The Seppeltsfield story begins with Joseph Ernst Seppelt, a merchant, who migrated to Australia with his family in 1849, from Silesia, in what is now Poland.
The Seppelt family settled in the Barossa Valley in 1851, and purchased the property now known as Seppeltsfield. The Seppeltsfield area is warm and dry, with only a 500 mm Rainfall, while the soils are heavy and red brown. The Seppelt family vines flourished in this fertile valley and Joseph also encouraged his neighbours to plant vines. Soon the landscape was transformed to lush fields of green and gold vines.
Seppeltsfield’s first vintage was produced in the family dairy. By 1867, Joseph had commenced construction of a full scale winery. Unfortunately he did not live to see it completed, but his enterprising and pioneering spirit lived on after him. His eldest son, Oscar Benno Seppelt worked hard to ensure his father's dream came true. Only 21 years old when he inherited the winery in 1868. It was Benno's influence, more than anything else, which earned Seppeltsfield its reputation for quality wines. From such small beginnings, Benno continued to expand Seppeltsfield until, by the turn of the 20th Century it was Australia's largest winery, producing 2 million litres annually. Later generations continued to expand both wineries and vineyards.
No other Australian wine maker has such comparable stocks of old fortified wines. Back in 1878, when the magnificent stone Seppeltsfield port store was completed, Benno Seppelt selected a puncheon- a 500 litre barrel- of his finest port wine from that vintage and laid it in the new storage maturation cellar. This barrel was to sit for a minimum of 100 years in the one spot and then released as our Seppeltsfield 100 yr old Para Tawny Port. Each year from 1978, the next vintage of the port was released in a 750ml bottle.. For the release of the 1900, (in 2000), it was decided to sell them in 375ml bottles as well as 750ml
FIRST GENERATION - JOSEPH SEPPELT
Joseph Seppelt was born in 1813 in Gompersdorf and moved to
Wustewaltersdorf, Silesia in 1841 to conduct a business in manufacturing and selling tobacco, snuff and liqueurs. After completing his education he travelled extensively throughout Germany, Austria and Northern Italy. Upon returning home, he entered the family business but the political and economic disturbances of the 1840s made him think of migrating to a land free of revolts and other social upheavals. He at first apparently considered going to Brazil, but decided to immigrate to Australia like other Germans were doing.
Joseph took his wife, Johanna Charlotte, his two sons, Benno & Hugo, and daughter Ottilie. He also took 13 families from his neighbourhood and a group of young men who had worked in his factory, with the hope of re-establishing the family business. The party left Hamburg on 5th September 1849 on the ship Cezar Helene and disembarked at Strode. They then took the vessel Emmy to Melbourne, where they arrived in January 1850. The ship then went on to Port Adelaide and it is unclear whether the Seppelt group disembarked there or whether they left the ship at Melbourne, and travelled overland to Adelaide. In 1850 the family settled at Klemzig. Whilst residing there Joseph purchased 80 acres at Golden Grove with the intentions of growing tobacco. After discovering the area was unsuitable for such a crop he was attracted to the Barossa Valley where he and his family moved in 1851.
In February 1852, a deed was registered in Adelaide indicating that Joseph Seppelt farmer, of Seppeltsfield had purchased 158 acres of land in the Hundred of Nuriootpa from Hermann Kook, farmer of Tanunda at a £1 an acre. By this time the Seppelt family had cleared and planted their land with tobacco and wheat and had moved from Tanunda where they had lived for a short period of time. The area again proved unsuitable for the tobacco plant because, although it grew rapidly, the leaf was too strong to be used in the production of tobacco or snuff. However, because of the Victorian gold rushes, high prices were obtained for wheat and so the family had a good economic start.
Joseph then decided to plant vines. Given his manufacturing background and knowledge of liqueur and cordial making it was not surprising that he saw the potential of making wine in the Barossa. He built a cellar and gradually explored markets for his wines until 1867 when he felt confident enough to begin the construction of a full-scale winery.
Unfortunately Joseph Seppelt did not live to see the coming to fruitation of his plans as he died on 29th January 1868 aged 55 years. Johanna Charlotte, Joseph's wife, only survived him a little over two years, dying on 13th April 1870.
SECOND GENERATION - OSCAR BENNO PEDRO SEPPELT
After Joseph's death he bequeathed the business to his son, Oscar Benno Pedro Seppelt, who was only 21 years of age. Under the provision of J E Seppelt's will, Benno received 55% of the estate valued at approximately 1000 pounds, Victor Hugo, Joseph's younger son received 30% and his sister Ottilie 15%. Benno brought them out, paying 5% interest per annum. Victor did not play a prominent role in the business and died in March 1882.
Unlike his father, he did not receive the benefits of a European education, but instead attended the local school in Tanunda. An interest in science was stimulated by his attendance at chemistry classes given by Dr C Meucke, who had also given a series of lectures on agricultural chemistry to the Tanunda Vintners & Gardeners Association.
With his determination to succeed and natural ability, Benno set out to expand the family business. He was more than assisted by his wife, Sophie Schroeder, whom he married in November 1870. Over the next 20 years or so, Benno and Sophie had a total of 16 children, 13 of whom (four girls & nine boys) survived to adulthood.
Seppeltsfield was not only a large-scale commercial and industrial enterprise, but was a community. Benno and Sophie extended their responsibility beyond their own personal concerns with the winery, property and household, to their employees, grape growers and the community as a whole. One of the remarkable things about Benno Seppelt was his generosity to the other winemakers, with whom he was always willing to share his experience and knowledge.
The enthusiasm and thoroughness brought by Benno Seppelt to his business was continued by his sons, who were expected to carry on the family tradition. The four daughters didn't participate in business matters and were restricted to the household where they occupied a supporting role to their mother. In preparation for their future positions in the company, most of Benno's son’s attended Prince Alfred College followed by some further training in viticulture either at home or abroad.
Third Generation - Oscar Benno Seppelt Named after his father, was educated at Prince Alfred College and then spent several years studying at the Royal Viticultural Research Institute in Vienna. As the eldest son he became head of the firm and Chairman of Directors after Benno's death in May 1931. As Oscar had no children by his Viennese wife, Hedwic Cecilia Deichter- Muller, the chairmanship passed to his brother Leo Renato on his retirement in 1939.
The first daughter to Benno and Sophie was born in 1874, naming her Flora Eugenie. Flora married William Kimber in 1895 and had 6 children.
Their second daughter, Clara Blanca, was born in 1876 and died a spinster in 1963.
The next son, Camillo Pedro Seppelt, attended Prince Alfred College and studied oenology at Roseworthy Agricultural College graduating with a Diploma in Agriculture in 1896 .He then became vineyard manager at Seppeltsfield until 1916 when B Seppelt and Sons acquired Chateau Tanunda from the Adelaide Wine Company. Camillo took over as Manager of the Chateau, a position he held until his death on the 10th May 1935, aged 57. During his early years at Chateau Tanunda, Camillo suffered internal injuries when he tied ropes around his waist and dropped into a deep well to rescue an employee who had fallen in, these may have contributed to his relatively early death. It is believed approximately 2000 people attended his funeral on May 12th 1935.
Udo Waldemar Seppelt was Oscar's third son who, after graduating with a Diploma in Agriculture from the Roseworthy College in 1900 became the company secretary of B Seppelt & Sons. Following his brother Leo Renato’s death in 1942, Udo succeeded to the Chairmanship.
Udo's son, Ian Howe Seppelt (born 1909) was educated at St Peter's College and the University of Adelaide (B.Sc.) followed by a three year period of study at the Montpellier Agricultural College and the Agronomic Institute of Paris. He returned in 1936 and became director of the family company and replaced his late uncle, Camillo, as manager of Chateau Tanunda .In 1956 he was appointed General Manager of B Seppelt & Sons, a position he held until 1972. He died in 1973, aged 63
Selma Melitta, the 3rd daughter to Benno and Sophie, born in November 1880 and like her older sister Clara never married and died in 1940.
Xaver Arno Seppelt was born in March 1882, attended Prince Alfred College and gained a Diploma in Agriculture at Roseworthy In 1903 he joined the office staff at B Seppelt & Sons Ltd at Seppeltsfield. Two years later he transferred to the Adelaide office and in 1906 was sent to Brisbane to open a branch office. Xaver remained Managing Director of Queensland until 1922 when he moved to Sydney to establish a branch. Xaver retired in 1940 and died in 1963.
Leo Renato Seppelt was born 15 months after his brother Xaver Arno. He followed the same path as Xaver attending Prince Alfred College & Roseworthy Agricultural College and then joining the company. After receiving a thorough training in every sphere of the wine business he became Manager of the Adelaide office. In 1939 he took over as Chairman from his older brother Oscar, who was 69 years of age. Leo died suddenly on the 21st of October 1942 at his home in Glenelg, aged 59. The Chairman of Directors and General Manager's position was passed to his brother Udo Waldemar.
Both of Leo's sons, John Rothwell Seppelt (born 1913) and Robert Leo Seppelt (born 1916) joined the family firm. John attended St Peter's College. He became a director of B Seppelt & Sons Ltd in 1939, but from 1941 to 1946 served overseas as a flying officer with the RAAF. After the war he developed the marketing and advertising side of the business. Robert Leo Seppelt attended St Peter's College and became director of B Seppelt & Sons ltd in 1942. He assumed a prominent role in the firm and in the industry as a whole. Robert Leo held the position of Chairman of Directors until 1984 and then he stood down due to the share market struggle for control of B Seppelt & Sons.
The next two sons to be born to Benno and Sophie Seppelt, Marco Dominico Seppelt and Norbert Erno Seppelt, took no part in the family business. Marco, a bachelor, lived most of his life in the USA and was thought to be an engineer. Norbert Erno qualified as a doctor and resided in England.
Joseph Gerold was born in 1888 and trained as an architect. However , he also joined B Seppelt & Sons in Fremantle. Joseph Gerold's, son Karl Joseph Seppelt (born 1930) was educated at St Ignatius College in Sydney and Roseworthy Agricultural College. In 1954 Karl Seppelt became Chief Viticulturist with B Seppelt & Sons Ltd, a position he held until 1972. From 1972 to 1979 he was General Manager of the Company, in 1979 he became Managing Director, a position he held until the take-over of Seppelt’s by South Australia Brewing Holdings Ltd in 1985. Since then Karl and his family have established their own winery at Mt Pleasant. Joseph’s other son, Gerold Benno Seppelt was also a director of the company for many years until the 1985 takeover.
Benno and Sophie’s last daughter, Vera Viola, was born in April 1890 and married Clement William Kingston Lake. Together they had 4 children. Vera died in Adelaide in 1966.
The last child to be born to Oscar and Sophie Seppelt was Tuisko Turso in 1891. After attending Prince Alfred College he joined the Queensland Branch in 1910 and stayed there until 1917 when he was appointed Victorian Managing Director. His son, Hilton Mervyn joined in 1936 after returning from Montpellier Agricultural College to head Winemaking and operations. Tuisko died in 1957.
The Seppelt family was unusual (but not unique) in the extent to which they became involved in the wine trade, and it was this plus the extent of its operations in Australia that gave the company its special quality.