It’s come a long way from its wacky fluoro labels from the ’90s – McLaren Vale winery Dowie Doole has evolved with a sharp new design, a larger focus on sustainable practices and, soon, a permanent cellar door.

Dowie Doole’s founders are entrenched in McLaren Vale’s history, but the brand has flown under the radar in South Australia since launching in 1995. That's about to change. The cellar door, set among the Dowie Doole vineyards, is already generating buzz among locals.

“You can just see the containers emerge out of the vineyards from Tatachilla Road,” says managing director and chief winemaker Chris Thomas. “People have started asking questions.”

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The shipping container cellar door, designed by Adelaide architect Oli Scholz (Scholz Vinall), is the brand’s biggest project to date. It’s been a dream of Thomas’s since he and his six other partners took over the business in 2015.

“The whole thing is pretty much off-grid,” says Scholz. “It generates its own electricity, collects its own rainwater and deals with its own waste. It’s even built on a part of the vineyard that was previously degraded; a rubbish pile.” There will also be a car-charging station and battery on-site.

“It really reflects how they’re working in the vineyard at the moment, particularly in terms of sustainability,” says Scholz.

Thomas came up with the shipping-container idea on a trip to the UK, but the vision has evolved over time. “It started as more of a pop-up,” says Scholz. It’s now grown to become four shipping containers connected in a unique configuration, creating clever angles and views, and an appealing space that’s modern yet understated. By mid-year it will be a space for (paid) tastings, casual glasses of wine, picnics, wine flights and lazy afternoons on the deck.

The label’s founders, Norm Doole and Drew Dowie, already had a track record of sustainability and quality design, principles that have remained paramount in the brand’s philosophy and cellar door project to date.

“Drew Dowie was a great architect who built famous buildings like the Wolf Blass cellar door in the Barossa,” says Thomas. Doole is the director of the recycled water scheme Willunga Basin Water and supports sustainable grape growing in the region through reclaimed water.

In the ’90s the pair inhabited part of the Salopian Inn as their cellar door, and more recently rented an office space for appointment-only tastings and sales. Short-term spaces aside, the brand has been without a permanent home for most of its life, Dowie and Doole instead focusing their efforts on the European and Asian markets. With 70 per cent of their wine headed for export, it’s no wonder they’ve escaped local attention.

“That’s why building this cellar door now is really important for us, especially to create something that’s really innovative and engages with people,” says Thomas. “We have this history and pedigree behind us and we need a place to be able to tell our story to people and tell them that our wines come from that vineyard right next to where you’re sitting.

“We need to communicate how much integrity we have as a brand because there are so many brands popping up these days.”

Thomas has been chief winemaker since 2011; he’s also worked with McLaren Vale icons Serafino and Fox Creek. In 2018 he was shortlisted in the national Young Gun of Wine Awards and continues to build the brand’s profile both internationally and on home ground. He’s been an integral part of the brand’s renewed focus on sustainability.

“We’re biodynamic in conversion at the moment, so we’re halfway through the process,” says Thomas. “We’ll be accredited in 2020. Sustainable viticulture is important to us so that we’re responsible wine producers in McLaren Vale. The land needs to be sustainable for my generation, the next and the next after that.”