Seppeltsfield’s Chief Winemaker has a foot in the past, her mind in the present and a keen eye on the future.
As Chief Winemaker of one of Australia’s most iconic estates, Fiona Donald strikes a balance between modernity and tradition. Ever-respectful of Seppeltsfield’s near 170-year history, she champions the expanding range of contemporary table wines alongside the stunning fortified collection.
There aren’t many winemakers who could successfully preside over such a complex portfolio; Donald has a foot in the past, her mind on the present and a keen eye for the future.
With 30 years’ experience, including senior roles at some of Australia’s largest wine companies, Donald mixes winemaking nous, fierce intellect and sharp wit with decisive but compassionate management. Meticulous attention to detail ensures that each bottle leaving the winery is outstanding.
Wines under the Seppeltsfield banner are poised and purposeful; they’re honest in their expression of region, variety and style, and indisputable in their quality.
The current ‘Village’ table wines, with their striking blue and black artwork, inspired by old cherry brandy and vermouth labels, include vermentino, riesling, mataro, grenache, shiraz and nero d’Avola. There are also exciting new tiers to the portfolio soon-to-be-released, including the ‘Grounds’ range celebrating the subregionality of Barossa shiraz.
“Fiona Donald has not only polished the sacrosanct Seppeltsfield fortifieds to a new lustre but also crafted an exemplary range of contemporary Seppeltsfield table wines.” Peter Bourne
The resurrection of the 1888 Gravity Cellar is one of the highlights of Donald’s 11 years at Seppeltsfield. The hillside location promotes the natural flow of wine throughout the production process.
Donald is admired for her work ethic, skill and tenacity, but also her humility.
“Everyone who’s worked at Seppeltsfield has contributed something that remains”, says Donald. As a custodian, “my role is to lay down stocks for future winemakers to work with”, she says. “Fortifieds are a long game.”
As a Sydney high school student who loved food, flavour, science and French, the inspiration for wine came from a newspaper story about a father and daughter winemaking duo. Donald wrote to Len Evans for advice on the industry. He responded with a surprise call saying, “Roseworthy is the place to go”, and so began the adventure.
Donald’s first winemaking role, age 20, was in 1991 working with David O’Leary at Hardys Tintara in McLaren Vale. A stint making red at Renmano in the Riverland followed, managing a record 20,000-tonne crush with white winemaker Ann-Marie Wasley.
In 1995, Donald worked in France before moving to the grower cooperative Barossa Valley Estate, working with the disciplined Guenther Prass. “It was the best introduction to the Barossa you could get, meeting generational Barossa families who had amazing old-vine vineyards.”
She was appointed Senior Winemaker of the Penfolds’ red department in late 1997. “I loved working for Penfolds; it was such a great team”, says Donald. “Each wine had a raison d’etre, a reason for being in the portfolio; a story”. She worked closely with the vineyard team, including Paul Georgiadis, Wendy Allen and Matt Alexander, later becoming Winemaker: Vineyard Liaison, staying with the company for almost 10 years.
Donald, husband Matthew Pick and their two children then headed abroad, with Pick taking a winemaking role in Austria for 18 months. They returned to Australia to embark on new winemaking roles after which Donald joined Seppeltsfield in 2009.
Six years later Pick also joined Seppeltsfield, specialising in white wine. With two wineries on the property, vintage sees Donald in the Gravity Cellar and Pick in the modern facility. Each has a separate team, with the tasting room being HQ. Winemaker Charlie Seppelt and vineyard manager Kingsley Fuller are integral members of the team.
In 2019 Donald and Pick, who share a love of conversation and words, released a shiraz and cabernet from their Marananga block, plus a pinot from Yarra fruit, under the Wordplay Wines label.
“Marananga is an anagram of ‘an anagram”, they tell me. With Fiona an anagram of ‘fiano’ and ‘a fino’, Donald is clearly on the right life path.
REGION | Barossa Valley, South Australia
YEARS IN INDUSTRY | 30
ANNUAL CRUSH | Not Specified
STAND-OUT WINES | Para Grand, Village Grenache, Grounds Shiraz