De Iuliis Wines again took out the Best Red Wine of Show for the third year running at the Hunter Valley Wine Show. In addition to producing the Hunter Valley’s best Shiraz, they were also awarded a further three trophies and have been recognised as the 2022 Hunter Valley Cellar Door of the Year.
De Iuliis is the Italian surname of the owner and winemaker, Mike De Iuliis. It’s tricky to pronounce, so for those who are unsure how to pronounce it – it’s dee you lee iss (you’re welcome). The winery is currently celebrating 20 years of producing wine here in the Hunter Valley, but the family’s winemaking roots go right back to Abruzzi, Italy.
Long before Mike’s parents, Anna and Joss De Iuliis, purchased a cattle property on Lovedale Road in Pokolbin to begin his winemaking dream, the family made wine in Italy. Mike’s great grandfather Donato and grandfather Celeste would make the trek across the mountains of Abruzzi in Italy to fill barrels of must with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. They would return to Pescara on horseback, where the wine would be poured and shared amongst the community. The family migrated to Australia in the 1950s after the war, when Mike’s grandfather, Celeste (known as Charlie), who was a stone mason by trade, ended up at the Greta Migrant Camp. Joss grew up locally and became a mining engineer who had to commute through the Pokolbin area to work from Newcastle, where the family lived. He never lost his passion for food and wine and his fond memories of Italy. So, in 1987 they finally purchased a property on which they could establish their vines. They spent three years preparing the soil on the property and began producing wine in 1997, with their first proper vintage in 2002 with winemaker David Hook.
The family now operate three vineyards. The Lovedale Road property was initially planted with Chardonnay, Semillon, Verdelho, Merlot, and Shiraz, with Touriga being added in 2010 and, more recently, Montepulciano.
Steven Vineyard, located directly across from the Hunter Valley Gardens on the hill behind the dam, was planted by Penfolds in 1968.
The De Iuliis family were purchasing grapes from the vineyard as early as 2005 to make their Charlie Shiraz (named after Mike’s grandfather) then began leasing it in 2009 before purchasing from the Roche family in 2013. They have since revitalised the vineyard and now have Semillon, Chardonnay, Shiraz and Pecorino from this vineyard. The third vineyard is on Talga Road in Lovedale and is planted solely with Shiraz. The clay soils are mineral rich and allow for a full-bodied Shiraz full of depth and flavour.
Mike was destined to become a winemaker, beginning his career by studying a Bachelor of Science at Macquarie University, then postgraduate studies of Oenology at Roseworthy Campus in 1999. He was selected for the Len Evans Tutorial, one of the world’s most exclusive wine schools. He went on to become a judge, panel chair and chair of judges both nationally and internationally, all the while honing his own winemaking skills at the family vineyards and developing the brand and sterling reputation that they now enjoy. The winery has 5 Underlined Red Stars from the Halliday Wine Companion, which means it’s in the top 2% of wineries Australia-wide, and they are winning multiple awards and accolades. They have enjoyed a five-star Halliday rating for almost 19 years and five red stars for 11 of those.
“I’ve been thrilled with the success of my wines at various regional and state-wide wine shows,” said Mike.
“At the 2021 Hunter Valley Wine Show, we were awarded six trophies for three different wines. Of these trophies, I was most humbled by the Doug Seabrook Trophy for Best Red Wine of Show with our ’19 Limited Release Shiraz and the John Lewis Trophy for Best Museum Red with our ’09 Limited Release Shiraz. These two trophies were real highlights for me, as they validate my commitment to the production of Hunter Valley wine of the highest quality in both the short and long term. This year we’ve won four trophies, including Best Red Wine of Show and Best Other Red. Our Shiraz Touriga has become an iconic blend for us, winning Best Other Red every year since 2018 at the Hunter Wine Show.”
But it’s not all about the accolades and industry recognition for Mike. He sees his responsibility for sustainability practices within his industry as the future of winemaking and the next key determinant of wine quality.
“Our viticultural and farming practices are intrinsically linked to a long-term generational mindset. There is a need to ensure the environment is adequately cared for in this lifetime and for future generations. For the last five years, we’ve been using biochar across our vineyards. Biochar has the capacity to be an immediate solution to reducing the global impact of farming. It’s fascinating that biochar can store the carbon produced by burning pruning material and the natural decomposition of agricultural matter in the ground, thus significantly reducing greenhouse gas levels. It’s also proven that its presence in the vineyard can improve water quality and increase soil fertility.”
In addition to the use of biochar, the winery has been at the forefront of increased diversity in grape varieties. As the climate changes, growers look to alternative varieties that cope better in extreme conditions.
“We’ve picked the alternative varieties, including Pecorino, Touriga and Montepulciano, as they are more suitable to the changes in extreme weather patterns, and I believe that we were amongst the first to plant them here in the Hunter. As climate change continues to increase our warmer summers, these varieties thrive in a warm, Mediterranean climate like the Hunter has. By choosing to grow varieties that are suited to the climate, we can minimise the risk of disease and struggle in the growing season, which helps eliminate the need for harsh chemical sprays.”
Mike is keen for the industry to develop a framework of sustainability practices so that consumers can be sure of the authenticity of claims by winegrowers and recognition for the hard work that committed winegrowers do can be appropriately awarded. Consumers can be sure that they are not being a victim of ‘greenwashing’. “The next achievement on our sustainability journey will be certification for our vineyards and winery through Sustainable Winegrowers Australia. As producers, we are responsible for ensuring we are genuine in our actions. Authenticity is a key area for us to ensure we are transparent in our ongoing sustainability journey. We know we aren’t perfect, but we are making significant steps towards innovation across our entire business. Certifications by reputable boards are critical to ensure standards are met.”
Other changes in the wine industry include the way in which cellar doors are experienced following on from the Covid pandemic. Covid forced wineries to offer seated tasting experiences and more structured offerings that educate and engage consumers. De Iuliis offers several different tasting experiences ranging from the “Made by Mike” small batch tasting for $10pp to the full winery tour with matching wine and cheese tasting and cellar door credit for $130 for two. Mike credits the team he has built around him for much of the winery’s success.
“The talented team around me inspires me to keep pushing the boundaries of winemaking, giving them an exceptional range of wines they then get to explore with our guests. It was my team who decided to enter the Cellar Door of the Year awards. We didn’t expect to win. We thought we’d dip our toe in the water, and maybe try to win next year. Instead, they survived mystery shoppers online, over the phone and face to face and smashed it out of the park. It was the definition of a team effort, and I’m very proud of them, especially when you consider there are over 150 cellar doors in the Hunter Valley.”
The cellar door is not the only way to experience De Iuliis wines. In 2005 the winery was approached by Dan Murphys to retail wines in their stores. Mike considered the proposal carefully and decided to sell three of his 16 wines to the outlet as a way to extend his brand reach and exposure. “I sent them my price list, as I would to any customer. I didn’t offer any discounts or deals, and they accepted. We only sell our three core range wines – Shiraz, Chardonnay and Semillon because we need to have plenty of stock available. We find that customers may try it, like it and then discover that there are many more wines to try here at the cellar door – like five other Shiraz they can taste.
The brand recognition drives visitation, and once they’re here at the cellar door, we can showcase the depth and range of our brand and give them a great experience.” With the best cellar door xperience in the region, De Iuliis is worth a visit to taste what all the awards are for.