PODCAST BY ANDEW CAILLARD MW
The History of Seppeltsfield Barossa, narrated by Andrew Caillard MW.
THE REBIRTH OF A CLASSIC, BY PAUL HENRY
Imagine this: Joseph Ernst Seppelt had left his tobacco, snuff and liqueur factory in Silesia in Prussia in 1849 with his wife, children, factory workers and 13 other local families, moved to an almost unimaginable new home: Australia.
Gladly quitting the political and economic turmoil of Europe, they reached the Barossa Valley in 1851. After attempts to cure tobacco failed, Seppelt planted vines near Greenock at the place he called Seppeltsfield, and thereafter, he was soon selling wine at nearby Gawler and sending it on paddle-steamers plying the River Murray. His insistence on exemplary standards produced good wine and led to the construction of a fine cellar at Seppeltsfield in 1867, which included the construction of the world’s largest gravity-flow fermentation facility.
Joseph Seppelt died suddenly in 1868. His son, Oscar Benno Pedro, married Sophie Schroeder in 1870 and with their children they developed the business. At the height of its activity in the 1890s, the wine company of B Seppelt & Sons was the largest in Australia.
It had attained success because the Seppelt family had drive, energy and exemplary standards. This was true not only of the male heads of the family, father and son, Joseph and Benno but also of Benno’s wife, Sophie, who contributed significantly to the running of the establishment. The family also maintained strong ties with their employees.
By 1900, at a time when the disease phylloxera had devastated the wine industry in the eastern states of Australia, Seppeltsfield had become Australia’s largest winery, producing two million litres of wine annually and winning prizes in Sydney and overseas.
The Seppelt Company had grown because of the family’s business acumen, scientific methods and thorough professional training for its winemakers. The company enhanced South Australia’s position as the nation’s leading winemaking state.
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- Previously PurchasedSeppeltsfield Village Barossa Nero d'Avola 2020Barossa Valley$24.99
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ONCE UPON A TIME:
The idea that any good brand story should have a beginning, a middle and no end, is not a new one. Few wineries will ever have the advertising or media muscle to interrupt the consumer conscious in the way that either mass-market favourites or high profile luxury brands can. The simple faith in a true story well told is an attractive idea and one that in a world of social media extension, can quickly gather momentum and generate a profile. But, the fact of the matter is, if you are looking too hard for your true story, it probably isn’t really there.
My favourite true story is not the definitive account of a product, but rather an ‘episode’ about the recording of a live album — Keith Jarrett’s Koln Concert. Jarrett, a brilliant but often mercurial musician, arrived in the city for the soundcheck, feeling ill, truculent and not at all happy with the piano that had been supplied for his performance. What transpired was one of the greatest pieces of improvised music of any genre, as Jarrett riffed for two hours, steadfastly ignoring the lower and upper register of the piano, and concentrating his focus on the middle keys. His whoops and hollers of excitement are captured on the recording, and add to the authenticity of the rendition, making it truly sound like a spontaneous conversation that can be repeatedly heard for the ‘first time’, without losing any of the excitement of a unique, one-off performance.
It strikes me that in this improvised journey — quite literally, without an obvious beginning, middle or end — lies a more honest account of how we should seek to create truth, credibility and engagement around our brands. A true story is a wonderful place to start, but sometimes what it takes to deliver that story — the endeavour, rather than the material — is the compelling hook. The opportunity with Seppeltsfield was not to re-write its history, but, just as dauntingly, to design a new range and label for the first, new addition to its portfolio in 167 years. In the intervening decades since its inception in 1851, it had been a prestigious producer of fortified wines and tonics, and generations of the Seppelt family had guided it through times of abundance and recession, but it had assuredly established a reputation as one of the grand houses of Australian winemaking endeavour and vision.
THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE:
Whatever the venerable foundations of Seppeltsfield, and however noble its history and lineage, there can be no doubt that its ‘second-life’ would not have been possible without the redoubtable Warren Randall. Randall, a Seppelt-trained winemaker of mercurial temperament, formidable skill and canny, entrepreneurial repute, bought the winery a decade ago from a seemingly disinterest Treasury Wine Estate and proceeded to invest millions into returning it to its former pomp and glory. However, there was one caveat which was seriously occluding Randall’s vision, and effectively hampering his attempts to stoke-up a fire of resurrection - Treasury had retained ownership of the brand trademark, effectively limiting the distribution of any table wine to cellar door exposure only. But serendipity struck last year, and while Randall was successfully negotiating the acquisition of another TWE asset - the former Ryecroft winery in McLaren Vale - the prospective new owner made the inclusion of the Seppeltsfield trademark a prerequisite of the purchase. At a stroke, Seppeltsfield could now make ‘Seppeltsfield’ wines again, and 167 years of history could now be reclaimed.
RANDALL PUTS IT BEST:
‘For more than a century, and particularly personified through Benno Seppelt, this business has been based on courage, ambition and ingenuity, From the famous avenue of palms planted by the Seppeltsfield workers during the Great Depression, to the revolutionary design of the Gravity Cellar, to the inception of a 100 Year Old Tawny. Seppeltsfield goes further than being just about grape growing and winemaking - it encapsulates so much of the Australian spirit.' ‘Beginning with our first tier of Barossa still wine releases, 2018 marks the commencement of a new phase for Seppeltsfield; to take this masterpiece brand back to its original place as Australia’s top wine producer. I want to bring this story to wine enthusiasts around the country so they can be part of it.’ Central to the new wine range releases has been a multi-million dollar restoration of the estate’s 1888 Gravity Cellar – a winery designed to harness the natural course of gravity to assist with the vinification process. Originally conceived by Benno Seppelt, eldest son of the original estate founders, the Gravity Cellar is recognised as having played a pivotal role in the evolution of modern winemaking - and is now back in full working use.
The Gravity Cellar today is celebrated by Seppeltsfield’s winemakers Fiona Donald and Matthew Pick, with the 19th-century engineering still enabling a low-energy/minimum pumping approach. The gentle handling of grape must via the gravity principle has proved to preserve and maximise aromatics, colour and flavour of the resultant wine, and is a telling example of how modern innovation can sometimes be found in the reprising of tradition. The opportunity to reimagine the Seppeltsfield brand was always going to be a dextrous mix of recognising the past while also trying to devise a new future.
Undoubtedly, the most iconic image of the estate is the legacy of Benno’s Avenue of Hopes and Dreams - the sentinel lines of majestic palms that flank the surrounding roads and makes the whole Seppeltsfield village an unmissable landmark. Their presence is both remarkable and touchingly paternal - Benno conceived the whole idea as a restorative act of purposeful labour for the local population, demoralised as it was by a biting recession and the ongoing memory of the desperate toll and reality of the First World War. Wages were not on offer, but board and lodging were available, and this act was formative in the establishment of the local village life and culture. Tempting as it was, the palm imagery was resisted as a central theme - it seemed curiously inappropriate to ‘highjack’ such a magnanimous act as a brand marque.
Instead, the answer came by way of Joseph Seppelts attic retreat; a mezzanine study room where he conceived the recipes for the company’s tonics and aromatised wines. Within the library of books and collections of sample bottles, some old brand designs revealed a ‘crown and star’ motif had been registered at the South Australian Patent Office in 1877. This, allied to the discovery of ‘cadet blue’ - a proprietary colour tone first used on a striking Seppeltsfield Vermouth - immediately struck the design team as a winning combination for the new label. Randall’s passion for Seppeltsfield is as real and undiminished as his enviable reputation for being commercially astute. His desire to resurrect the brand is not just a sentimental whim to honour the Seppelt family, but to return a sense of purpose and ambition to the estate - ‘Seppeltsfield has always been aesthetically beautiful, but until now, it had no engine room.’ Randall believes this estate can be the most important winery in Australia, with the ‘crown’ representing its ambition to craft the most majestic of wines, and the ‘star’ providing the navigation and aspiration to recapture a glorious past.
Now that is a brand story!
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