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Seppelt, Oscar Benno (1873–1963)

by M. J. Emery

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Oscar Benno Seppelt (1873-1963), winemaker and viticulturist, was born on 13 July 1873 at Seppeltsfield, South Australia, second (and eldest surviving) of sixteen children of Oscar Benno Pedro Seppelt, a spirits merchant from Lower Silesia, and his wife Sophie Helene Henriette, née Schroeder, who was born in South Australia. Educated at Prince Alfred College, Adelaide, young Oscar spent several years studying viticulture in Vienna. In 1895 he returned to South Australia where he joined his father and brothers at their winery at Seppeltsfield, in the Barossa Valley. On 25 June that year at the Flinders Street Lutheran Church, Adelaide, he married Hedwig Cecilia Leichter Müller (d.1955) from Vienna. They were to remain childless.

In 1902 the family business was registered as B. Seppelt & Sons Ltd. Oscar junior took charge of operations at Seppeltsfield and his brothers managed branches in other States. The enterprise expanded rapidly. In 1914, in the first of a series of property acquisitions, Seppelt bought Clydeside Cellars, at Rutherglen, Victoria. When his father retired in 1916, Oscar became managing director. That year, in a bold move, he arranged the purchase of Chateau Tanunda, which brought the firm substantial stocks of spirits and enhanced its production capability. In 1918 the company bought the Great Western vineyards, near Ararat, Victoria. A Sydney office was opened in 1922, more land was acquired at Barooga, New South Wales, and winemaking began at Rutherglen in 1929 after the Clydeside Cellars were renovated and new vines were planted. While directing these developments, Seppelt retained his interest in the practical and scientific aspects of production: he designed and patented a wine-pasteurizer which began to be manufactured for sale in 1927.

Involved in trade organizations from an early stage, Seppelt had represented the South Australian Vinegrowers' Association at the first meeting of the Federal Viticultural Council of Australia in 1918; three years later, at the second meeting, he presented a review of the 1921 vintage and the wine trade generally. He was president of the council in 1938-39. As chairman (1931-39) of the Wholesale Winemakers' and Brandy Distillers' Association (Winemakers' Association of South Australia from 1935), he supported the introduction of a diploma course in oenology at Roseworthy Agricultural College in 1936. Industry also benefited from his terms as president of the South Australian Chamber of Manufactures (1930-32) and of the Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia (1933). For twenty-three years, as a well-respected leader of the wine and spirits business, he showed energy, determination, common sense, generosity and impartiality.

Seppelt regularly contributed articles to the Wine and Spirit News and Australian Vigneron. He wrote about viticulture and its prospects in South Australia, the wine industry at home and abroad, and the effect of government policies on Australian production and sales. In 1939 he retired and moved from Seppeltsfield to the Adelaide suburb of Tusmore. His brother Leo succeeded him as chairman of the company. Oscar served (1931-58) as consul for Greece in South Australia and was appointed to the Royal Order of George I in 1958. Survived by his adopted daughter, he died on 26 July 1963 in a private hospital at Toorak Gardens and was cremated. His estate was sworn for probate at £122,652.

Select Bibliography

  • The House of Seppelt, 1851-1951 (Adel, 1951)
  • A. Aeuckens et al, Vineyard of the Empire (Adel, 1988)
  • Australian Wine, Brewing and Spirit Review, 81, 1963, p 46
  • B. Seppelt and Sons Ltd records (State Library of South Australia).

Citation details

M. J. Emery, 'Seppelt, Oscar Benno (1873–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/seppelt-oscar-benno-11658/text20827, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 24 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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