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By Nathan Gogoll
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The new ‘pods’ at the renovated cellar door.

I was only briefly at last week’s opening of the renovated Seppeltsfield cellar door and new terraced garden, which doubled as the opening of Fino at Seppeltsfield, but I felt the excitement fizzing in the place.

I have to be up-front and confess I’m a pretty big fan of the Seppeltsfield winery. My dad’s first job after he finished at Nuriootpa High School was as a trainee winemaker there. When mum and dad were first married they lived in one of the workers cottages across the road from the gravity-fed winery. They had a black Labrador called Tokay who loved vintage because on the steps next to the old concrete fermenters he could lick up the sweet, purpleness that bubbled through the heading boards.

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The 1890 ‘vintage crew’ in the gravity-fed winery.

Anyway, I have some sort of emotional connection to the place from all the stories. But I don’t think it would be hard for anybody to become a bit attached because it is a beautiful place and home to one of the greatest stories of the Australian wine industry… founded by a Silesian settler whose son, Benno Seppelt, was crazy enough to seal up a barrel in 1878 and declare it had to sit for at least 100 years before anybody did anything with it.

It’s a winery that passed from family ownership, survived a corporate mothballing and has been nourished back to life back in private hands. Its redevelopment has accelerated since another guy with crazy ambitions, Warren Randall, became one of the owners.
So back to the reason for last Friday’s party… the cellar door has been re-fitted; a big, empty space of gently-sloping asphalt replaced with a stunning, terraced garden; and the Fino restaurant has found its second home.

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The old Seppeltsfield bottling hall, circa 1900.

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Nigel Thiele in the same space, from a different angle, 114 years later.

As I was walking around, saying g’day to everybody from photographer Dragan Radocaj to part-owner Randolph Bowen, I honestly had a light-bulb moment. This is what innovation looks like. And it’s possible to be innovative in a building that dates back to 1866, it just means you have to change a few plans along the way to keep the Heritage Trust happy.

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More than 600 people attended Friday’s party. Everything was completed with just a few hours to spare.

The word innovation is bandied about way too much. It should be saved for projects like this one. I started thinking about all the things I’ve heard the marketers say lately (people like Stuart Gregor and Angie Bradbury), that cellar door experiences are rarely experiential, they’re all formulaic and all the same, everybody has to stop copying each other. The Seppeltsfield renovation is the antidote to those sorts of problems.

I reckon there must have been local builders and sparkies involved in all the renovation, because they were all at the launch. I also met the guy who supplied the slate, he was a bit tired because the building and gardening work only paused for a couple of hours the night before the Friday launch party.

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David Swain and Sharon Romeo behind the bar at the new Fino.

I don’t know how the courting process evolved, but Fino at Seppeltsfield is surely the perfect match. Fino will no doubt thrive on the local produce, I’m pretty sure David Swain already had a fair bit to do with the emergence of a Freeling Berkshire pork producer (who supplied the pork that was spit-roasted for the opening and served up on Apex bakery buns, before Nick Ryan stole a head and ate the ears, eyes, brains and all). The restaurant will enhance the reputation of the Barossa as a ‘foodie’ destination. The new ‘pods’ in the cellar door are going to enhance the wine tasting experience for both punters and staff.

I thought the Bavarian dancing and bell-playing at the party was a bit overdone, but only because the Barossa was settled by Silesians, the Seppelt and Gogoll families included, not lederhosen-wearing Bavarians. I asked Bob Sloane, the new Barossa Mayor, to say something to Warren about this, but he said he was “out of his jurisdiction” because we were in the neighbouring Light Regional Council. But while I mention regional differences, it was great to see Barossa and McLaren Vale identities rubbing shoulders at the party, there were even a few Adelaide Hills connections there. It is a good thing to see celebrations like this bringing people together. Perhaps a few more projects (and parties) like this could help improve the mood of the whole industry and remind everybody that innovation isn’t a word for the boardroom and conference presentations. Innovation requires big dreams. And it takes hard work to bring big dreams to life.

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Fiona Donald, Seppeltsfield senior winemaker, and Warren Randall.

Well done to everybody involved at Seppeltsfield.

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