Great Western in the Grampians is like a history lesson in Australian wine. With vines first planted in 1862 (you read that right), the area garnered a reputation for high-quality shiraz and riesling and its sparkling wines. Back before non-French wines were prohibited from using French regional nomenclature, the site now owned by Seppelt was famous for its Claret. The shiraz planted by Joseph Best (recognise that name?) was replanted in 1962 to a better-suited clone, and it now produces the famous St Peter’s red wines.
It was Best who began the work of digging the more than 3km of underground storage tunnels. He employed miners from the goldfields to dig them by hand for storing thousands upon thousands of bottles. When you tour these tunnels, called ‘drives’, you can see not only the very many dusty bottles of very old wine, but also marks from the hand tools used to carve the tunnels out of the granite. Sadly, Best died without leaving a will, and when all was finally settled, Ballarat businessman Hans Irvine bought the winery in 1890 with an ambition to make Champagne. He bought a French Champagne house, shipped it all out to Great Western along with wine maker Charles Pierlot. He’d failed to tell the Frenchman that there was only shiraz growing on the property, but he made the first known method traditionelle shiraz, and it’s still a staple at the Australian Christmas table.
Of course, with Benno Seppelt in 1918 came the substantial vineyard resources of the Seppelt wineries, and since then, more traditional white sparkling wines made with chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier.
This is a pretty potted history of a substantial legacy, and space constraints mean we’ve had to gloss over some really important bits. Honestly, you need to get in a car and spend some time exploring the dusty underground history at Seppelt. There are some significant bonuses for making the effort. For starters, the wines are magnificent. Do a tasting, pay the small fee for the really good stuff, and ask for all the stories. It’s a stunning setting, and there are accommodation options too – from ‘glamping’ to the AirBnB in Best’s Cottage or the magnificent Vine Lodge.
OHO stayed in Great Western at Salinger’s B&B, and ate at the Great Western Hotel. Both are owned by the same family, bringing life to the old pub with a passion for local producers. Do it – it’s a great drive, and worth staying over so you can take in some of the other awesome producers in the area.