Where You Can Taste Wine as Old as Grandma
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
This Australian cellar lets you sample booze from the year you were born — but only up to age 116.
By Joanna Lobo
My request to taste the 110-year-old wine stuns the manager, Nigel Thiele — a vintage of this age is the oldest they’ve been asked to open. The small barrel has a few cracks where wine has seeped through. Thiele draws out a small quantity of the port, which is deep red and viscous. As expected from a century-old fortified wine, its sweetness has concentrated, and it tastes like a rich Christmas fruitcake with hints of butterscotch. I take small sips and toast my grandmother across the Indian Ocean.
This wine was bottled in 1908, the year my grandmother was born. And this Australian cellar allows visitors the unique opportunity to sample vintages from special years in their lives. What can be more satisfying than cracking open a bottle of wine that was “born” in the same year as you? It’s one of the few places where the older you are, the better your experience.
Seppelstfield Winery, one of the many vineyards that dot the countryside of Barossa, in South Australia, is also one of the oldest wineries in the country. The estate was started by Joseph Seppelt from Silesia (a historical region of Central Europe) in 1850 and spread across 158 acres of land. After Joseph died, his 21-year-old son Benno took the reins and completed the stone cellars. And to honor his father’s memory, Benno kept aside a barrel of the finest wine produced that year — 1878 — to remain untouched for 100 years. It was a decision that led to Seppeltsfield becoming the largest collection of fortified wines in the world — of which 140 are vintage ports.
If you’re anywhere from 21 to 116 years old (unlikely), there’s a homegrown barrel with your birth year on it.
The ports (there is a new one created each year) are stored in wooden barrels in a cellar on the top floor of the distillery. In 2011, Seppeltsfield opened the Centennial Cellar to the public, offering tours like the most popular “Taste Your Birth Year.” It’s a “world wine opportunity,” says Warren Randall, the current proprietor, and a chance to “view the longest unbroken lineage of single vintage wines in the world.” A qualified viticulturist and winemaker, Randall gained his wine-making chops working for the Seppelt family at Seppelt Great Western in the 1980s.
So if you’re anywhere from 21 to 116 years old (unlikely), there’s a homegrown barrel with your birth year on it.
Other tours provide a diverse historical cross tasting of vintages from noteworthy years: On the Centenary Tour, you can sample a 100-year-old Para Vintage Tawny 1918 Port, and the “Years of World War I” tour offers tastings of tawny port made from 1914 to 1918.
Source: Joanna Lobo
You can also customize your experience and celebrate other occasions — with 1902 or younger vintages — such as anniversaries and the birth years of children. Other requests, according to Randall, have included “milestone years” like Elvis’ death, the stock market crash, the first moon landing and the year Princess Diana died.
The wine cellar has found fans in the British royal family. Prince Charles, the Duchess of Cornwall and Prince Edward visited the vineyard this year for the first time, and barrels have been created for Prince George and Princess Charlotte.
My grandmother will turn 110 this December. She has seen both world wars and India’s and Goa’s independence from British and Portuguese rule, respectively, and she has been fighting diabetes since the age of 18. Her senses are failing now, but she still lights up the room when she laughs. Who better to celebrate? Though she prefers the local feni (a drink common to the state of Goa, where I am from), wine is reserved for special occasions.
Go there: Seppelstfield Winery
- Location: An hour’s drive from Adelaide, the winery is located on the stunning Avenue of Palms — a trail of 2,000 Canary Island Date Palms, planted by Seppeltsfield workers during the Great Depression. Map.
- Tours: Can be booked online and cost AUS 80–150 (approximately $57–$108).
- Joanna Lobo, OZY Author Contact Joanna Lobo