Historic Seppelt’s winery in great western Victoria is the heart and soul of modern Australian Shiraz. The Grampians winery region in Victoria has been credited with producing the archetypal modern shiraz. You know, the one with the tell-tale eucalypt and mint characters interlaced with pepper and medium-bodied in style. By association, that puts Seppelt’s vineyards up there with the leaders of the modern Australian shiraz winery pack.
It’s an impressive feat, especially given Seppelt’s Great Western winery dates back to the 1860s and has a connection to shiraz that has run continuously for more than 100 years. This long history gives Seppelt, which was founded in 1851 and purchased the Great Western winery in 1918, a firm fix on what we now call the “modern shiraz style”. It has a lot to do with Seppelt spending decade after decade understanding the region, the climate and the soils.
The pinnacle of this understanding is the Seppelt flagship, St Peters Shiraz (first released in 1964 as Great Western Hermitage), produced only in exceptional years. The original St Peters vineyard was planted in 1863, using what is now called the St Peters shiraz clone. However, it proved prone to frost and disease on that site, so a replanting occurred in the early 2000s on the estate to the north.
consistency of St Peters Shiraz can be put down to the fact that it was never sourced entirely from a single vineyard and there are numerous plantings of the St Peters clone on the property. The St Peters style is timeless, hence its continued appeal. It’s not about aggressive, in-your-face oak, but oak that provides structure and assists in highlighting the wine’s deeply concentrated fruit.
The yin to St Peters’ yang is Seppelt Sparkling Shiraz, the Original and the top-of-the-range Show Sparkling Shiraz; it is usually aged in cask and bottled for 10 years before release.
The style is irrepressibly Australian. A velvety richness, ripe black fruits and intense spice lies at its heart. While it was labelled Sparkling Burgundy for decades, it is the shiraz grape rather than Burgundy’s favourite grape, pinot noir, that has been essential to the style.
Seppelt has undergone a number of reincarnations over the years, but one of the more enduring wine styles going back to the 1950s remains its riesling expression. Under celebrated winemaker Colin Preece, it was first labelled Arawatta Riesling, with fruit coming off the Arawatta vineyard 3.2 kilometres south of the cellars.
These days, Seppelt riesling is sourced from Drumborg in Victoria’s Henty wine region, a super-cool site that produces wines of extraordinary finesse, purity of fruit and brightness of acidity. The effect is electric in the glass. Increasingly, when the weather gods allow, the Drumborg vineyard is also producing exciting chardonnay and pinot noir.
A big part of Seppelt’s story belongs to its vineyards around Great Western and beyond to Drumborg and Heathcote, in addition to its viticulturists and winemakers. Some of the biggest names in Australian winemaking have passed through its doors, from Great Western’s founder Joseph Best (1865-1887) to Warren Randall (1982-1989), who oversaw Seppelt sparklings when they were the most awarded in the country, and, today, winemaker Adam Carnaby.
Carnaby spent five years at Great Western before winemaking operations relocated to the Barossa Valley in 2016. Carnaby is now the keeper of the Seppelt style, the person who aligns a great past with an increasingly bright future.That future is explored in a relatively new brand, One Mile Drive, devoted to chardonnay from Adelaide Hills, and shiraz sourced a little closer, at Heathcote. The styles are for immediate drinking, fresh, lively and well-priced.
One Mile Drive is emblematic of the three kilometres of underground tunnels or drives that lie underneath the Seppelt Great Western winery. They were dug by out-of-work gold miners after Victoria’s gold rush petered out, at the behest of Joseph Best.
Today, these tunnels rival Champagne’s drives, and similar to these, the Seppelt tunnels maintain a constant, cool temperature ideal for cellaring wine.