The Barossa Valley in South Australia is a place of dazzling natural beauty, with lush vineyards and rolling hills sloping down into a cluster of picturesque villages. For seven generations that Edenic spot has been the home of Nicole Durdin’s family, who have worked the land to produce the fine wines that made Barossa Valley famous the world over.
This is the story of how, along with her husband Jon Durdin, Nicole created a gin distillery and our February 2021 Gin of the Month on the most iconic road of the Barossa: Seppeltsfield Road, known locally as the Avenue of Hopes and Dreams.
Thousands of lovers of fine food and drink have made the pilgrimage to the Barossa. Less than an hour away from the laidback metropolis of Adelaide, this area is a haven for foodies and a world-renowned wine region.
If you were to find yourself there today, you would be greeted by a rich tapestry of old vineyards, silver church spires and gently waving palms.
The Barossa Valley has this really beautiful mix of the traditions of the German immigrants, who maintained their food and drink culture, and modern-day food and wine-making. That means we have it all. What better place to live?
— Jon Durdin, Co-founder of Seppeltsfield Rd Distillers
Winding its way through the valley’s rolling hills is Seppeltsfield Road, a place famous for its heritage and hospitality. Affectionately known as the Avenue of Hopes and Dreams and with thousands of palm trees standing alongside it, it showcases the very best of the Barossa’s artisans.
Nestled amongst the road’s award-winning wineries and restaurants is Seppeltsfield Road Distillery. The very definition of relaxed elegance, with sleek modern architecture, red cedar panelling and an open-air amphitheatre for tastings, it’s here that you’ll find Jon and Nicole hard at work, crafting their delicious range of gins. The award-winning Seppeltsfield Rd Distillers House Gin our members can find in their February 2021 Gin of the Month box is the prized jewel of the collection – a floral yet citrusy spirit that captures the essence of the Barossa.
If you had told Jon and Nicole when they first met, – as teens playing for an Australian brass band – that one day they would be partners in gin and in life, they would have scoffed.
But fate finds a way, and in 2008, by which time they had both pursued careers – Nicole in the police and music and Jon in business – they began to see one another in a new light.
We were both at similar points in our lives. We were taking the opportunity to travel and find ourselves, and when we got back to Australia we saw each other with new eyes.
— Nicole Durdin, Co-founder of Seppeltsfield Rd Distillers
When Jon’s career took him to Winchester in the UK shortly after their wedding, Nicole went with him. But once there, Jon found himself chained to a desk for gruellingly long workdays and Nicole missed her friends and family back in the Barossa.
By 2015 Nicole was ready for a new challenge and even considered studying law or psychology. But nothing quite stirred her passions.
One evening over G&Ts, Jon — who knew her best, and had often remarked on her amazing palate – suggested that she try her hand at making gin. It was an electrifying moment for them both, and after that there was no return.
I don’t even know if I was 100% serious when I first proposed the idea, but from that point on I spent every spare minute looking at the feasibility of moving to the Barossa and building a gin distillery.
— Jon Durdin
As they sped towards an uncertain future, they both felt in their bones they were on the verge of something big. They knew one thing for sure: they were in this together, and between Nicole’s intuitive knowledge of flavour and Jon’s business acumen and determination, there was no stopping them.
Jon and Nicole didn’t know exactly where their journey with gin would take them, but there was never any doubt where their distillery would be. The Barossa Valley, with its gorgeous vistas and rich botanical diversity, was summoning them home.
Nicole’s family had been an integral part of the Barossa’s fine wine industry for generations, and the two of them were passionate about carrying that legacy of excellence forward with their gins.
While Nicole took a course with the Institute of Distilling and Brewing, they reached out to an old friend in the real estate business in the Barossa. They began looking for the perfect spot on Seppeltsfield Road.
Nicole and Jon would be surrounded by some of the most prestigious wineries and restaurants on the continent, so they knew that their distillery had to capture the spirit of hospitality at the heart of Barossan culture.
The initial flash of inspiration came one evening while drinking G&Ts in front of the telly.
We watched far too many episodes of Grand Designs when we were in the UK, but one episode really stood out. It was about this Irish architect who built a house out of shipping containers and it turned out to be absolutely stunning.
— Jon Durdin
For Jon and Nicole, using shipping containers to build their distillery made complete sense. With the rustic yet modern aesthetic of shipping container architecture, they could construct a bright, beautiful world all their own. Working closely with Jon’s father and brother, they created a welcoming warm space dedicated to distilling, where gin lovers could gather and enjoy tastings.
At the very heart of the space, visible from wherever guests are in the distillery, a glimmering still imported from Germany sits in a steel and glass still house. Christine, as she is lovingly known, is named after Nicole’s grandmother and they both share an elegant, hardworking and determined character along with their German heritage and love of a drink. This is where you’ll find Nicole working her magic with botanical blends today. All around her, their team of 20 gin experts and the distillery dog keep guests company through tastings and gin cocktails.
When it came to the distilling process itself, Nicole and Jon attacked the project with their usual vim and vigour, determined to do justice to the beauty of the Barossa. Developing one good gin is a herculean task in and of itself, so needless to say their decision to create three at once was rather an ambitious one.
We wanted to create three gins at once because people who come to the Barossa are used to tastings that offer more than one wine, whether it’s multiple vintages or several varieties. I wanted to have options for people to try when they visited our distillery, just like they’d have at the best wineries in the valley.
— Nicole Durdin
Jon and Nicole started out by investing in a small two-litre still. Nicole then selected 70 different botanicals that intrigued her and set about distilling them each individually. She eliminated those that didn’t appeal to her palate and profiled the flavours of the rest.
From there, she put together 20 basic concepts, and they picked their top three. These now form the basis of the Seppeltsfield Rd Distillers’ core range. All three of their signature gins feature local botanicals, but each has its own twist.
First, there’s Seppeltsfield Rd Distillers Barossa Dry Gin.
I really believe that you shouldn’t break the rules until you understand them, so this is my take on a traditional London Dry.
— Nicole Durdin
Once Nicole had paid homage to tradition, she moved onto something more experimental: Seppeltsfield Rd Distillers Savoury Allsorts. This juniper-forward, herbaceous gin — deeply refreshing in the hot months of summer — would go on to become a firm favourite of Australia’s top mixologists.
But their ultimate passion project was the beautiful bottle that we sent to our members in their February 2021 Gin of the Month box: Seppeltsfield Rd Distillers House Gin. This gin was designed to capture the hearts of even the most sceptical Barossan.
For Nicole and Jon, their House Gin was a chance to bring a taste of the modern craft gin boom home and prove that it could thrive alongside cherished traditions.
We were inspired to make our House Gin because when we first told people we were building a distillery, a lot of them were quick to say, ‘Well, I don’t like gin.’ And I said, ‘Alright, leave it with me. I’ll make a gin that will win you over.’
— Nicole Durdin
And that’s exactly what Nicole went on to do. Her goal was to create something alluring and easy to drink. Starting with a grape spirit base, she went on to build a gin out of the most approachable, enticing botanicals of the Barossa and afar, from locally grown lavender to blue cornflower.
The result was a liquid that would become their most awarded spirit, winning gold at the 2019 and 2020 World Gin Masters, the 2019 London Spirits Competition and the 2018 Melbourne International Spirits Competition.
But for Jon and Nicole, what makes Seppeltsfield Rd Distillers House Gin really special is its universality. This is a gin that everyone – from Barossan winemakers reluctant to try gin to the most cosmopolitan visitors – falls deeply in love with.
It’s incredibly versatile, so whether someone has a taste for light and refreshing G&Ts or deep and complex Negronis, this gin is going to work beautifully.
— Nicole Durdin
This Valentine’s Day you’ll find Nicole and Jon enjoying it in a cocktail or two at their distillery, as the balmy breeze of Australian summer blows through the Barossa Valley.
That’s what makes it great for Valentine’s Day – it’s a gin that’s meant to be shared.
— Nicole Durdin
The bottle our February 2021 Gin of the Month comes in isn’t just beautiful – it’s also specially designed to reflect the liquid inside!
Every step of the design process involves people from the Barossa, from the artist to the graphic designer. In fact, it’s adapted from a piece by an artist called Janelle Amos whom Nicole has known since nursery.
Janelle’s original artwork is made from plants she foraged in the Barossa Valley, reflecting the fact that using local botanicals is something close to Nicole and Jon’s hearts.
The design features a mandala – a circular symbol representing self-unity and completeness.
There is something complete and balanced about a mandala – and these are qualities we always wanted our gins to have.
— Nicole Durdin
As well as featuring botanicals from the gin, including juniper, pink peppercorns and coriander seeds, the mandala depicts grapevine leaves – that’s because they use a grape spirit as a base in distillation.
Nicole was determined to present the spirit she had distilled in a bottle created by women – especially because women are underrepresented in the gin industry.
It made complete sense for a female distiller, female artist and female graphic designer to create our branding.
— Nicole Durdin