The Stoke is a tribute to the largely untapped potential of Kangaroo Island as a premium wine-growing region. Husband and wife team Nick and Bec Dugmore make wines that are expressive of the relatively cool, wind-swept vineyards of KI, with a focus on lighter to mid-weight styles with food and conviviality in mind.
The Stoke is actually a brand with two distinct sides. Nick and Bec make wines from Kangaroo Island as well as the Adelaide Hills, with Nick focusing on the KI wines, and Bec crafting the whites from the Hills under the Kin moniker. Bec was drawn to the Hills on the surface because they reminded her of her home territory in Scotland, as well as the Russian River Valley in Northern California – where she has worked vintages – and more deeply as her abiding passion for making white wine of true pedigree could be fulfilled there.
“In 2020 we took control of a 12-acre vineyard on Kangaroo Island. Under advice from a viticulturalist we are implementing changes, specifically to the pruning regime, which unfortunately meant reduced yields in 2021. So far, we’re delighted with the quality – we just wish there was more of it! Farming grapes is a long game, and we’re prepared to put the work in now to be able to work with quality fruit in the long term.”
Nick is a South Australian native, whose “love affair with Kangaroo Island began on a surf trip around Australia in a banana-yellow Ford Falcon in 2008”. That trip never made it past KI, and wine marketing and vintage work there followed. He believes deeply in the island’s immense untapped potential to produce premium fruit, and to make extraordinary wine. Its low humidity and drying sea breezes make it a simpler proposition to grow organically, and most vineyards are dry grown. It benefits from the moderating maritime influence that McLaren Vale gets, but it is much cooler and tends to ripen fruit more in line with the Adelaide Hills, allowing time to build flavour over a long ripening period.
Nick studied a Bachelor of Wine Marketing at the University of Adelaide before doing some hands-on vintage work to understand wine a bit better. That grunt work made him realise that he’d followed the wrong path, so he went straight back to university to study oenology. Since then, he has done vintages in the Barossa valley, McLaren Vale, Currency Creek, Adelaide Hills and elsewhere on Kangaroo Island, as well as the Okanagan Valley, in Canada, Central Otago, in New Zealand, and for two seasons in Bordeaux.
Nick and Bec met in Central Otago, where she had been working and studying for some years, earning her Graduate Diploma in Viticulture and Oenology at Lincoln University, Canterbury. The pair moved to South Australia where Bec worked making sparkling wine for some big players.
Nick worked as assistant winemaker at The Lane, in the Adelaide Hills, for three years, and was an assistant winemaker at Wirra Wirra, in McLaren Vale until COVID hit in 2020. The pair launched The Stoke in 2017, with the wines made in their Mount Jagged winery, and Nick’s COVID-related redundancy sees hm working on the brand fulltime, with vineyard management now part of his duties.
“In 2020 we took control of a 12-acre vineyard on Kangaroo Island,” says Nick. “Under advice from a viticulturalist we are implementing changes, specifically to the pruning regime, which unfortunately meant reduced yields in 2021. So far, we’re delighted with the quality – we just wish there was more of it! Farming grapes is a long game, and we’re prepared to put the work in now to be able to work with quality fruit in the long term.”
A pinot gris, tempranillo pét-nat, sangiovese rosé, sangiovese, cabernet franc, syrah, tempranillo and sauvignon blanc have all so far been made from KI fruit. The winemaking is simple and hands off, with no additions bar sulphur, and then sometimes not. “I don’t delve too deeply into a philosophy behind winemaking,” says Nick. “I strongly believe in the subjectivity of our industry – taste is in the mouth of the beholder – and simply want people to drink our wines if they decide they like them. I am also not offended when people don’t like our wines.
“All our wines are made to suit the Kangaroo Island lifestyle – the land of bare feet and salty skin. The cool climate of the island allows us to make wines which are full flavoured but balanced, with great natural acidity, ready to drink with friends and food. Ultimately, we want the wines to be an expression of the beautiful, wild place that is Kangaroo Island.”
Although Daniel Payne dabbled in the wine industry in the early 2000s, while studying to be a primary school teacher in Newcastle, it took until 2017 for him to launch his own label. That initial experience was in the Hunter Valley, with Payne growing up just outside the region. A love for wine was well and truly enshrined then, but a career as a primary teacher stood in the way for several years, before the lure became too great, and Daniel enrolled at Charles Sturt University to study winemaking.