In Australia’s Barossa Valley, the Centennial Cellar and its treasured casks reads like a tale worthy of ancient Europe - ingrained in tradition, foregoing both modernity and financial reasoning, while its story a romantic tale of quixotic ambition.
Originally a wheat and sheep farmer, yet chemist by training, Joseph Seppelt saw local vignerons struggling to make decent wines. A winery was built in Seppeltsfield’s dairy and began operating in 1855 and functioned like co-operative with many small local growers supplying their fruit. His son, Benno Seppelt took over running the cellars after his father's death in 1868 - at the age of just 21 - and oversaw a rapid expansion through the late 1800s (including the still used Gravity Cellars… but that’s another story).
In 1878, to commemorate his father’s legacy, Benno choose the best barrel of Vintage Tawny Port* and ordered it to be locked away, laid to rest and not to be opened for a century. He instructed this task to be continued every vintage thereafter. Essentially a blend of Grenache and Shiraz, the wine is fortified with brandy spirit made at the Seppeltsfield Distillery and laid down in old oak puncheons. During the first half century the wine is then topped up using reserve stock of the same vintage. Over two thirds of the wine, literally vanishes in thin air (known as the ‘Angel’s Share’) and evaporates during the 100-year maturation period. Leaving approximately 200 litres left to bottle.
Seppeltsfield, the only winery in the world, to release a hundred-year-old wine…
This goes beyond thinking of the physical space to achieve such a vision, and lies most importantly, with the next generations that would be willing to continue the practice - not even knowing if it would be successful or recouping its financial rewards - just a willingness to see out the vision and legacy of its founder.
But it’s thanks to that blind determination, sheer fortitude, and absolute family loyalty, that Seppeltsfield, in South Australia’s beautiful Barossa valley now has an unbroken lineage of every vintage of Para Vintage Tawny, from the current year hailing back to 1878 - Each and every one, a liquid time capsule. Making Seppeltsfield, the only winery in the world, to release a hundred-year-old wine…
...every single year.
The first wine (of 141 wines… and counting) was only opened 41 years ago. And while the wines themselves are finite, the concept is infinite. Even now, there’s an empty barrel ready to receive the upcoming 2019 Para Vintage Tawny in the coming months which will then lay dormant until 2119 - making the Centenary Cellar a living, evolving museum.
These Barossa Valley wines really live one hundred years of solitude, before beginning their life anew in 100mL and 375mL bottles. Only then, do they leave their place of birth and maturity, free to be exported to the far reaches of the world where new audiences can discover these rare gems.
Yet, with such rarity comes the ability for visitors to not just experience the Centenary Cellar by walking through it, feeling the wooden beams or touching the barrels, but with the full sensory experience to taste both the 100-year-old Para Vintage Tawny as well as birth year vintages.
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