We’re very excited to be featured in the 50th edition of Halliday Wine Companion magazine (Feb/Mar 2020).
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WORDS NATASHA MIROSCH + PHOTOGRAPHY WINE AUSTRALIA
After a career spent making wine in various regions here and overseas, Adam Louder has returned home to Victoria’s Grampians, establishing SubRosa with partner Nancy Panter.
ADAM LOUDER is a quintessential Aussie winemaker. He’s got the drawl and the bone-dry sense of humour, and he’s got the yarns. These include tales about his time in Bordeaux, where top chefs were flown in to create extravagant 12-course dinners, and how he picked up the nickname, Monseigneur.
These days, Adam is chief winemaker at Mount Langi Ghiran in Victoria’s Grampians and also has his own label, SubRosa, with partner Nancy Panter. Adam knows these mountain ranges and escarpments well – he enjoyed a barefoot childhood in the region, which is home to some of Australia’s oldest wine grape vines. Nancy grew up in more humid climes, within a cooee of the Gold Coast’s beaches, but in 2011, a chance meeting brought them together in the US, where Nancy was working in corporate communications and Adam was winemaker at cult Napa Valley winery Araujo Estate, which was later bought by France’s Chateau Latour.
Adam admits that he originally fell into winemaking. “I grew up around the corner from Mount Langi and would go there on weekends to shoot birds during the growing season when I was 12 or so,” he says. “I also did holiday work at Best’s Great Western, where my uncle worked.”
In 1998, at the age of 18, Adam was employed by the late Trevor Mast – considered one of Australia’s pioneers of cool- climate shiraz – to work in the cellar and vineyards at his winery, Mount Langi Ghiran.
For the next eight years, Trevor was Adam’s mentor, encouraging him to follow his instincts and believe in his abilities. He helped Adam to develop his sensory evaluation skills by tasting and discussing wines with him from Australia and across the Old World. Adam also gained from his other experiences in cellar operations, harvest and winery management.
With Trevor’s encouragement, Adam, while still a fresh-faced 20-year-old, embarked on his first overseas vintage – a four-month stint at Napa Valley’s Chimney Rock. This experience not only confirmed that he wanted to make wine, but also that he wanted to work with small wineries and vineyards that grow exceptional fruit. The experience highlighted the fundamental differences between winemaking styles in Australia and the US.
“Napa has the best of everything to work with, including equipment and a much cheaper labour force, which means they can hand-pick and hand-sort everything,” Adam says. “In the early 2000s, we were machine-picking everything in Australia. And the work wasn’t as physical in America because they had automated pumpovers with irrigators.” He also found Australian winemakers had a more relaxed approach.
Back in Australia, Adam returned to Mount Langi and worked with Trevor for another five years before the Rathbone Wine Group bought the winery, appointing Dan Buckle to the winemaking helm. By this time, Adam had worked with Dan for several years, learning to innovate and push boundaries. Dan then organised the first of Adam’s five harvests in France in 2005, at Bordeaux’s Chateau Carsin, where he gained that nickname – and five or six kilos, he says.
“I rocked up at harvest and the owner tried to make a big deal of my arrival, so of course the full-time staff took the piss out of me, calling me ‘Monseigneur’,” he laughs.
Chateau Carsin is owned by Juha Berglund, the son of Finnish violinist and conductor Paavo Berglund. Juha was also a well- connected bon vivant and publisher of Viini, a prestigious wine magazine. “He would fly in different Michelin-starred chefs each week to prepare meals every evening – French, English, German, Finnish. It could be five- to 12-course degustation dinners, with some pretty first-grade Bordeaux, of course,” Adam says. “One time it was a bottle of 1959 Chateau Palmer – Juha’s birth year.” Inevitably, Adam became enamoured with the lifestyle. “I loved everything about Bordeaux – the weather, food, lifestyle and access to great wines,” he says. When he wasn’t eating and drinking, Adam spent time polishing his French and Finnish, and making a lot of botrytis whites.
The inconsistent weather during these French vintages taught him to deal with disease and remain agile – skills he could transfer to Napa’s Araujo Estate, when it rained during his time there in the 2011 harvest. Adam also proved his worth at Araujo when one of their cabernets received a coveted 100 points from US wine critic Robert Parker.
In 2013, Adam decided to head home to the familiar landscapes of the Grampians, inspired to make his own wines. By then, he had an impressive 33 vintage stints under his belt from five wine regions, including time spent at Western Australia’s Xanadu and Pierro.
“It was a lifestyle choice,” Adam says of his return home. “There’s a more relaxed approach here. Although you can take it as seriously as you like, there isn’t the pressure there was in Napa and you can make the wines you want to make.”
And I love Grampians shiraz – I love the flavour profile, the pepper and the minerality. You can make an elegant style of wine here, and if I could only make one wine, it would be Grampians shiraz.
Adam first made his own Grampians wines in 2013, bottling 400 cases of chardonnay, nebbiolo and shiraz, the fruit gently coaxed along with minimal intervention. In 2015, he released the wines under the label SubRosa – the name chosen by Nancy, meaning “under the rose” in Latin. “In ancient times, a rose was hung over the table as a sign of secrecy, meaning that what happens at the table, stays at the table,” Nancy says. “We thought it was a great analogy, given we want people to share good food and good company with our wine.”
With so much experience in both the Old and New Worlds, Adam aims to make wines that bridge the two. So, how does he sum up his range? “Food friendly, approachable wines, but with complexity and ageability,” he says.
It wasn’t long after those early releases that accolades came in. Winefront’s Mike Bennie said SubRosa was“one to watch, with wines that were striking for their regional verity, [affordable] price points and deliciousness.” Adam has since added a viognier and a rosé to the range, with an inaugural cabernet about to roll out.
“Honestly, I think we as winemakers are all aiming to do the same thing – to make the best, site-specific wines from fruit picked at the right time. As long as you get good fruit into the winery, most of your work’s done. It kind of takes care of itself. What we aim to do is get the fruit off at the right time and nurse it through.”
In the 2019 Halliday Wine Companion, James Halliday rated SubRosa exceptional and named them one of the best new wineries, scoring each of their wines between 92 and 96 points. In the 2020 guide, SubRosa again retained their five-star winery rating. As for the future, in addition to raising their two young children Toby and Charlie, and continuing Trevor Mast’s legacy at Mount Langi, Adam and Nancy will soon have a small vineyard of nebbiolo and shiraz of their own. Adam is also particularly excited about the release of their new cabernet sauvignon. “I think Grampians cabernet is an overlooked variety,” he says.
Our Monseigneur Cabernet is from old vines in Great Western – fruit I was excited to get my hands on. I look forward to pulling this one out of the cellar in years to come.
3 TO TRY
2017 SubRosa Monseigneur Grampians Cabernet Sauvignon $45
2017 SubRosa Nebbiolo $45
2016 SubRosa Grampians Shiraz $30
In the 2019 Halliday Wine Companion, James Halliday rated SubRosa exceptional and named them one of the year’s best new wineries, scoring each of their wines between 92 and 96 points.