From the moment you pass through the iron gate into the magnificent, National Trust classified ‘Drives’ you’ll feel yourself take a journey back in time. The expansive, rustic tunnels stretch further than the eye can see, enticing you to wander further and explore their rich history.
The Great Western winery was founded in 1865 by Joseph Best, with the excavation of The Drives commencing in 1868. When Joseph Best discovered the ground on the site was made of a rock bed of decomposed granite, an easily dug, yet solid compound, he commissioned local gold miners to tunnel underground cellars to store his wines. These cellars are known to this day as ‘The Drives’.
Initially consisting of only a 9 metre deep shaft entry and a single Drive, successive owners of the winery continued to extend the hand dug Drives over a period of 60 years to cellar the extensive collection of famous wines produced at the property and store them at an optimal temperature of 16 degrees.
The Drives are a maze of tunnels which stretch under the vast property for an incredible 3km, being the largest underground cellaring system in Australia and have the capacity to store 3 million bottles of wine!
Throughout The Drives the walls are blackened, due to being covered in a variety of harmless mould. The mould was in fact imported from France, originating from spores imbedded in French Oak wine barrels which were stored in The Drives in their early days.
Further to cellaring, The Drives were used during the production of Sparkling Wines, to house bottled wine whilst ‘on Lees’ (a process which creates the bubbles, taking between several months to years) and was where the ‘Riddling’ (hand turning of bottles for 6 weeks) process was also carried out. Pre electricity, these processes were performed in the underground tunnels by candlelight.
Deep inside The Drives is an area known as the Brandy Nook where world renowned, Australian opera singer, Dame Nellie Melba famously took a bath in a 152 bottles of champagne! A series of privately owned gated wine bins are carved into the stone here, one of which was owned by the Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Fraser.
Locked away, in another area of The Drives, behind a heavy, arched gate, intricately decorated with the Seppelt family shield, iron vine leaves and bunches of grapes, lies the Ian McKenzie museum, an impressive and valuable private collection of wines dating back to the 1930’s.
Today, thousands of tourists a year, from all over the world visit the Seppelt Winery to explore The Drives and marvel at their incredible history during the guided historical tour of the winery. Furthermore, The Drives are used as a rustic, unique venue for luxurious dining experiences which include sumptuous food perfectly paired with Seppelts exceptional wines. An integral part of Seppelt’s history and heritage, ‘The Drives’ are celebrated with this range of popular varietals.
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