Monday, August 27, 2007

A Fortified Future for (Australian) Wine?

The Foster's Group, the Australia-based global multi-beverage company, agreed today (Aug. 27th) on the sale of the Seppeltsfield site in the Barossa Valley to Kilikanoon, a Clare Valley winery. The fate of Seppeltsfield has been haunting lovers of Australia’s most awarded fortified wines for months. The Seppeltsfield property was purchased by Joseph Seppelt in 1851. Today the 185 hectare property includes the National Trust listed historic homestead and approximately 100 hectares of surrounding vineyards and its blue stone cellars are home to 9 million litres of fortified wines including stocks of the 100 year old Para Liqueur Vintage Tawny; begun in 1878 when Benno Seppelt placed a barrel of the finest wine from that vintage in the cellar and decreed that it would remain untouched for 100 years. In addition to the 100 Year Old Para, the other fortified wines make up Australia’s most diverse and most acclaimed range as the listing below proves.

The most awarded wine of any style is the DP 90 Rare Barossa Valley Tawny which has won 14 Trophies and 59 Gold Medals in Australian Wine Shows since 1990.

DP 59 Rare Rutherglen Tokay, recipient of 4 Trophies and 48 Gold Medals in Australian Wine Shows since 1990.

GR 113 Rare Rutherglen Muscat, recipient of 9 Trophies and 35 Gold Medals in Australian Wine Shows since 1990.

DP 63 Grand Rutherglen Muscat, recipient of 5 Trophies and 24 Gold Medals in Australian Wine Shows since 1990.

DP 57 Grand Rutherglen Tokay, recipient of 29 Gold Medals in Australian Wine Shows since 1990.

"Seppeltsfield houses the world's greatest collection of fortified wines dating back to 1878 in an unbroken tradition. We are proud to become the next custodians of this priceless national treasure", said Kilikanoon CEO, Nathan Waks. "We will work hard to ensure that Australia's already fine reputation in this area is enhanced and to rejuvenate the Seppeltsfield Village over time through sympathetic wine-related redevelopment" (see Press Release)

The sale includes the Seppeltsfield winery, Cellar Door, approximately 100 hectares of surrounding vineyards, the majority of Seppelt fortified wine stocks currently on site, fortified brands names including Para, Solero, Trafford, Old Trafford, Mt Rufus and an exclusive license for the Seppeltsfield brand for fortified wine.

I among others feel tremendous relief that Seppeltsfield and its fortified wines stocks have attracted the attention of a buyer and may now have a future. With interest in these rare but extraordinarily inexpensive wines having fallen into a slump, it was always on the cards that they could just fade from Australian wine culture. However the future is not assured. Foster’s will “continue to retain ownership of key fortified wine stocks on site which will form the basis of Foster's fortified wines.” These wines appear to include Penfolds Great Grandfather and Grandfather wines, but with Foster’s record of bowing to profitability one wonders about their future.

The other concern is more practical. Kilikanoon, although they have an enviable reputation as makers of dry wines like their Oracle Shiraz, they make no fortified wines. So there are unanswered questions. The most important being - Who will be responsible for maintaining the wines already stored at Seppeltsfield and for the production of future releases and future vintages of the 100 Year Old Para? Putting up the money to buy Seppeltsfield is one thing, having the experience to continue the tradition is an entirely different wine game.

EDIT: Killikanoon is the principal of the newly formed Seppeltsfield Estate Trust. The Seppeltsfield Estate Trust will buy the assets. The owners of the Trust include Kilikanoon Wines, Janet Holmes à Court, Greg Paramor and Kilikanoon’s major shareholders Nathan Waks and Bruce Baudinet. (see bottom of Kilikanoon Press Release).

1 comment:

nathan waks said...

Hi All

Nathan Waks from Kilikanoon here.

Happy to answer any questions about the Seppeltsfield sale, and particularly the future.
To begin, we can assure you that the wines will continue to be made by James Godfrey ,who has been making them for 30 years....