Husband-and-wife team, Jon and Nicole Durdin agree that in one of the premium wine regions of the world, it probably didn’t make sense to gamble everything on a whim for gin.
But while it may have been counterintuitive, opening Seppeltsfield Road Distillers proved to be a risk worth taking.
“It was never a lifelong ambition; it wasn’t even a calculated decision,” says Nicole. “It was just a throwaway comment that fell into place.”
The admittedly “crazy” plan was hatched a few years ago when the couple was living in London.
Jon was working in a high-powered corporate job while Nicole, an ex-police officer and musician, was dreaming of botanicals.
“It was a huge gamble,” recalls Jon. “We sold everything we owned, I left my career in a very highly paid senior management role and neither of us had any experience in distilling or even in manufacturing that was particularly relevant.”
Undaunted, the pair threw caution to the wind.
Jon recalls how he sold his car to his bank manager to finance the first shipment of bottles, while Nicole borrowed money from her parents to pay the rent.
Fast forward two and half years and the iconic timber, glass and copper distillery elevated high on Seppeltsfield Road is exceeding every projection in their five-year business plan.
It’s not that they eschewed the wine industry – Nicole has Barossa winemaking pedigree and is the great-granddaughter of cooper, AP John – they simply wanted to create their own legacy.
Nicole explains: “I still get to be in the Barossa – the place I love – and carry on our family traditions with connections to the wine industry. But I get to put my own stamp on it.”
In many respects, they are contemporary custodians of a Barossa tradition.
“Ultimately the concept of distilling in the Barossa is not an abstract one,” says Jon.
“This used to be one of the largest distilling regions in Australia with a long fortified wine history.
“What we’re doing is not new, but we’re doing it in a modern way – a fresh reinvention of the past.”
Where Jon brings business acumen to the table, Nicole is responsible for product development, continually honing her palate through intuition and ingenuity.
“One hundred per cent it’s about palate,” she says.
“The moment we went from drinking gin to actually tasting gin, my mind went into overdrive.
“It’s about aroma and flavour, but also about texture and where it hits in your mouth.”
Nicole’s experimentation has inspired a range of craft gins that feature Barossa botanicals – including a somewhat surprising signature flavour.
“The biggest thing is we use Tarac’s ultra-premium neutral spirit; second, we use pink peppercorns, which reminds me of my childhood on a hot summer’s day,” says Nicole.
She forages for the ubiquitous peppery berries throughout Seppeltsfield, Greenock and St John’s Church carpark in Tanunda.
“Pink peppercorns are survivors, much like the people who founded the Barossa,” says Nicole.
“At the height of drought the only thing surviving is these gnarly 100 year old trees.”
The berries are used to flavour their Barossa Dry, House Gin and Shiraz Gin, which also features grapes sourced from Stonewell Vineyards.
If that’s not Barossa enough, infusions are inspired by Lyndoch Lavender Farm and locally-sourced grapefruit.
These distinctive flavours have earned Seppeltsfield Road Distillers 40 national and international awards, and helped elevate gin into the consumer psyche – although as Jon explains, there’s still a long way to go.
“The whole craft distilling industry is still so new and fledgling – there are still more wineries in the Barossa than there are gin distilleries in Australia,” he says.
“That’s why having a home for our gin was so important to us. We could have had our gin made somewhere else, but it was worth waiting 18 months to have this connection to place.”
Certainly, consumer appetite for gin shows no sign of abating.
Last year Jon and Nicole landed a lucrative UK contract for 80,000 bottles – enough to fill five 40ft shipping containers.
While it’s a success story by anyone’s standards, Nicole and Jon are frank about the personal challenges that have accompanied their achievements in business.
As an emergency first responder during her police career, Nicole has, in recent times, suffered post-traumatic stress, manifesting in depression and social anxiety.
Her experience has made her an advocate for mental health and wellbeing.
“People might look at us and think ‘they’re so lucky’ but you never know what’s happening behind someone’s exterior,” Nicole says.
“If you see someone’s behaviour changing, or doing something they would not normally do, ask if they’re okay.
“There’s actually a very strong and supportive community in this area and professional help is always available.”
As they navigate this very personal journey together, Jon and Nicole are also focused on the next chapter of Seppeltsfield Road Distillers – a Barossa brandy range – to be launched in the next 12 months.
“It’s being made of grapes from 100 year old vines owned by the Fromm family and aged in AP John barrels,” Jon says.
“You could say we’ve gone full circle. We’re not reinventing the past; we’re taking our own path with our own products.”