Seppelt — new life emerges from a great heritage

While older drinkers might remember Seppelt for everything from sherry to bubbly to long-lived reds, younger people may have noticed nothing more than the amazingly good reds and whites now appearing under its retro label.

This striking suite of wines from western and south western Victoria — while owing much to the current winemaking team – have been built on an a much older culture that survived waves of industry consolidation.

Seppelt’s reputation was built largely on great fortified wines, produced at Seppeltsfield in the Barossa along with sparkling wines and, on a much smaller scale, superb, long-lived reds from Great Western, Victoria.

Then in 1964, Karl Seppelt, with remarkable prescience, foresaw the coming table wine boom and established vineyards at Padthaway, four hundred-odd kilometres south of the Barossa and at Drumborg near Portland in southwestern Victoria.

Despite Karl’s foresight, the company struggled and, in a wave of industry rationalisation, was acquired by South Australian Brewing Holdings in 1984. Then, in 1990, SABH acquired Lindemans from Philip Morris and Penfolds from Adsteam.

The conglomeration became Penfolds Wine Group but this became Southcorp Wines when SABH sold its brewery division in 1993.

Throughout this intensive blending of wine cultures, James Godfrey held (and still does) the fortified reins at Seppeltsfield while Great Western based Ian McKenzie supervised Seppelt winemaking overall.

Inevitably, rationalisation meant change. But the formidable fortified resources at Seppeltsfield remained intact. And McKenzie – aided by a mid nineties Victorian vineyard expansion — led both a rejuvenation of the Seppelt Victorian red styles and the development of top end whites and sparkling wines.

The reds were inspired mainly by those made at Great Western by Colin Preece in the forties, fifties and sixties – which, in turn, had been preceded by extraordinary early twentieth century vintages from the St Peters Vineyard, next to the winery.

While the cold, windswept Drumborg vineyard struggled for decades, renewed investment and improved management techniques saw the vineyard producing flashes of brilliance during the eighties and sustained high quality by the late nineties.

By the end of Macka’s stewardship in 2002 the Seppelt reds – led by St Peters Vineyard Shiraz (formerly called Reserve Shiraz) – were back amongst the most highly regarded in the country and the new whites, led by riesling and chardonnay from the Drumborg vineyard, showed a unique finesse and intensity.

And now, four years into Arthur O’Connor’s stewardship, we’re enjoying not just the Great Western and Drumborg wines but an expanded Victorian range based on vineyards – particularly the Glenlofty Pyrenees site — established in the mid nineties.

It’s really the culmination of one hundred years work, piled layer on layer and, finally, being brought to market in a coherent manner. Those new ‘old’ Seppelt labels really do convey something of this continuity – and the exceptional quality of the wines.

Seppelt Coborra Pinot Gris 2005 $25 to $29
This is a striking and individual pinot gris that appeals as soon as it’s poured. The brilliant pale straw colour promises the great freshness that follows. There’s lots of aroma here with pear-like fruit and a mineral edge. The palate is intense, pear like, and very finely structured for this variety. A taut, steely acid backbone seems to intensify the fruit flavour and carry it right across the palate leaving the mouth really refreshed and looking for the next sip. The fine-ness and intensity probably mean an interesting and slow flavour evolution in the bottle for those with good cellaring conditions.

Seppelt Jaluka Drumborg Chardonnay 2005 $25 to $29
Twenty years after it was planted Drumborg vineyard produced outstanding chardonnay sparkling wine. Another decade on, in the mid nineties, it produced classy chardonnay table wine – sometimes good enough for Penfolds flagship white, Yattarna. Now the vineyard’s fruit stands on its own. This one, made by Emma Wood, has at its heart the restrained, grapefruit-like varietal flavour of very-cool climate chardonnay, supported by lovely inputs of barrel fermentation and contact with yeast lees. It’s a rich but delicate delight to drink now but is of a style to evolve with careful cellaring for five or six years.

Seppelt Chalambar Grampian Bendigo Shiraz 2004 $25 to $29
Seppelt Victorian Shiraz 2004 $13 to $18

Above these two Seppelt reds sit the sublime St Peters and Benno shirazes. These establish a familial style based on richness with cool-climate structure, albeit with a distinct character to each wine. Victorian Shiraz is the often-discounted entry-level wine that invariably surprises new drinkers with its one-more-glass-please drinkability. Chalambar is the resurrection of a hallowed-then-devalued old Seppelt brand. The 2004 is sensational. It has the beautifully, floral perfumed lift of top cool-climate shiraz and all the supple, sweet, palate richness that goes with it. That means opulence without heaviness and enormous drinking pleasure. This is a very impressive wine.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2006 & 2007