First Vintage: 1953 experimental. 1956 commercial. Variety: Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon Origin: Multi district blend, South Australia. Significant contributions of Shiraz from Barossa Valley, Eden Valley, Clare Valley, McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek and Bordertown; Cabernet Sauvignon from Coonawarra and Barossa Valley. 10-15% Adelaide Hills fruit in recent vintages. Fermentation: Stainless Steel tanks with wax lined/wooden header boards. Maturation: 18 months in large (2000 litre) old, oak vats. Comments: Labelled Claret until 1989 vintage. Cabernet Sauvignon plays a secondary role. There is some controversy over first vintage. At the 2003 Penfolds Red Wine Clinics a bottle of 1955 was discovered. There are indications of developmental work from 1953. Packaged in laser-etched bottles since the 1996 vintage.
Penfolds St Henri is one of Australia’s greatest red wines with a compelling history and heritage. The original Auldana Cellars – neighbouring Magill Estate - was established in 1853 by Patrick Auld (1811-1886) an early South Australian settler who migrated from Scotland in 1842. Soon after arrival, he purchased the land in two sections of 230 acres at the usual price charged by the Crown of £1 an acre. Auld initially started as a publican and then became a wine and spirits merchant in Hindley Street, Adelaide. He planted a small vineyard at first, but impressed by the quality of the fruit on return from a brief stint in England he started commercial wine growing in 1853. In 1861 he floated the South Auldana Vineyard Association with a market capitalisation of £12,000. The Association’s first vintage – in 1862 – produced 3,000 gallons of white and red wine.
At one stage Auldana was one of the largest wine producers in the colony. The Australian Dictionary of Biography says “In the earlier years he (Auld) concentrated on producing a limited number of distinctively local wines without imitating European types. Meticulous and in some ways conservative, he nevertheless learnt from experience the most suitable vines for his area, and experimented with a method of maintaining a uniform quality throughout the vintage. A promising trade with Melbourne was hampered by heavy import duty, but Auld began promoting sales in London. There and in America and on the Continent he entered his produce with some success in exhibitions. In 1871 he opened an office in London to sell his wines. However, financial difficulties led to the mortgaging of Auldana and its transfer to the mortgagee, Josiah Symon, in 1888.”
Josiah Symon – a prominent Adelaide identity - was a vocal advocate of Federation. The fledgling South Australian wine industry had much to benefit from the colony becoming a part of the new Australian nation. Until 1901 trade tariffs between the colonies had created artificial trade barriers resulting in localized wine markets. After Federation, South Australia experienced a substantial increase in vineyard plantings. The Auld family continued to be involved with the South Australian wine industry and pressed for legislation to prevent the introduction into the colony of phylloxera vastatrix which had caused widespread damage in New South Wales and Victoria. William Patrick Auld (1840-1912) became the first secretary of the Provisonal Phylloxera Board after the introduction of the South Australian Phylloxera Act 1899.
The Auldana vineyard was one of the most important and well known vineyards in South Australia. In “The Vineyards and Orchards of South Australia (Adelaide, 1862)” Ebenezer Ward wrote “Entering the south vineyard on its northernmost side, the visitor finds himself at the foot of what is known as Verdeilho Hill (sic). This hill and those beyond it to the south are admirably situated for the growth of the vine, inasmuch as they form a perfect natural basin and the slopes on which the vines are planted shelter each other from all winds, especially from the destructive wind which blows periodically from the south west.”
The vineyard was planted to a fruit salad of varieties including Tokay, Muscat of Alexandria, Grenache, Verdelho, “Carbonet (sic) – grafted on Carignan”, Mataro, Malbec and Shiraz. The high price of labour and shortages of manpower restricted vineyard expansion. However Auldana wines were highly regarded in the South Australian colony. In 1892, the Victorian, New South Wales and South Australian Governments “held court” at the famous Bordeaux Exhibition of 1892. The winemaker of the time was a Frenchman - Leon Edmond Mazure (1860-1939) - who is credited as the creator of the famous and unique style of Australian Sparkling Burgundy!
The Australian Dictionary of Biography says “Leon Edmond Mazure was among the first vignerons in South Australia to make champagne on a large scale (in 1896), to preserve olives and to introduce levures (selected yeasts) into the making of wine. In 1887–1912, while at Auldana, he was awarded eighty-three first prizes, seventy-one seconds and twelve thirds by the Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society at the Adelaide wine shows. For three years in succession Auldana hock, chablis and sherry gained the champion ten-guinea cup against all Australia. A councillor of the South Australian Vignerons' Association, Mazure became a wine and pruning judge, initiated a pruning competition for boys under 18, and took out several patents for ideas including the Mazure corkscrew, a corking machine and a windmill bird scarer. He was a member of the Adelaide Stock Exchange and was appointed a justice of the peace in 1901.”
Mazure was also responsible for the creation of the St. Henri label; the original name probably derives from the name of his son Henri. The first vintage under this label was around 1890. Curiously few bottles from this era have survived. A bottle of 1896 Auldana Cellars St Henri Claret – found in the cellar of a Tasmanian collector – surfaced in the late 1980s. A bottle of 1911 appeared at a Penfolds Red Wine Clinic in Hobart in 1996. Mazure left Auldana around 1914 purchasing the Auld family’s Home Park Vineyard.
The Auldana vineyard was acquired by Penfolds in 1943. The St Henri label was revived by John Davoren (1915-1991) – a brilliant Penfolds winemaker– in the early 1950s. Davoren had strong family background in wine; both his father and grandfather worked at Dalwood, a famous Hunter Valley vineyard. Originally owned by the Wyndham family, it was subsequently split in half, with one portion of 52 hectares sold to Penfolds in 1904. John Davoren’s father Harold, a legendary Hunter winemaker, became manager. By the 1930s John Davoren was making wine at Penfolds Dalwood, soon becoming manager of the now defunct Penfolds Minchinbury Vineyards at Rooty Hill in Sydney. After serving in the Royal Australian Air Force in the South Pacific John Davoren returned to Australia. After a brief stint managing the newly purchased Kalimna Vineyard in the Barossa Valley, he was appointed manager of Penfolds Auldana Cellars in 1947.
The revival and development of St Henri – mirrored the story of Grange – except that Davoren deliberately looked at the heritage of Auldana Cellars and his own family winemaking traditions for inspiration. John Davoren was keen to establish a wine based on the original work of Leon Edmund Mazure. Through his work at Auldana, he established a reputation as one of Australia’s great winemakers. Both St Henri and Grange were regarded as classic Penfolds red wines within a decade of first release. In 1966 Dan Murphy – a respected Melbourne wine merchant - described them both as “the best firm styles Australia makes”. Indeed both wines were referred to by wine critics as “special bottlings of Claret”.
The success of Grange was very much enhanced by the contrasting St Henri style. The two wines began life together in a climate of intense excitement, experimentation and research. John Bird – retired Penfolds winemaker who worked alongside both Max Schubert and John Davoren – said “Much has been spoken about the intense competitive relationship between the two men. The strong personal rivalry made good copy, but in fact Davoren reported to Schubert. Penfolds worked under a veil of secrecy throughout the 1950s and 1960s; winemakers were not allowed to talk about their work to outsiders. Robust arguments and strongly held views were aired between the two men, but always within the framework of a common purpose. They were friends. You can see by the comparative styles that St Henri and Grange come from the same stable. The wines can look remarkably similar to each other – especially between 10 and 15years of age.” In fact without Max Schubert’s support St Henri may not have been released.
Sandie Coff – Max Schubert’s daughter – reflects “Dad and I were very close. He travelled a lot when I was a child in the 50s and 60s particularly to tbe Barossa, Riverland, Coonawarra, Griffith and Sydney. When he was in Adelaide I would be with him no matter what he was doing. This included visits to Penfolds and colleagues before and after school, weekends and holidays. I knew all of Dad's colleagues and the cellarhands, gardener, secretaries and management. Each person I referred to as Mr, Mrs or Miss-except one. Uncle John Davoren. Dad would take me to Auldana with him and Uncle John would always greet us with a beaming smile. I have a photo of Dad pinning a long service pin on him and the look of pure affection on John's face explains the relationship they had.”
Initially St Henri achieved greater commercial success than Grange. It was a more elegant approachable style whereas the revolutionary Grange was something of a blockbuster with a richness and fullness “that few people cared for”. Reports from the critics of the 1960s refer to St Henri as “one of the only true claret (sic) styles in Australia”. Don Ditter – a former chief winemaker – says “There was a strong following for St Henri from the very outset. Initially both Grange and St Henri were priced at the same level. The demand for each of the wines however was soon quite similar, some preferring the lightly wooded maturation style of St Henri over the more strongly flavoured, barrel fermented and new oak matured style of Grange”.
John Davoren’s work with St Henri is not as well documented as Grange. This is perhaps because the wine was never planned. The first experimental vintage – made from Auldana and Paracombe district fruit - was made in 1953. While the 1956 vintage is officially recognised as the first release, John Davoren was still calling them trials until 1960.
Davoren replicated the original St Henri label used by Leon Edmund Mazure. Subsequent early vintages sourced fruit from Auldana, Magill, Morphett Vale, Modbury, Paracombe and Adelaide Hills. Kalimna Cabernet Sauvignon was also used extensively. Anecdotal evidence suggests that early vintages were not entirely Shiraz Cabernet blends; John Davoren used Mataro – or Mourvedre – as a third component. In fact records prove the very early experimental wines were Cabernet- Mataro blends.
Urban encroachment and the subsequent wholesale clearance of prime vineyard - within the Adelaide city boundary lead to the eventual “pulling-up” of the Quarry Paddock, a highly prized Mataro vineyard on the boundary of Auldana and Magill. Its loss was greatly felt by Penfolds. It now lies under a housing estate. Sadly a number of great old Adelaide vineyards met the same fate.
The Auldana Vineyards ceased production in 1975. The Modbury Vineyard and most of Magill Estate – except for the front blocks - followed suit in 1983. Nowadays St Henri is a multi-district blend drawing shiraz from the Barossa Valley, Eden Valley, McLaren Vale, Clare Valley and Langhorne Creek. The Adelaide foothills – once a primary source of St Henri – is once again making significant contributions to the blend; Penfolds now draws about 10-15% of its fruit from Waterfall Gully, Wilton and Williamstown. Cabernet Sauvignon which adds both firmness and structure to the St Henri style is sourced form the Barossa Valley, Coonawarra and Bordertown.
The first vintages were foot-stomped in open-ended hogsheads. A relatively high percentage of stalks was also retained in the vinification. Davoren once explained this practice; “we add stalks deliberately to keep the skins apart for the plunging cap, and to get colour as quickly as possible.” The St Henri style – to this day – is a highly perfumed elegantly structured wine based on fruit clarity and maturation in older oak. For many years St Henri was partially aged in two year old American oak hogsheads – used first for Grange. Sandie Coff says “I remember Dad giving me my first taste of St Henri. He introduced it by saying it was a very special wine - the no 2 wine the company made. He had great respect for St Henri and for John Davoren. If anyone ever asked Dad to sign a bottle of St Henri he would always refuse. All credit for this wine should go to John Davoren he would say.”
While the overall philosophy of wine style has not altered, vinification and maturation practices have changed over the years. Fruit selection, tannin management and maturation in large 1460 litre old oak casks have all contributed to an evolution of style. But some practices have remained the same. Winemakers will often use concentrated drainings and tannin-rich pressings as components to the blend.
The practice of stalk retention – which in theory adds perfume and structure to the wine - is minimal; these attributes have already been achieved through vineyard management and selection. The sheer standard of fruit quality has improved substantially over the last decade. Peter Gago says “We can identify the desired aromatics, concentration and structure of potential St Henri fruit in the vineyard. The best parcels are typified by strong praline/ chocolate characters, obvious fruit sweetness, very intense flavour development and supple tannins.”
The red winemaking team is particularly focussed on vintage character. While St Henri is made to a particular style, there is no standard winemaking recipe. Every year the wine is vinified along similar lines, but always in respect to the integrity of the fruit. Every parcel is batch fermented in headed down stainless steel tanks. Each component is classified according to fruit profile and structure. The young wines which make “the cut” are then matured for between 15 and 18 months in large 2000 litre old oak casks. Over this period, the fruit builds up further complexity and richness while the tannins soften and develop. St Henri has a lacy firm grained palate texture that distinguishes it from other Penfolds Shirazes.
This complete vertical tasting of St Henri showed the evolutionary and unfolding progression of style across the decades. Despite the enormous changes in vineyard resources and winemaking capability, the tasting revealed a remarkable sequence of vintages without compromising John Davoren’s original intent. First released as Penfolds St Henri Special Vintage Claret (with a famous reputation for a label with 14 different type faces) – the wines immediately enjoyed universal acclaim; they were compelling, interesting, authentic in style and delicious to drink.
St Henri is still greatly admired by wine collectors; like Grange it is universally cellared for further aging. It also has a strong secondary wine market presence and trading history. Vintages from the 1950s and 1960s still regularly appear at auction. While Grange has soared in value over the last fifty years, St Henri has remained an auction staple attracting solid reliable demand at comparatively affordable prices.
Market perception and previous Rewards of Patience reviews have regarded St Henri as a traditional or old-fashioned maturation styles. However this Rewards of Patience tasting revealed that St Henri is not locked in a time warp; the style is classical yet modern with seductive fruit quality and composed structure. Australian winewriter Huon Hooke noted; “Over the last decade St Henri has been completely reinvented in faithful guise to John Davoren’s original wine. The St Henri style however is generally richer and more full-bodied.”
St Henri is typified by fresh mulberry/ blueberry/ dark chocolate/ liquorice aromas and flavours, mid palate richness, fruit sweetness and fine chocolaty tannin structure. Cabernet Sauvignon provides aromatic top notes of violets/cassis and firmness at the finish. Maturation in older oak brings these components together into a “harmonious whole”. With age these wines further develop gaining more complexity, generosity, velvety texture and weight. Both the 1996 and 1998 are unfolding examples of the modern St Henri genre.
Penfolds St Henri is a great cellaring wine. The best vintages – usually the most delicious, powerful and concentrated – will evolve for up to 30 years and sometimes even further. But generally these wines are best consumed after ten years of age. St Henri has had a very strong and devoted following among collectors and wine enthusiasts for several generations. Today it is considered as an Australian Classic with a wonderful heritage and story of its own.
Source; “St Henri”
Penfolds “The Rewards of Patience” 6th edition,
Andrew Caillard, MW (Allen & Unwin, 2009)
The Story of Penfolds Grange
2012 En Primeur: Right Bank Tasting Notes
2012 En Primeur: Left Bank Tasting Notes
Exaggerated Classicism: 2012 Bordeaux Primeurs
Henschke Hill of Grace 50th Anniversary Tasting
Hill of Grace - 50th Anniversary
Henschke Hill of Grace 50th Anniversary
Classification V - Introduction
To lose one’s wine once is unfortunate..
Jasper Hill a Retrospective Tasting
TEN THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT PENFOLDS...
Where have all the great Hunter reds gone?
Chief Winemaker Peter Gago talks about Australian Wine & Penfolds
Bordeaux 2011 Left Bank- Tasting Notes
Bordeaux 2011 - Right Bank & Sauternes Tasting Notes
In the Tiger's Den - Bordeaux 2011
Semillon - Lovedale and Haut Brion Blanc
Provenance – The Phony War
2011 A review of Coonawarra
Penfolds 2006 Grange Release
A history and description of famous 20th Century Australian wines -1973 Wolf Blass Bilyara Black
Classification V - Questions & Answers
A history and description of famous 20th Century Australian wines - 1973 Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvigno
Region Focus - Margaret River
A history and description of famous 20th Century Australian wines- Penfolds Grange 1971
Bordeaux 2009 Top Picks from the Great Solar Vintage
Overview of the Langtons Penfold's Sale
Languid Lunches and Goose-Fat
Bordeaux 2009 The Great Solar Vintage
Entering the Realm of First Growths
The Annual Croissant Fight
A history and description of famous 20th Century Australian wines
Region Focus - Eden Valley
A history and description of famous 20th Century Australian wines
Region Focus - Hunter Valley
GiantSteps - Winery Spotlight
McLaren Vale - Region Spotlight
Kaesler Old Bastard Shiraz
2009 Penfolds Auction Overview
REGION FOCUS - YARRA VALLEY
Wine Australia - An Historical Tasting
Classic Wines of Australia Part One
Forecasting the wine auction market 2009 (through a cumulonimbus).
10 Things About Langton's
Penfolds Wine Making Philosophy
Dhillon and Walter the faces of biodynamic Pinot Noir
Master of Wine Charity Auction
Penfolds and the Australian Secondary Wine Market