A viticulturist is a bit like the drummer in a band. They’re a key foundation, but usually kept well out of the limelight, letting the winemaker talk about how “wine is made in the vineyard” and somehow taking all the glory at the same time. Stuart Proud is a farmer first and foremost, and one…
Charlie Seppelt & Skye Salter Paralian
Charlie Seppelt and Skye Salter have both had diverse and decorated careers as winemakers, recording stints at notable wineries all around the world, but it is in their beloved McLaren Vale that they have settled down to make their wine, their way. Paralian celebrates distinguished sites in the Vale and the Adelaide Hills, with styles that are fragrant, bright and emphasise both early drinkability and the potential to age.
Seppelt (a famous wine name, yes, and he’s from that family, of Seppeltsfield and Seppelt Great Western fame) and Salter had tallied 46 vintages between them, and all over the world, before launching Paralian. Making their own wine had been a dream for a long time, but with busy careers, it seemed to perennially slip through their grasp. In 2018, the pieces fell into place with the pair turning eight tonnes of fruit into three wines from Blewitt Springs – a shiraz, a grenache and a blend of the two. From the 2019 vintage, an Adelaide Hills chardonnay joins the roster.
Seppelt and Salter didn’t meet until 2008, while they were both working at Hardys Tintara, though they studied the same bachelor of oenology degree at the University of Adelaide, graduating in 2005 and 2006 respectively – this was Seppelt’s second stab at a career, when his aquaculture studies didn’t pan out. Salter went to Tintara straight from study and stayed there for three years, before moving to Shaw + Smith, in the Adelaide Hills, in 2009. Wirra Wirra followed for three years, and later a stint at Penny’s Hill before a brief return to Tintara in 2019. Salter managed vintages in the Okanagan Valley, Canada, at Jackson Triggs, and at Domaine Preignes Le Vieux in the Languedoc, as well as at Domaine Dublere, in Burgundy.
Seppelt did a vintage in Burgundy in 2009, before returning to Tintara in 2010 as the winemaker, staying until 2012. He then worked for Jackson Family wines, until 2017, in McLaren Vale at the Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard as winemaker with Chris Carpenter and was winery manager at Yangarra Estate alongside Peter Fraser. He has also worked at Château Giscours, in Bordeaux, J.L. Chave, in Hermitage, Villa Maria, in Marlborough, and at Torbreck, d’Arenberg and Wolf Blass back home.
And while Paralian is still an evolving project, the pair aren’t quite ready to drop their day jobs yet, with Salter the winemaker for Willunga 100 and Seppelt a senior winemaker with Warren Randall’s Randall Wine Group (which owns Seppeltsfield, by the way), working alongside such greats as Steve Pannell, Fiona Donald and Paul Carpenter.
This security also means that their project can evolve as slowly as needed, with their approach to site and fruit selection an uncompromising one. “Our ideas were strongly based around sourcing the best fruit we could, not settling for an ‘OK’ vineyard or one that just popped up, rather proven blocks with flavour characteristics we were hunting. Both our growers in the beginning, the Cross Family and Whaite Family have their vineyards in Blewitt Springs, a cooler and often more fragrant sub-region of McLaren Vale. It just so happened that the two blocks are on Maslin Sand Geology too…deposits of beach sand from many, many years ago. We want to be expressing the Vale and Adelaide Hills, but most importantly vintage, variety and site from every vintage.”
The winemaking is traditional and gentle. The 2018 wines were made in 130-year-old wax-lined concrete fermenters, with a portion of whole bunches, and were hand plunged and foot trod over relatively long natural ferments. The wines were raised in French puncheons, with little or no new oak.
“We are looking towards modernity with our style, high fragrance, brightness and above all, drinkability at an early stage notwithstanding potential to be cellared. Great wines are great when they’re young and great when they’re aged. It’s not a complex ideal… but to do less is to do more. A lot more thought has gone into the shaping of these wines to keep us from delving back into a more commercial world… one we are both well versed in.”