Deep underground in the maze of historic hand dug cellars known as The Drives at Seppelt Winery, Great Western is a room carved into the decomposed granite tunnels called The Brandy Nook.
An intricate chandelier hangs from the ceiling illuminating this beautiful, rustic area where the stone walls and ceiling have been blackened by Aspergillus Niger, a harmless species of mould which grows throughout the underground cellars. Along the walls there are a series of privately owned, gated wine bins cut into the stone, one of which was owned by the former Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Fraser.
The Brandy Nook was once locked away behind a huge gate as it was where Hans Irvine, the second owner of the winery, stored his Brandy, hence its name. The word ‘’brandy’’ comes from the Dutch term brandewijn meaning ‘’burnt wine’’, or wine that has been heated and distilled into a spirit. Legend has it that the product stored in the Brandy Nook had an extremely high alcohol content and that it was locked away due to being highly toxic, highly volatile, so the workers wouldn’t steal it and that Irvine was hiding the amount he was producing to avoid paying the huge government tax on it at the time! In the early 1890s Irvine was buying two-thirds of the produce of local vignerons and distilling a considerable amount of it into brandy. He marketed his brandy with an emphasis on its medicinal properties, and in particular its effectiveness in treating ‘infirmity.’
In 1910 whilst at the winery to open a drive named in her honour, world renowned Australian opera singer, Dame Nellie Melba declared, in true diva fashion, to Hans Irvine, that she would love to bathe in champagne. Realising what a fabulous publicity stunt this would be for his winery, Hans agreed, instructing his cellar hands to fetch a bath, place it behind the gate in the Brandy Nook and fill it with champagne. It took 152 bottles of champagne to fill the bath but alas, Dame Nellie merely dipped her toe in the bubbly and declared she was not getting in because it was much too cold for her…. Once again Hans Irvine saw a business opportunity, ordering his cellar hands to re-bottle the “bath” wine and later sold it labelled as Dame Nellie Melba’s bath water Champagne.
Although Hans Irvine’s brandy is long gone and the gate has since been removed, The Brandy Nook is still being enjoyed to this day, having been repurposed as a rustic, unique venue for luxurious dining, picturesque wedding photography location, and exceptional Seppelt wine experiences offered at the winery and is a point of interest for visitors who undertake the guided historical winery tour which is offered daily at Seppelt.
Next time you are visiting The Grampians or Wimmera area pay a visit to Seppelt Cellar Door in Great Western where you can take part in the historical winery tour to hear all of the fascinating history of the winery, dating back to 1865 and see The Brandy Nook and our National Trust classified underground cellars for yourself.