The Story of Penfolds
The story of Penfolds is inextricably linked to South Australia’s colonial settlement and Australia’s subsequent journey to nationhood and the modern era. In 1844 – 8 years after the colony was established - Dr Christopher Rawson Penfold – a medical practitioner from near Brighton, England, and his wife Mary, purchased “the delightfully situated and truly valuable estate of Mackgill (named after Sir Maitland Mackgill, now known as Magill), for the sum of one thousand, two hundred pounds…comprising 500 acres of the choicest land.” The Estate was farmed by Mary Penfold – while her husband built up a busy medical practice operating out of their stone cottage ‘The Grange’. By all contemporary accounts it is Mary Penfold who was responsible for the management and early winemaking responsibilities of the fledgling wine estate. Initially the wines – made from Grenache – were prescribed as tonic wines – for anaemic patients. The famous slogan “1844 to evermore” harks back to Penfolds origins as a prescribed tonic. During the early years the Penfolds also grew barley which was made into beer and sold at the nearby World’s End Pub – where the wagon trains of the time terminated.
By 1870 The Grange vineyard comprised over 60 acres with several different grape varieties including grenache, verdelho, mataro (mourvedre), frontignac and pedro ximenez. The Estate was producing both sweet and dry red and white table wines with a growing market in the eastern Australian colonies of Victoria and New South Wales. Indeed Penfolds and Co – the newly formed partnership of Mary Penfold, her highly ambitious but devoted son-in-law Thomas Hyland and her cellar manager Joseph Gillard – now claimed to be making over one-third of South Australia’s wine production. Mary Penfold died in 1896, her remarkable contribution to Australia’s wine industry – largely overshadowed by her husband’s position and popularity.
Out of affection, the Hyland grand children adopted the surname Penfold Hyland. Herbert Leslie Penfold Hyland took over the business in 1905 overseeing substantial expansion of Penfolds and enjoying all the trade benefits of the newly formed federation of Australia (1901). His brother Frank – based in Sydney – oversaw considerable expansion of the business in New South Wales. By the late 1940s Penfolds had acquired or planted vineyards in the Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Auldana, Griffith, the Hunter Valley and Minchinbury (now a western suburb of Sydney). Fortified wine production dominated the industry throughout the first part of the 1900s, but sparkling wine became fashionable during the 1930s.
In 1943, Penfolds acquired the highly regarded and valuable Auldana Vineyard and winery – adjacent to the Magill vineyard. In 1945, Penfolds purchased the Kalimna Vineyard in the Barossa Valley – at the time the largest vineyard in South Australia. The wine market was changing rapidly – as soldiers retuned from the war and new immigrants from Italy, Greece and Eastern Europe settled in Australia. With this new multi-culturalism came a new orientation towards dry table wine. Max Schubert – a young inquisitive winemaker at Penfolds – returned to Europe after the war to investigate winemaking. The mission was to learn about sherry production but a side trip to Bordeaux – lead to the extraordinary development of Penfolds Grange and the production and refinement of dry and sparkling table wines. At the same time experimentation and research underpinned the winemaking regime at Penfolds. Ray Beckwith – the brilliant Penfolds research chemist – introduced the use of pH meters – to control bacterial spoilage. Indeed the entire 1950s embraced major advances in winemaking techniques from yeast technology to fermentation practices (particularly barrel fermentation in American oak) and oak maturation.
The years of innovation began a tradition of research and development at Penfolds. In 1951 Max Schubert began experimenting with the idea of making a long-lived red wine called Grange and in the mid 1950s John Davoren – a highly skilled and innovative senior Penfolds winemaker - came up with the elegantly styled St Henri Claret. During the 1960s Penfolds entered a bewildering number of experimental or one-off wines into Australian Wine shows. The legendary Bin 60A – a blend of Coonawarra Cabernet and Kalimna Shiraz – is regarded by many as one of the greatest Australian wines ever made. Even today old bottles with previously forgotten bin numbers or vintages turn up – illustrating the sheer hive of activity at Penfolds during this period.
By the early 1960s Max Schubert saw the creation of a “dynasty of wines (which) may differ in character from year to year, but all bear an unmistakable resemblance and relationship to each other”. The backbone of Penfold’s emerging red wine portfolio – Bin 389, Bin 707, Bin 28 and Bin 128 - was introduced during the 1960s – a time of considerable organisational change. Now a publicly listed company Penfolds was already well known for its quality production focus. Over the following years the Penfolds brand began to concentrate on red wine production and its vineyard and cellar assets in South Australia – culminating with the highly successful “all you need to know about red wine” marketing campaign in the mid 1980s.
The Penfolds House wine style was immensely popular at every price level, because it delivered quality and reliability. In 1976 – Koonunga Hill “Claret” (later called Koonunga Hill Shiraz-Cabernet) – was introduced – meeting instant recognition from the consumer. It was also the year that Max Schubert retired – the baton of Penfolds chief winemaker given to veteran ‘off-sider’ and senior Penfolds winemaker Don Ditter. His contribution and refinement to house style is palpable – especially considering the corporate upheavals of the time. The remarkable re-introduction of Penfolds Bin 707 in 1976 illustrated Penfolds commitment to a premium cabernet sauvignon. Within just a few years Bin 707 would be recognized as one of Australia’s leading wines – illustrating that taking a step backwards ( by discontinuing the bin number after the 1969 vintage) in favour of improving vineyard resources was a move forward.
The launch of Magill Estate – first vintage1983 - was an important addition to the Penfolds stable. The fruit from the ‘Grange’ vineyard at Magill – mostly re-planted to shiraz in the early 1950s – had been used for Grange, but it was felt that this remaining small patch of vines – barely 15 acres – should be put to a more meaningful use. The idea of a single vineyard shiraz – from where Dr Christopher and Mary Penfolds first planted their vineyard in 1844 – would provide a link with the past. It would also mean that this important vineyard site would be protected from further suburban encroachment. The evolution of the Magill Estate wine style is fascinating because it has embraced both house style and the characters of a single vineyard site without compromise. In 1986 John Duval – ‘understudy ‘ of both Max Schubert and Don Ditter - took over as Penfolds chief winemaker ensuring a smooth transmission of wine making philosophy. Refinement of house style continued throughout the 1980s. John Duval’s outstanding technical ability and instinctive nature are decisively illustrated in the profoundly opulent and beautifully balanced wines of the 1986 vintage – an important way point in the evolution of Penfolds wines. The 1990 and 1991 vintages – both remarkable Penfold’s years underscore his considerable talents as a team leader and chief winemaker.
The fortunes of Penfolds went arm-in-arm with the exponential successes on export markets. In 1988, Max Schubert – retired - but still on the scene as a mentor was named Decanter Magazines (UK) – man of the year – in recognition of his contribution to wine and the emerging importance of Penfolds on the world markets. This was followed by John Duval winning International Winemaker of the year at the International Wine and Spirit competition in London in 1989. In 1990 Penfolds was acquired by South Australian Brewing Holdings marking a new chapter in our history.
The 1990s saw the introduction of an unprecedented number of new styles within the Penfolds portfolio. At the commercial entry point level Penfolds released Rawson’s Retreat (both red and white) and enhanced the Koonunga Hill range with a Semillon Sauvignon blanc and a Chardonnay. This was also a period of intense winemaking trials. The search for new wine expressions and experiences was reminiscent of the 1960s. The ‘white Grange’ project – spawned the release of Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay in 1995. The barrage of media attention was extraordinary – illustrating Australia’s national interest in the Penfolds brand. Red wine trials resulted in the release of Penfolds first Barossa Shiraz – RWT (Red Winemaking Trial) – a wine which is matured in French oak. Penfolds continues to experiment – within the vineyard and the winery – to improve and enhance its wines at every quality level.
The 1990s also saw an extraordinary level of critical acclaim for both our wines and our winemakers. John Duval won the Red Winemaker of the Year at the International WINE Challenge in 1991. In August 1995 Robert Parker – the world’s most influential wine critic – wrote in his self published Wine Advocate that Grange was “a leading candidate for the richest, most concentrated dry table wine on planet earth”. By the end of that year Wine Spectator – named the 1990 Grange its wine of the year. In Australia Penfolds also won considerable acclaim.
Since 1991 Grange has held pride of place at the head of Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine. The elite Bin 707, St Henri, Magill Estate and Bin 389 are also included in this internationally recognized benchmark listing of Australian wines. The introduction of Penfolds Red Wine Re-corking Clinics throughout Australia’s major centres and subsequently abroad in New Zealand, the UK, Europe, the US and Asia is an ongoing project which emphasizes the aging qualities and secondary market importance of the Penfolds brand. Over 60,000 bottles have been re-corked across a 16 year period.
In 2001 Penfolds celebrated the 50th anniversary of Penfolds Grange at Magill – announcing plans to return winemaking of Grange back to its original home. The following week a rare bottle of 1951 Grange Hermitage – in perfect condition – sold at auction for a record AUD$52,211. It was also the year that the National Trust of South Australia – in a remarkable gesture - listed Penfolds Grange as a Heritage icon. In 2002 grapes destined for Grange were crushed and vinified at Magill Estate for the first time since 1973. It was also the year that the baton of chief winemaker was passed on to veteran oenologist Peter Gago. In 2009 the 2004 Penfolds Grange was lauded as one of the greatest vintages ever by critics around the world. John Bird, senior winemaker, celebrated 50 consecutive vintages at Penfolds. Today, Penfolds reaches into every major wine market of the world. The wines are widely celebrated for their diversity and quality across many price points. The strength of Penfolds is that wine comes first. Penfolds range of table wines is utterly Australian evoking a generosity of spirit and the beauty of the Australian landscape.
Source; “The Story of Penfolds”
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
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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
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A history and description of famous 20th Century Australian wines- Penfolds Grange 1971
Bordeaux 2009 Top Picks from the Great Solar Vintage
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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