Shiraz stamps the identity of gin from the Barossa

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By David Sly

Australian craft gin producers have made their mark by embracing locally sourced botanicals as their defining flavours. For Seppeltsfield Road Distillers to create its own point of difference, this has meant taking a different route by embracing signature grape varieties of the neighbouring Barossa Valley wine industry.

When the boutique distilling company opened its doors to customers in late September 2018, its small range of gins included an unusual shiraz gin.

The husband and wife ownership team of distiller Nicole Durdin and general manager Jon Durdin considered that shiraz was a true Barossa flavour signature, so they went to revered boutique winemaker Dave Lehmann, proprietor of David Franz Wines, to forge a collaboration.

The Barossa Shiraz Gin.

Dave sourced about 400kg of handpicked shiraz from the Stonewell Cottages vineyard, macerating whole bunches of grapes in gin, which combined the rich plum and blackberry flavours of shiraz with subtle hints of juniper, orange and cinnamon.

It’s an idea borrowed from UK sloe gin production, but does not require any added sugar due to the intense, complete flavour profile of ripe Barossa shiraz.

Jon says Seppeltsfield Road Distillers initially considered this a small batch experiment, but its immediate popularity (900 bottles from the 2018 vintage sold out within eight weeks) set the Durdins to think this union of wine flavours and distillation was a winning concept that could be expanded.

Now, as grapes for the 2019 vintage are starting to be harvested, Seppeltsfield Road Distillers is not only planning a second batch of shiraz gin, but has also made available a second wine-accented gin, using semillon grapes – arguably the Barossa Valley’s signature white wine variety.

The Seppeltsfield Road Distillers team, Bec Henderson, left, Nicole Durdin, Jon Durdin and Scott McCarthy. Photo by John Krüger.

Sourced from Hamish Seabrook’s boutique Seabrook Winery at Vine Vale, outside Tanunda, the grapes were probably going to be left to rot on the vine, until the Durdins used them in a daring experiment, leaving the liquor to macerate on grape skins for eight weeks to extract maximum colour and flavour.

“It has such lovely, unique colour for a gin – like a beautiful barrel-aged fortified wine,” explains Jon. “And because of its sweetness from the lush semillon fruit, this gin is the most amazing cocktail ingredient.”

Interested tasters will need to make a hasty beeline for the distillery’s cellar door on Seppeltsfield Road, as only 700 bottles were produced and are selling briskly. Customer waiting lists are already being compiled for the 2019 shiraz and semillon gins, which are likely to be available from late June.

Barossa signatures attached to Seppeltsfield Road Distillery gins continue through the distinctive product labels and company logo, featuring the striking mandala artwork of Barossa artist Janelle Amos.

Seppeltsfield Road Distillers’ three house gins. Photo by John Krüger.

Having been smitten by her original works that involve arranging intricate circular patterns from various plants, fruits and food ingredients, the Durdins commissioned Janelle to create a mandala featuring the various ingredients of their signature gin.

This design has become the basis of all their gin labels, while the original photographic print of the fruit and botanicals mandala made by Janelle now hangs proudly behind the tasting bar at Seppeltsfield Road Distillers.

The appeal of these limited release gins is drawing huge numbers of people to the tasting room on Seppeltsfield Road, with an estimated 20,000 visitors in the business’s initial five months.

The business headquarters has embraced a striking architectural concept, using repurposed shipping containers clad in rich timbers to house the tasting rooms that flank a large glass-encased tower dominated by a tall German-built still.

It’s affectionately called Christine, in honour of Nicole’s forthright grandmother, taking on the mantle as the “hardest-working German lady in the Barossa” says Nicole.

The still and production process can be viewed through the glass frontage.

Having the gleaming still and production process in clear sight – even to motorists driving past the site – has proved an instant attraction, and has certainly enticed visitors to sit for a tutored tasting of the three house gin styles: Barossa Dry, which is a classic juniper style gin with pink peppercorns, lavender, and cornflowers; House Gin, which is a sweet and bright citrusy concoction that has been very appealing to self-confessed “non-gin fans”; and Savoury Allsorts, which uses star anise, licorice root and fresh thyme for a highly fragrant gin.

Seppeltsfield Road Distiller’s success has been underlined by a suite of international and national gin awards, but it has been a long road for the Durdins to reach this point.

Seventh-generation Barossan Nicole was previously a musician, playing the French horn in the SA Police Band, and later for the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, travelling the world for performances, while Jon was a financial analyst who ended up in the UK steering a corporate acquisition by a UK defence company.

Their return to the Barossa – to specifically make gin in a high-profile location that would attract tourism attention – was always designed to make maximum impact, and their wine-influenced gins is a potent focal point of that attention.

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