look in Australia, so they are an opportunity to make wines in a fruit-forward style, geared toward early consumption. Wines I love to drink. They are also the future, the varieties that we will see coming to the fore as climate change makes for harsher growing conditions. Vermentino, fiano, nero d’avola and touriga are proving to be bulletproof in the warm dry climate.”
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