GENIUS IN A BOTTLE
Boutique producers are bringing the Grampians wine region into the spotlight.
It has been a full-circle experience for winemaker Adam Louder. Born in Ararat at the foothills of the Grampians in southwest Victoria, Louder grew up in the shadows of Mount Langi Ghiran and, in 1998, kickstarted his wine career as a cellar hand at the vineyard of the same name.
Fresh out of high school, and off the back of a few years working odd jobs at Best’s Great Western winery during holidays, the teenage Louder worked under legendary Australian winemaker and cool-climate specialist, the late Trevor Mast. Stints in the Margaret River, Napa Valley and Bordeaux followed before Louder was back on home turf, lured by a longstanding penchant for
Grampians shiraz. “I’d missed working with shiraz and in this region so that was really the drawcard to move back here,” says Louder.
“I’ve had a lot of great wines all over the world, but the one that’s always resonated has been pretty much Mount Langi’s shiraz. It’s a really age-worthy shiraz.”
And now, it’s his age-worthy shiraz. Louder rejoined the team at Mount Langi Ghiran in 2016 and in 2018, two decades after his cellar-hand debut, he assumed charge as chief winemaker. Louder, now 40, has continued Mast’s legacy, as did Dan Buckle and Ben Haines before him. Integral to that legacy is the spicy pepper flavour for which Mount Langi Ghiran shiraz is renowned.
IN WITH THE NEW
The Grampians wine region, located a three-hour drive west of Melbourne, is concentrated around the towns of Great Western, Halls Gap, Ararat, Moyston and Buangor. It is best known for shiraz, but delivers across the cool-climate spectrum, including riesling, and pinots noir and gris.
It is also one of Australia’s oldest wine regions, with production dating back to the 1860s when two young butchers turned their attention from bovine to grapevine. They weren’t the first to plant cuttings in the Grampians, but brothers Joseph and Henry Best were arguably the most influential. Joseph was first, planting in 1865 what is now Seppelt Great Western, renowned in particular for
its sparkling wines as well as its National Trust-classified underground cellars. Henry followed, planting his first vines in 1868.
Today, this vineyard is one of two estates under the famed Best’s Great Western label.
Mount Langi Ghiran is another stalwart, its first vines planted in 1870, although it wasn’t until the vineyard was replanted by the Fratin brothers in 1963 that the estate prospered. Louder says that while the region’s wine history is significant, the injection of fresh faces in recent years has been a boost.
“People do still come [to the Grampians] to … go to Seppelt or Best’s and see the really old, old cellars and big pieces of winemaking history,” he says. “But it’s not just the old ones that have been there forever. There is new, exciting stuff happening here. It’s good for the region. It gives tourists other reasons to come out. There’s a bit more of a younger vibe out here now.”
One of the young labels creating interest is Black & Ginger, a two-man show starring winemaker Hadyn Black and business partner Darcy ‘Ginger’ Naunton.
Launched in 2015, Black & Ginger was a side project until 2019, when Black pulled up stumps at Best’s to work full-time on the already burgeoning enterprise.
“We really just wanted to make wines that we want to drink,” he says. “They’re a little bit lighter in style than some of the other stuff around here, not as full-bodied and botanic. They’re still quite fruit-driven, but they’re a little bit fresher and they’re ready to go straight away.”
As well as the region’s trademark shiraz, the Black & Ginger catalogue includes a highly fragrant graciano, a
vibrant, Beaujolais-style grenache and an orange muscat/riesling blend, dubbed ‘Miss Piggy’. Black says the alternative varieties have enabled Black & Ginger to cement a point of difference in the market.
“We made a shiraz to start with, but we found it a little bit tricky to differentiate yourself with shiraz,” he explains. “We’ve got a good grower [and] he’s got some different varieties. They’re only small quantities, so they’re perfect for what we want to do, and that puts us in a little bit of a different category.
“People have been really excited to try all these different things.”
SubRosa is another newcomer, having started producing in 2013 and selling in 2015.
And it’s a familiar name at the helm: Adam Louder. Louder launched the label with his wife, Nancy Panter, who does “everything other than make the wine”.
Louders says that is has been a great creative outlet.
“With Langi, obviously it’s … someone’s business so you’ve got to respect that … and not do anything extreme,” he says. “But with my own stuff, I make wine that I want to make and if people drink it, great. If not, there’s plenty of other stuff out there for them to drink.”
People are certainly drinking it.
His viognier is a regular sell-out, likewise his nebbiolo and nebbiolo rosé. Not bad considering Louder was ‘laughed out of bottle shops’ when he started sharing the idea of a Grampians viognier.
True to the cliché, Louder is the one laughing now.
Silky, textural and crisp, the SubRosa viognier has been lauded by wine critics, enthusiasts and dilettantes alike. Award-winning sommelier Simon Freeman is one such advocate.
After an impressive career as a restaurant manager, including time alongside acclaimed chef Dan Hunter at both Brae and the Royal Mail, Freeman opened Grampians Wine Cellar in Halls Gap last year. Although he has more than 100 personally selected Grampians wines on his shelves, Freeman highlights Louder’s viognier as a stand-out.
For UK-born Freeman, Grampians Wine Cellar was a two-pronged plan. It was a career shift more amenable to family life and addressed a gaping hole in the Grampians’ wine market.
“I basically saw a bit of a gap for showcasing the region all in one place,” Freeman explains.
“One of the things that I always found strange was there was a lot of very talented, smaller producers in the area, a lot of whom don’t even have cellar doors because they’re too small [so] you can’t buy their wine in the Grampians.
“I wanted to really focus on those smaller producers and the really interesting new wines, as well as the historic vineyards and the ones that make the region really famous and really special.”
As well as the 100-plus local wines, representing more than 20 producers, Grampians Wine Cellar stocks a smaller selection of international wines from regions such as Burgundy, Bordeaux and Barolo. There are also back vintages of some of the Grampians’ premium wines.
More than 30 local wines are available by the glass and the storefront deck, complete with sweeping Halls Gap views, is the perfect place to sip and savour. Although, it should be said, you could pull up just about anywhere in the Grampians and be blessed with inspiring vistas. At the heart of the region, Grampians National Park, part of the Gariwerd Aboriginal cultural landscape, is characterised by rugged peaks, dazzling waterfalls, crystalclear streams, forests, woodlands, wetlands, wildflowers and wildlife. It is also on the Natural Heritage List. The landscape lures walkers from all over the world (under pandemic-free circumstances) and domestic travellers are increasingly taking notice.
Louder, Black and Freeman all credit their beautiful surroundings with helping entice them back to the region. Says Black: “Every morning, I wake up and see the sun reflecting off the Grampians. As the sun rises up, you can see nearly every single tree on the Grampians lit up. It looks incredible. It’s just a beautiful place.”
A beautiful place, with beautiful wine. It’s the perfect pairing.