The Australian - Wish Magazine - - DRINKING -

Surely one of the most stun­ning winer­ies in Aus­tralia is Sep­pelts­field, on Sep­pelts­field Road in the Barossa Val­ley. Ca­nary Is­land date palms line the roads, vast gar­dens and trails that me­an­der around this ex­ten­sive prop­erty, all off­set by 19th and 20th-cen­tury her­itage-listed ar­chi­tec­tural beau­ties.

Nearby a Greco-Ro­man-in­spired mau­soleum casts its eye over the sur­round­ing hills – it’s the fi­nal rest­ing place for some of the prop­erty’s orig­i­nal long-time own­ers from the Sep­pelt fam­ily. Yet while Sep­pelts­field is a his­toric trea­sure for the Barossa and Aus­tralian wine as a whole, in re­cent decades its future has be­come in­creas­ingly un­cer­tain.

Es­tab­lished in 1851 by Sile­sian im­mi­grants Joseph and Jo­hanna Sep­pelt, the win­ery rode the ebbs and flows of the in­dus­try for over 130 years, re­main­ing fam­ily owned un­til 1985. Dur­ing that time, grand build­ings were con­structed on the orig­i­nal prop­erty and two sig­nif­i­cant and successful re­gional ex­pan­sions were made to Ruther­glen and Great West­ern in Vic­to­ria.

At the turn of the 19th cen­tury Sep­pelts­field was not only the Barossa’s largest pro­ducer but for many its great­est, and it also played a vi­tal part in the lo­cal com­mu­nity. Dur­ing the De­pres­sion work­ers at Sep­pelts­field planted the palms around the prop­erty to thank the Sep­pelt fam­ily for their con­tin­u­ing em­ploy­ment in des­per­ate times.

Per­haps Sep­pelts­field’s finest legacy was cre­ated in 1878 when the founder’s oldest son Benno, to cel­e­brate the open­ing of a for­ti­fied wine cel­lar, put down a cask of that vin­tage’s finest port, not to be bot­tled un­til it had reached its 100th birth­day. For­ti­fied wines and spir­its were the sta­ple for many Aus­tralian winer­ies at the time – ports, brandies, mus­cats, sher­ries, gins, ver­mouths and even health ton­ics were the or­der of the day at Sep­pelts­field and dry ta­ble wines were rarely seen.

While many other winer­ies have veered to­wards drier styles, Sep­pelts­field has con­tin­ued that tra­di­tion of craft­ing for­ti­fied wines of the high­est qual­ity. Time is key: age­ing the finest wine parcels for decades al­lows the spirit to in­te­grate and flavours to mel­low. At Sep­pelts­field there is a li­brary of wines go­ing back over a cen­tury. To this day Sep­pelt Vin­tage Para Ports from the 1930s and be­yond of­fer some of the na­tion’s finest drink­ing ex­pe­ri­ences. There are few, if any, more age­wor­thy wines in the coun­try.

But own­er­ship changes and fluc­tu­a­tions in the global palate over the past 30 years have threat­ened to de­stroy that legacy. In 1985 con­trol of the com­pany was wrested from the Sep­pelt fam­ily in a cor­po­rate takeover, the la­bel fi­nally finding it­self in a large port­fo­lio of brands along­side its longtime Barossa com­peti­tor Pen­folds – these were some of the win­ery’s dark­est days.

Mer­ci­fully in 2007, af­ter 20 years in limbo, this hal­lowed Barossa name was re­turned to pri­vate hands. These were in­vestors who not only wanted to bring Sep­pelts­field back to its past glo­ries but also recog­nised the worth of the im­mense trove of unique, an­cient wines sit­ting in its cel­lars.

Amid fall­ing for­ti­fied wine sales these in­vestors bravely put their faith in these old wines, trust­ing that they would flourish on an in­ter­na­tional stage. It was a gam­ble that the cur­rent ma­jor­ity owner wres­tled with for seven months be­fore agree­ing to take the plunge.

No doubt it would have pleased the win­ery’s founders to see its own­er­ship pass to the likes of War­ren Randall. A trained wine­maker and viti­cul­tur­ist who has worked at many winer­ies, in­clud­ing Wynns, Lin­de­mans and Sep­pelt, be­fore own­ing and man­ag­ing a range of busi­nesses, there are few bet­ter qual­i­fied wine­mak­ers to re­turn Sep­pelts­field to its former great­ness, nor who so well ap­pre­ci­ate its im­por­tance to Aus­tralian wine.

Un­der Randall, Sep­pelts­field is go­ing from strength to strength, al­though the wine­maker sees him­self more as a cus­to­dian of this grand old Barossa in­sti­tu­tion and the Sep­pelt fam­ily legacy. In ad­di­tion to the com­pany’s range of for­ti­fied wines are an in­creas­ing num­ber of im­pres­sive dry styles, show­cas­ing Barossa strengths while still in keep­ing with the com­pany’s tra­di­tional roots. It seems that a Barossa icon is well and truly back.

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