Charlie Seppelt & Skye Salter Paralian

Top Winemakers

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 age-ability.

“We want to be expressing the Vale and Adelaide Hills, but most importantly vintage, variety and site from every vintage,” says Seppelt. “We are looking towards modernity with our style, high fragrance, brightness and above all, drinkability at an early stage with the 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 than in a more commercial world… one we are both well versed in.”

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 joined the roster, with a cabernet added recently.

“We are thrilled to launch a new wine from the 2022 vintage,” says Seppelt, “a single vineyard, dry grown cabernet sauvignon from the Springs Hill Vineyard in Blewitt Springs where we also get our shiraz from. Somewhat controversial – cabernet isn’t exactly “on trend” at the moment – but the vineyard is really special and was deserving of its own single vineyard wine. We are proud to be the winemakers that get to put a spotlight on it.”

“We want to be expressing the Vale and Adelaide Hills, but most importantly vintage, variety and site from every vintage. We are looking towards modernity with our style, high fragrance, brightness and above all, drinkability at an early stage with the potential to be cellared.”

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 Dublère, 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.

Until recently, Salter was the winemaker for Willunga 100 and Seppelt is still 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.

“Our growth as a small business is still quite slow paced and organic,” says Seppelt. “2022 was the first year we managed to exceed 10 tonnes for our total harvest… 10 tonnes almost became a bit of a resistance point for us with some challenging years in the past five, with bushfires, frost, hail, terrible weather over flowering all derailing our plans to produce a little more wine! We did manage to get to the point where Skye left her full time winemaking role late last year and is working full time in Paralian now – it is a really big step for us as a brand that is equally exciting and terrifying.”

While the project has been evolving slowly, it was not just Mother Nature that stunted growth, 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.”

The winemaking is traditional and gentle. The red wines are made in 133-year-old wax-lined concrete fermenters, with a portion of whole bunches, and are hand plunged and foot trod over relatively long natural ferments. The wines were raised in French puncheons, with little or no new oak. The chardonnay is barrel fermented, employing less than 20 per cent new oak.

“We really want to continue to refine what we do with the vineyards we are currently working with,” says Seppelt. “Every vintage pitches different conditions at us, so the aim is to make sure we are getting the absolute best out of the fruit every single year. Making single vineyard wines is a ‘study’ of sorts – small tweaks in what we do every year to get the wine exactly where we want it. Hopefully, in five to ten years’ time we are still working with the same growers and can be really proud to show them a bit of a time capsule of each season from their vines.”

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