The Wine A Century In The Making
There’s a very good reason why South Australia’s Seppeltsfield Winery is revered the world over—an unbroken run of a single wine that stretches back 145 years.
We’ll never know what kind of world Oscar Benno Pedro Seppelt imagined would greet the barrel of tawny port he was setting aside, with express instructions it remained untouched for a century.But let’s assume, even considering this was a man universally declared a “visionary”, that it would blow his mind.
It was 1878 and Seppelt, known to all as “Benno”, had already witnessed rapid and seismic change. He was three years old when he arrived in the South Australian colony, drawn from the family’s home in Silesia, now modern-day Poland, by his father’s ambition to farm tobacco. That lead to the purchase of 158 acres in the Barossa Valley, bought for £1 an acre.
The tobacco didn’t exactly thrive but the small vineyard planted beside it did, and by the time his father died in 1868, the family’s future was liquid.
Benno grew the business—spirits, vinegars and cordials as well as wine—and embarked on an ambitious building program that would create an estate rivalling the grandest of Europe.
It was the opening of one of his biggest building projects, an imposing cellar for the maturation of the company’s fortified wines, that inspired the idea Benno knew he’d never see pay off.
But we do.
Marking the opening of that cellar in 1878 by laying down a barrel of his best tawny from that vintage, Benno set in train a process that now delivers the most unique annually released wine in the world.
Every year since 1878, a wine has emerged from that cellar, shaking off a century’s slumber. Every year another wine rises from the past and presents us with a portal back in time.
Scour the auction rooms of places like Sotheby’s and Christies and you might, very occasionally, find an older wine for sale, but nowhere, other than in the old cellar Benno built at Seppeltsfield, will you find an unbroken run of a single wine stretching back 145 years.
It is, without question, one of the wine world’s greatest treasures; a beautiful idea, an ambitious dream, a miraculous— and just a little daft—reality.
Just think for a minute of the constantly compounding good fortune that needed to shine on that cellar for us to drink these wines. How many times in more than 14 decades did someone ask themselves, “Why are we bothering to do this?” It’s a financially reckless thing to do, and even though the end product is expensive, it’s still too cheap.
The 2023 vintage has just taken its place in that cellar, and by the time it is released for sale, the passing of one hundred years will have robbed it of more than two thirds of its current volume, evaporated away, lost to what winemakers romantically call “the angel’s share”. But it is the compression and concentration that comes with the passing of time that make this wine what it is. What was once a blend of shiraz and grenache grapes, fortified to stop fermentation and retain a level of natural sweetness, becomes something that looks more like sump oil and flows like treacle.
It’s folded back on itself year after year, continually evolving, building the kind of complexity you just don’t see in any other wine. Like Nigel Tufnel’s amplifier in Spinal Tap, “this one goes up to 11”.
As for the Seppeltsfield 1923 Para Vintage Tawny? Bringing the glass to the nose is like creeping up to the edge of the abyss. You’re about to fall into something you can’t come back from easily. You don’t taste this wine, you submit to it. It’s the aromatic intensity that hits you first. You inhale and coat every cavity in your skull with its heady aroma. Burnt toffee, the darkest corners of a spice-laden souk, cordite, dark gingerbread and rye, coffee grounds and waxed oilskin.
And then it hits the tongue. And just stays there. The experience of just a few drops on the tongue makes you wonder if Willie Wonka ever made wine. You ask yourself if such intensity of flavour, such sustained and unwavering presence, is possible in a liquid simply made from fermented grapes. It is putting profundity in your mouth and the experience stays with you a very long time.
$1650 (100ml); seppeltsfield.com.au
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