The Stoke brand is a tribute to the largely untapped potential of Kangaroo Island as a premium wine-growing region. Nick Dugmore makes wines that are expressive of the relatively cool, wind-swept vineyards of KI, with a focus on lighter to midweight styles with food and conviviality in mind. The leased Cassini Vineyard now provides the bulk of the fruit for the label, with Dugmore farming the site regeneratively side by side with his father.
“We promote wine first, then our region, and then what we do personally,” says Dugmore. “We aim to make wines that reflect their place, always minimal intervention after a huge focus on quality in the vineyard. They range from drink now to wines with structure and longevity. Always consistent, reliable and made with a lot of care and attention.”
Dugmore 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.
Studying a Bachelor of Wine Marketing at the University of Adelaide, Dugmore then did 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.
Dugmore met his future wife, Bec, 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 she worked making sparkling wine for some big players.
Dugmore 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 moved to South Australia where she worked making sparkling wine for some big players.
Dugmore 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. He and Bec launched the Stoke in 2017, with Dugmore’s COVID-related redundancy saw him working on the brand full-time, with vineyard management now part of his duties since taking on the Cassini site the same year.
“We just want to work with and specialise in Kangaroo Island fruit,” Dugmore says. “We are beginning to develop some consistency in yield and quality in our vineyard, which is enabling us to see what we can and should do differently in the winery. 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. …We are learning a lot about viticulture on the island.”
Dugmore says that while the focus is on fine-tuning their vineyard, eventually he wants to experiment with other vineyards across the island and to get to know them and the growers a lot better. “We grew 90 per cent of what we made in 2022,” he says. “We took our vineyard from 3 tonnes in 2021 to 23 tonnes, while operating 100 per cent organically [not certified]. Stephen George has made pinot noir from our vineyard. And Sue Bell and Steven Crawford are making wines for our Guroo Project.”
He is also making a field blend from all six varieties from across the vineyard. “We are increasing the amount of carbonic maceration and extended maceration wines to provide more options when it comes time to blend. We are at a size now where we have the luxury of blending. We make many components for most of our wines and use blending to keep them balanced, structural and interesting.”
Varietal pinot gris, roussanne, sauvignon blanc, shiraz and a tempranillo from another site were made in ’22, along with a pét-nat and a rosé from cabernet, a carbonic blend of cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc, and a shiraz cabernet blend. 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 Dugmore. “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.”