Seppelt to become a Victorian brand

Re-packaging of a range of Seppelts wines due for release on July 1, signals an awakening of the industry giant, Southcorp Wines. As the diverse wine-making cultures of Sepplelts, Wynns-Seaview, Lindemans-Buring, and Penfolds were folded together under one banner just a few years back, market share slipped away alarmingly.

But according to the group’s Chief Executive, Bruce Kemp, the slide has been not only arrested but reversed. One of the forces driving renewed growth is the emergence of a marketing arm with a vigour approaching that of the wine making cultures making up the group.

Colourful labels, designed by Barrie Tucker of Adelaide, put an attractive face on five wines emerging from Seppelts Great Western winery in western Victoria. At last packaging matches the sheer quality of what’s in the bottle. And an audience beyond a handful of connoisseurs ought to follow. Winemaking traditions going back to the 1920s and a promise that all wines will be sourced only from Victoria within two years underpin the whole concept

I doubt there’s another winery in the world handled such volumes of chardonnay from diverse sources, fermented and matured in every possible permutation and combination of tanks and barrels from every major oak forest in the world. Of the literally hundreds of separate components each year, thousands of blending options presented themselves.

Commercially, the payoff for twenty years development came with Woodleys Queen Adelaide Chardonnay, now the biggest selling white wine in Australia. And for consumers there has been top quality at every price point between $5 and $25: Gold Label, then Corella Ridge, Great Western, and Show Reserve Chardonnays.

In recent years, Corella Ridge, one of the revamped labels, selling for around $9.99 on discount is the wine that’s captured consumer interest. It succeeded because it delivered the magic flavour combination of chardonnay and oak at a modest price. In masked tastings it easily took on wines in the $15-$20 price range.

The latest version, I believe is the best yet and really issues a challenge to small producers. All those years of experimentation in the Great Western Winery pay off here: the wine is a predominantly Victorian blend (Strathbogie Ranges, Bright, Yarra Valey, Mornington Peninsula and Heathcote) with a touch from Glenroy in the NSW Snowy Mountains.

It has a phenomenal richness derived from top fruit sourcing, polished wine-making skills and the use of high-quality oak during fermentation and maturation. If you’ve grown tired of oak-matured chardonnays, try this one to restore your faith in the breed. Revel in it and smile at the price — about $12.50 recommended retail, but certain to be discounted to $9.99. It’s sensationally good at that price.

Sheoak Spring Rhine Riesling 1993 drinks beautifully. It’s riesling with an intensiy of flavour but delicacy well removed from mainstream Australian styles from warmer areas. The nature of the beast springs from its origins in the very cool Portland area (about 38.5 degrees south), on the Western Victorian coast, tempered and filled out a little with a touch from Great Western. Price is the same as for Corella Ridge.

Rhymney’, a name long associated with Seppelts Victorian wines disappeared for a decade or so. It made a comeback appended to a superb Sauvignon Blanc in 1992. The brightly-liveried 1993 delivers the same outstanding quality. It features the distinctive, pungent aroma and fruitiness of sauvignon blanc grown in cool climates. Like the other two whites, it offers outstanding quality at the price. Cloudy Bay followers could get a pleasant surprise here.

Chalambar’, another old Seppelt wine label is resurrected quite logically as the name for its shiraz (formerly hermitage), grown at the foot of Mount Chalambar, Great Western. The 1991, like so many vintages before it over the last thirty years provides rich, satisfying drinking and has the potential to cellar for many years. Priced the same as the whites, it is a bargain.

Harpers Range Cabernet Malbec 1991, winner of the Jimmy Watson Trophy in 1992, moves to another quality level. Bruce Kemp tells me only 4,500 cases were made and it should sell between $13 and $17 a bottle. This is one to cellar for 5-10 years — a substantial wine.

In the long-term interests of consumers and the industry, though, Seppelts ought to find a new name for Harpers Range. It has some validity for the current vintage, a Coonawarra-based wine, because Harper’s Range is the name of a limestone dune in the vicinity of Coonawarra. But as grape sourcing moves to Victoria in future vintages, ‘Harpers Range’ has no place on the label. It’s wrong not only in principle, but sets the scene for conflict with future grape growers over on Harpers Range.