Luke Jolliffe
Stella Bella & suckfizzle

Chief winemaker and trophy-winner extraordinaire, Jolliffe spends a lot of time thinking about what people want from their wines.

A major turning point in Margaret River’s viticultural history was a tasting in 2000 of around 100 one-year old cabernets. Organised by Keith Mugford and Vanya Cullen, it grouped wines according to a proposed sub-regional map drawn up by Dr John Gladstones. Those from the Wilyabrup locality shone: with bright succulent flavours and fine supple tannins. By contrast, those from the southern reaches of the region looked less appealing and appeared hard with firm, unyielding tannins. Their winemakers were furious and claimed vociferously that they had been set up.

In the years that followed, winemakers from the southern areas sought quality Wilyabrup fruit to flesh out their wines and produced significantly improved cabernets as a result.

Then from 2014 onwards, Luke Jolliffe has regularly produced succulent, medium-bodied reds that have achieved impressive success. This has put paid to the belief that the southern climes of Margaret River cannot produce reds of finesse and class to equal the best in the region.

 “Luke’s Luminosa and Suckfizzle wines are at the pointy end of Margaret River’s quality tree. He’s an exciting winemaker who has a great deal more to show us.” Huon Hooke

Jolliffe was born in the Clare Valley, and although his teacher parents moved on, one of their friends suggested he try work experience at Taylors, setting the seal on his career path. He enrolled in viticulture at Adelaide University and on his first day there, a lecturer asked how many of the students in the room came from a non-wine background. He was a trifle over-awed to be one of three in that category.

His next step was as a viticulturist at Tintara. He says he loved the commitment and quality focus of people like Rob Mann, Steve Pannell and Simon White, and quickly learned that, during vintage, viticulturists needed to be part of the team working in the winery.

Jolliffe completed a post-graduate diploma in oenology by 2004 and did vintage in St Joseph the following year. Since then, he has made three working trips to Europe, choosing to visit top vineyards and wineries in several regions to better understand the operation of the vineyards and their wine styles.

Jolliffe had three years at Forest Hill in the Great Southern from 2005 before being appointed Assistant Winemaker at Stella Bella. There he learnt attention to detail from Janice McDonald and wine styles from Stuart Pym before being handed the Chief Winemaker role in 2014.

In taking over, one of his first tasks has been to work with his team on further refining the Stella Bella styles.

Customers would say, “Why should I buy Luminosa Chardonnay when I can have a Stella Bella at half the price?”

This drove Jolliffe to a consideration of house style. For example, he decided that with the flagship Luminosa Chardonnay, he was looking for a single vineyard chardonnay with lemon, lime, grapefruit pith character with an element of gunflinty sulphide, just a prickle on top to lift the aroma out of the glass. Meanwhile the Stella Bella as a blend of five vineyards should have ripe Margaret River fruit characters, peach with spring water and mineral lime through it.

Suckfizzle would always be distinctly different, he says.

With cabernet, it was always about fruit exposure. “We wanted to make a medium-bodied cabernet with the house style, which was always about red fruits, blue fruits and violets,” Jolliffe says. “So we wanted to enhance those characters by exposing the canopy, using all the viticultural traits and flavour profiling ideas to produce the kind of perfumed, pretty, medium-bodied reds that I like drinking. It doesn’t have to be full of alcohol and tannins to have longevity.”

Trophies are one way to signal excellence in winemaker and Stella Bella and Luke Jolliffe have turned heads with an abundance over the past five years. That includes a balance between reds and whites, and super premiums and the mid-priced Stella Bella range. A personal favourite, the 2019 Skuttlebutt Sauvignon Blanc Semillon – succulent, vibrant and delicious – won a trophy at the Perth Show in open company.  

PETER FORRESTAL

Facts & Figures

REGION  |  Margaret River

YEARS IN INDUSTRY  |  20

ANNUAL CRUSH |  300 tonnes

STAND-OUT WINES  |  2018 Stella Bella Luminosa Cabernet Sauvignon, 2018 Suckfizzle Chardonnay