Much like the fortified wines Nuriootpa’s Brian Pickert has helped craft over his 41-year career with Seppeltsfield Winery, both could easily be described as unsung heroes in the Australian wine sector.
Last week, the valued and much respected cellar manager hung up his hard hat and work clothes signalling the end of his working era, but not his love for quality fortifieds.
His efforts to Barossa’s wine industry were honoured during a special luncheon on Friday at Wanera Wine Bar, Angaston, attended by his peers.
Mr Pickert’s work with the picturesque winery began in late November 1976 when he was having a spell from his bakery role.
“Baking was intense back then and I was supervising, so I decided to get out and have a year or two year’s break,” he said.
Mr Pickert joked, he definitely didn’t “pick it” – that he would end up remaining for over four decades within the same company.
His first job involved painting, yet by 1977 he had completed his first vintage inside the historic gravity vintage cellar which back then housed wax-lined concrete tanks – unlike today, where the tanks have been upgraded to stainless steel.
Mr Pickert recalls the company undergoing several changes of hands after the Seppelt family site became a public entity through the stock market when he first arrived.
The change saw him move to the family’s other site, Chateau Tanunda, and then return in the 1990s to work under fortified winemaker James Godfrey, before it was taken over by the Seppeltsfield Estate Trust in 2007.
Today, the company is known as ‘Seppeltsfield’ with the majority of the shareholding held by managing director Warren Randall.
Mr Pickert said he entered the company in a phase when fortified wines were beginning to take a back seat to table wines.
“In 1976 we were starting to make claret (red wine) and hocks (German white wines),” he said.
“Fortified wines slid in the 1980s and were certainly not as big as before, but they always had a place at Seppeltsfield.”
The jewel in their crown was the first release of the 100-year-old ‘Para Port’ in 1978 – a moment that will forever remain with him.
The tradition, which continues today, involved second generation Seppelt, Benno, who in his wisdom decided to lay down a puncheon (280 litres) of ‘Para’ fortified wine, despite not being alive to see it released on its 100th anniversary.
For now, Mr Pickert says, “like all retirees I plan to travel”.