A viticulturist is a bit like the drummer in a band. They’re a key foundation, but usually kept well out of the limelight, letting the winemaker talk about how “wine is made in the vineyard” and somehow taking all the glory at the same time. Stuart Proud is a farmer first and foremost, and one of the country’s leading practitioners of biological and sustainable farming methods. But he is a winemaker, too. Making small-batch, minimal-intervention wines from the Mornington Peninsula and the Yarra Valley under his Proud Primary Produce imprint, Proud also steers the Thousand Candles vineyard and label. Proud was a Young Gun finalist in 2017.
Stuart Proud came to wine via surfing. Or rather by being broke. A surf trip up the east coast saw Proud return to his native South Australia somewhat short of cash, which a couple of years pruning vines in Langhorne Creek helped to remedy. That time amongst the vines also ignited in Proud a passion for growing. That lead to an Agricultural Sciences degree at Roseworthy and Waite campuses at the University of Adelaide in 1997, graduating in 2001.
Proud kept up the work in Langhorne Creek, as well as venturing to the Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale, as well as further afield to Margaret River. A world trip through Europe and North America broadened that experience further, as did a full-time gig at De Bortoli in the Yarra Valley from 2003. In 2006 he was charged with managing the near 500 acres under vine at De Bortoli. In 2010, Proud took up the viticulture role at the ambitious Thousand Candles project, alongside Bill Downie and Patrick Sullivan.
“At the core of everything is farming and soil health. Nothing else happens if that isn’t done well. I would really love to see a lot more emphasis and understanding on this side of things. Put viticulture in the limelight.”
With the departure of Downie in 2016, Proud took on the winemaking duties as well, while also making wine under his Proud Primary Produce label. He had been dabbling in his own wines since 2010, starting with a shiraz tagged ‘High Voltage’, which was conceived to help pay for a surfing trip – there’s a theme here. The wines he has made over the years are sourced from vineyards he has an intimate knowledge of, and often are ones he consults to and helps manage.
Viticulture has always been the basis on Proud’s approach, with a critical focus on sustainable farming, and winemaking well in the background. “At the core of everything is farming and soil health. Nothing else happens if that isn’t done well. I would really love to see a lot more emphasis and understanding on this side of things. Put viticulture in the limelight.”
And while that first iteration of Thousand Candles was somewhat of a rocky road (with the presumptive tall poppy scythed down by critical and public opinion), Proud credits the time working closely with Downie as being hugely influential on his winemaking.
“Thinking outside the square, truth in conviction, treading the path less travelled and the relentless pursuit of making wine to reflect the place it is grown are but a few ways he has influenced me,” Proud says. “We also play in a band together and quite enjoy a cold beer as well.”
Stuart Proud plays drums in The Yeastie Boys, a winemaker rock band made of Bill Downie and Yarra Valley colleagues, Paul Bridgeman and Mark O’Callaghan.