Luke Tocaciu Patrick of Coonawarra

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Luke Tocaciu has terra rossa soil in his blood, growing up in Coonawarra. His career path was never in doubt, with his winemaking travels leading him back to the family vineyard, Patrick of Coonawarra, a little over a decade ago. Today, while “heritage” styles are still a large part of the business, he is pushing the boundaries with his Méthode range, which celebrates different sides of cabernet sauvignon – including one laced with eucalypt character and another made in a gulpable nouveau style – as well as giving riesling the skins treatment.

Patrick of Coonawarra is a second-generation family winery that Patrick Tocaciu established in 1998 after pulling the winemaking levers from some of the big players in the day, including Tollana. Today the estate is run by his eldest son, Luke, who returned to the family business in 2010 after stints across South Australia and in the USA.

“There are two sides to my winemaking coin. One that shows the heritage of my dad’s styles and traditional techniques that the business was built on, and one that expresses my modern, science-based winemaking with a flare of artistic creativity. Changing the perceptions of styles and varieties gives me freedom to strive for new and exciting things.”

“I grew up in Coonawarra and have had terra rossa soil between my toes since I was four years old,” says Luke Tocaciu. “I have been surrounded by vineyards and winemaking my whole life. I love the region, the wines and the community around me. The climate is on the edge of being able to ripen cabernet, adding to its unique character, with a soil that is world famous. It’s the place I chose to start a family and the place that I call home.”

Tocaciu’s first offsite vintage was straight from high school at Penley Estate in 2003. Winemaking studies followed at Adelaide University, with stints in Coonawarra, Clare Valley, Barossa Valley, Wrattonbully and Sonoma, USA, filling the next seven years before he headed home to take the baton from his father in 2010, who sadly passed away in 2013.

“There are two sides to my winemaking coin,” says Tocaciu. “One that shows the heritage of my dad’s styles and traditional techniques that the business was built on, and one that expresses my modern, science-based winemaking with a flare of artistic creativity. Changing the perceptions of styles and varieties gives me freedom to strive for new and exciting things.”

That pursuit of innovation saw a rebrand that took the packaging of a traditional Coonawarra label and gave it a new spin. Aside from a good deal of gold splashed across the labels, the portfolio embraced a new direction. “We took the leap as I felt our ‘look’, and our limited selection at the time, was no longer representing our soul as a business,” says Tocaciu. “I learnt a lot from my dad, and his signature will always be there, but our business and our winemaking has grown and evolved over the last ten years, and it was time to let that shine.”

Along with the update in livery, the classic range of cabernet, shiraz and riesling was joined by the Méthode wines, a trio of wines bottled in squat flask-like bottles and sealed with wax. It’s what’s inside the bottles that really shook things up, though. That range was launched in 2021 from the 2020 vintage, with a skinsy riesling, nouveau-style cabernet and one of the bravest releases of recent days, the Méthode Eucalypt Cabernet Sauvignon.

“The ‘Méthode Eucalypt’ tests the theory that proximity to gum trees gives a Eucalyptus flavour, mainly 1-8 Cineole, to the wine,” says Tocaciu. “This taboo topic amongst winemakers is celebrated in this wine that speaks to the terroir of the site, being picked within 50 metres of gum trees and embracing this unique Australian character. The ‘Méthode Cab Nouveau’ was made to showcase the diversity of cabernet. It’s not just a bold, age-worthy, tannic variety; it can be soft, young and fresh when it’s made to suit a nouveau style. This challenges the perceptions of Coonawarra cabernet.”

Tocaciu says that the first ‘Méthode Eucalypt’ was a huge success, and an unexpected one at that. “Customers loved the wine, and also the story was simple and easy to understand. In making the Méthode experimental range of wines, one of the golden rules I have come to learn is to always stick to my winemaking foundations and values. The goal with this range is to produce clean, well-made wines that have a little bit of a difference. At the end of the day, if I don’t like it, or if the vintage isn’t a good vintage, I won’t bottle it.”

Whether classic or experimental, all the Patrick of Coonawarra wines are from estate vineyards, both in Coonawarra and Wrattonbully. “Our business was built on this,” says Tocaciu. “My dad was extremely passionate about having control of the fruit. He believed – as we still do – that wines are made in the vineyard. Having control from the very beginning gives me an advantage and intimate knowledge of the wines and the full cycle the fruit undergoes.”

That focus on the vineyard has had a sustainable bent from the very start, with composted grape marc (the skins, seeds etc. left after pressing) being spread across the vineyard for 20 years. Herbicide use has been reduced and, in some areas, eliminated. Sheep graze in the cooler months to control weeds, and crops are planted midrow to increase organic matter in the soil, along with other water-holding and aeration benefits.

Tocaciu has no doubt these practices lead to enhanced wine quality, as does setting up the vines to produce pristine fruit that needs no tinkering in the winery to balance. “We have found if you spend the money at pruning time, it pays off in the long term,” he says. “The bunches are well distributed amongst the canopy, giving optimal light and airflow for even ripening. This results in enhanced fruit flavours and fine tannin ripeness.”

With significant ambitions, Tocaciu maintains that he always wants the business to remain a small family-owned affair. “To increase in quality not size,” he says. “I’d like to expand our range, always having a go at something new while striving for quality and precision at the higher tiers. In five to ten years, I would like to refine our Coonawarra cabernet sauvignons to be aligned with the very best wines in the world. Inclusivity is also an important value. I’ll keep making wine to suit a wide range of tastes, styles and budgets. Dad instilled in me a value of welcoming everyone into our world, without exception, no matter their background. This is something I take through to my winemaking philosophy.”

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