Penfolds red winemaking overview and philosophy
Penfolds House Style emerged from a fortified wine producing culture and evolved as a winemaking philosophy. Following his travels Europe in 1950, Max Schubert was inspired to make a great Australia table wine that would rival the First Growths of Bordeaux. Ambitious, resourceful and confident, he instinctively knew that Australia was at the cusp of a new era. The influx of returned soldiers and European migrants would irrevocably change the pattern of consumption in Australia. His Grange project was a subset of a much larger vision. The research and experimentation would create an utterly new way of making wine that Schubert could never have predicted.
A mixture of happenstance, limited available post-war resources, genius, a superbly disciplined, but imaginative team and individual resourcefulness all lead to a remarkable period of innovation and creativity during the 1950s. “The development of a new commercial wine, particularly of the high grade range, depends on the quality and availability of the raw material, the maintenance of standard and continuity of style.” He achieved this through identifying specific vineyards sites and developing relationships with growers. He once observed – while developing Grange – that using shiraz from two specific vineyards would “result in an improved all-round wine.”
Without the constraints of a single vineyard, winemakers could choose the best possible fruit with “the outstanding characteristics of each vineyard”. This idea gathered pace during the 1960s – largely as a result of the success of Bin 389 and experimental cross-regional blends such as the gloriously famous 1962 Penfolds Bin 60A Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon/ Kalimna Shiraz. This method of fruit selection also contributed to a consistency of style. As the volume of production increased over the years a classification system was introduced to earmark particular fruit for individual Bin numbers. The choice of using American oak was one of availability; it was extensively coopered for fortified wine maturation. Schubert noticed if he completed fermentation in barrel, “It was almost as if the new wood had acted as a catalyst to release previously unsuspected flavours from the Hermitage (sic) grape.” Using modified "headed-down" open slate fermenters, previously used for fortified production, the Penfolds method of winemaking gradually moved apace. The maturation approach where the wine was periodically exposed to air also "toughened up" the wine. Refined over the years through adjustments, trial and error, the Penfolds method not only created a house style but also began a tradition of red winemaking across Australia.
James Halliday AM – the distinguished Australian wine critic once said; “The so-called 'Penfolds style' is so distinctive that to miss it meant either I or the wine was off-colour. The hallmarks are rich, sweet fruit which (within the constraints of the given vintage) is always at the riper end of the spectrum; oak influence which invariably manifests itself in the structure of the wines and in the more expensive labels to a marked degree in the flavour, with warm vanilla-and-spice. American oak to the fore; and in the invariably pronounced yet rounded tannins.”
Peter Gago, Penfolds Chief Winemaker, says "Our whole approach to making wine is based on the accumulated experiences of our longstanding winemaking team. The Penfolds Style is a way of thinking as much as it is a way of making wine. Although we have refined our methods, across generations and through new ideas and technology, our wines all have a distinct Penfolds stamp of identity and a family resemblance to vintages of yesteryear."
Andrew Caillard MW