Penfolds Bin 144 Yattarna Chardonnay
The release of Penfolds Bin 144 Yattarna Chardonnay marked a new chapter in the Penfolds story. The inaugural 1995 vintage was the most talked-about and eagerly anticipated white wine in Australian history. At the presentation of the Tucker-Seabrook Perpetual Trophy at the 1997 Royal Sydney Wine Show, the Chairman of Judges, the Late Len Evans described the wine as “a revelation” and “a step forward for Australian Chardonnay”.
The 1995 Yattarna was perhaps the most famous culmination of wine research and experimentation since the launch of Grange some four decades earlier. Indeed the work behind the scenes which began in 1992 was dubbed by wine writers as the White Grange project. Unconstrained winemakers were allowed to venture across State borders to find important and distinguished vineyard sites capable of yielding the rare and exquisite fruit quality desired for a truly great Australian Chardonnay.
Yattarna derives from an indigenous word meaning “little by little or gradually”. This utterly unmistakable Australian name – which evokes organic momentum and vintage-by-vintage effort – captures the essence and culture of Penfolds wine making philosophy. At first John Duval said consistency of quality from vintage to vintage would be a key factor in consolidating Yattarna’s reputation. He said at the time, “My aim is to create a style which shows restraint and fineness of structure when released at three years of age, and will continue to develop richness and greater complexity as it ages in bottle. As with all Penfolds wines our success relies on the rigorous fruit selection, care and attention to detail in the winery and use of the finest quality oak.”
With an incredible portfolio of vineyard resources around Australia, Penfolds gradually – through trial and error – identified suitable places where the best fruit could be grown. The Adelaide Hills district was an obvious starting point. This historic wine growing region of the mid-to-late 1800s had slumped out of fashion by the early 1920s.
Brian Croser, Geoff Weaver and other contemporary winemaking pioneers revitalised the district during the 1980s and quickly established a strong reputation for Adelaide Hills Chardonnay. Indeed Penfolds – inspired by this success – ventured into the region during the early 1990s and now sources from both its own vineyards and independent growers. A number of trial bin Adelaide Hills Chardonnays and Semillons were released from the ongoing research and development of cool-climate Reserve Bin wine styles. Impressed by the results, winemakers have earmarked Adelaide Hills fruit as a key component for Yattarna Chardonnay in almost all vintages so far.
Initially Yattarna included a proportion of fruit from McLaren Vale to provide richness to the middle palate. The style impressed wine show judges and critics, but the wine has evolved more quickly than expected. Winemakers have had to perform a balancing act to make a wine that’s delicious to drink when young, but has the structure and refinement to mature and improve in the cellar. Profoundly elegant fruit with perfume, naturally high but linear acidity and plenty of flavour length is the type of requirement winemakers require in sparkling wine production. However richness, volume and flavour are essential for a great drinking wine.
The desire to make something singularly exquisite and lasting has taken winemakers along the underbelly of the South Eastern Australian mainland and across the Bass Strait into the island state of Tasmania. Tumbarumba, Henty, Adelaide Hills, Fleurieu and the Derwent River Valley have all played a role in the evolution of style. Yattarna follows in some respects a champagne philosophy. The wine is ultimately about respecting the character of individual sites where each component plays an essential part in the final blend. “Minerality, texture, layering and longevity” are the key characteristics of the style.
Winemakers are looking for specific ripe fruit characteristics; well-concentrated grapes which possess apple/white peach/melon flavour profile and natural/mineral acidity. Whole bunch pressing, barrel fermentation including use of wild yeasts, malo-lactic fermentation and yeast stirring (battonage) bring important elements to the Yattarna style. The first Yattarna vintages saw 100% new oak maturation. While it added a strong savoury component, winemakers believed that it over-seasoned the wine masking overall fruit quality and broadening the palate. Penfolds has since moved towards tightly grained lightly toasted oak using coopered barrels from Dargaud and Jaegle, Seguin Moreau and Louis Latour.
The Yattarna style has been further fine tuned by varying the proportion of new oak. The oak regime is entirely dependant on the character of each vintage. The 2004 Yattarna was entirely fermented and matured in older oak. Generally, however, the aim is roughly about 50% new oak and further maturation in French oak for approximately 12 months prior to bottling.
Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon
1964 Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon was Penfolds first commercial release of a single Cabernet-based wine. After a stop-start beginning, it is regarded today as one of Australia’s most important Cabernets; a distinct Penfolds house style and a foil to the great regional Cabernets of Coonawarra and Margaret River. It is rated Exceptional alongside Grange in Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine.
When Max Schubert returned to Australia from his extensive tour of Europe in 1949, his thoughts were never far from Cabernet. He had visited many of the great Chateaux of Bordeaux and had been very impressed by the wines. Christian Cruse – head of the distinguished negociant firm Cruse Freres et Fils – was particularly influential.
Schubert was able to observe winemaking practices at his properties including partial fermentation and maturation in new oak. Having seen similar practices in Spain, he was inspired to use similar techniques at Penfolds. Indeed Penfolds Kalimna Vineyard – acquired in 1945 – comprised some of the world’s oldest surviving genetic Cabernet material. Block 42 was planted around 1888. These original direct producing Cabernet Sauvignon vines – still going strong – have been isolated from the ravages of the vine pest phylloxera which destroyed many great vineyards during the 1890s.
In 1948 Max Schubert – recently appointed senior winemaker – made a 'one-off' single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Max Lake – author of the seminal work Classic Wines of Australia – wrote in 1966, "It is becoming magnificent and can only be compared to the big Cabernet wines of Europe.” Two bottles of 1948 Kalimna Cabernet Sauvignon surfaced at an auction in Sydney in 1987. The wine was unearthed with other rare Australian vintages from Max Lake’s cellar at Greenwich. The wine, probably blended and bottled on Max Schubert’s return, was never released commercially.
Max Schubert, who was based at Magill, regularly experimented with Cabernet, at one stage hoping that it would form the backbone of Grange. The experimental 1952 and 1953 Grange Cabernets were also made largely from Block 42 fruit. Schubert revisited Kalimna Cabernet every year but the trials were inconsistent. The fruit was used mostly for blending material including early vintages of Grange. By the early 1960s Max Schubert revisited the question of a Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon. 1960 Bin 630 Kalimna Cabernet, 1961 Bin 58 Cabernet, 1963 Bin 64 Cabernet and 1963 Bin 511 Kalimna Cabernet Ouillade were all precursors to Bin 707.
The release of 1964 Bin 707 began a false dawn of only six successive vintages. While the Block 42 vines were over 80 years old, the fruit quality was inconsistent to justify an ongoing single vineyard Cabernet. Nonetheless the 1964 was well received by critics of the day. Doug Crittenden – his family wine business in Melbourne celebrating 50 years – purchased parcels of the same wine and bottled it in Melbourne as Crittenden’s Celebration Reserve 1964 Kalimna Cabernet Sauvignon.
Len Evans, the distinguished Australian wine show judge, said in note number 18 of The Wine Buyer (1968): “It is one of the best red wines I have tasted for some time, being light and balanced, yet it will undoubtedly improve for some years and should develop into a wine that will long be remembered.” All of these wines open fermented under wax lined header boards. However invariably they were matured in seasoned rather than new oak. Penfolds sourced other Barossa material from 1967 but after the disappointing 1969 vintage, the line was abandoned.
The inconsistency of quality fruit supply and a niggling, but practical concern about house style and the spectrum of cool climate Cabernet fruit aromas, flavours and structure was a constant theme during the 1960s and early 1970s.
While the variety showed enormous promise, Coonawarra was in the process of rediscovery and Margaret River was a viticultural backlot. By the release of the 1976 vintage – the first to use Coonawarra fruit – such concerns had been largely sorted out. Within a few years Penfolds Bin 707 was already achieving strong support and recognition as a benchmark Australian Cabernet.
Don Ditter – Penfolds Chief Winemaker of the time – said, “The original Bin 707 was a marvellous wine; it comprised almost entirely Block 42 Cabernet. The first releases had the richness and ripeness expected of warm to hot climate fruit. A gradual move to Coonawarra during the 1980s changed it to a more elegant cool-climate wine. During the mid 1990s it seems to have reverted back to its original style; a distinctive Penfolds wine divorced from other Australian Cabernets.”
The overall winemaking philosophy and barrel maturation of Bin 707 is almost identical to Grange; both are direct descendants and beneficiaries of Max Schubert’s experimental wines of the 1950s and 1960s. The wine is vinified in open stainless steel fermenters with wax lined wooden and stainless steel header boards to optimise extraction of colour and flavour. All components are partially barrel fermented in new seasoned American oak hogsheads for a period of 18 months.
The modern Bin 707 represents the Penfolds House red wine style at its most rich and powerful. The Cabernet fruit is largely drawn from South Australian vineyards in Coonawarra, Padthaway, Barossa Valley (including the famed Block 42 vineyard). Everything about Bin 707 is large scale. Winemakers seek fully ripe fruit with strong flavours derived from partial barrel fermentation and maturation in new American oak hogsheads for a period of 18 months.
This explanation of style shows why Penfolds will not make Bin 707 in difficult or more elegant years where the fruit profile is underpowered, sinewy or out of character. 1981, 1995, 2000 and 2003 were not made. Some observers will note that both 2000 and 2003 were generally good vintages in Coonawarra. However the style still relies on the contribution of warmer climate fruit – particularly Block 42 and Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon – for overall richness and density.
Penfolds RWT Shiraz
Penfolds RWT Barossa Shiraz was released after several years of Red Winemaking Trials and a pent-up demand for a 100% Penfolds Barossa Shiraz. During the 1990s the Barossa emerged as one of Australia’s most exciting wine regions with an extraordinary and unmatched heritage of old vine Shiraz material going back to the 1840s. Max Schubert – who grew up and worked in the Barossa – was well aware of the potential of Barossa Shiraz. He experimented extensively with this variety during the 1950s and 1960s. Early vintages of Grange included Barossa Shiraz. The first vintages of Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz were 100% single vineyard Barossa wines. Bin 389 and St Henri also draw fruit from the region.
During the early 1990s more attention was given to the character of sub-regional Barossa Shiraz and the quality of individual parcels of fruit. The development of RWT Shiraz is inextricably linked to the evolution of precision viticulture and a general awareness of vineyard character. Penfolds has enjoyed long term cross-generational relationships with several Barossa grape-growing families.
The two disciplines of viticulture and winemaking are increasingly intertwined as growers and winemakers work together in search of optimum balance, ripeness and flavour development. Identification of the best vineyard sites around the Barossa Valley, securing a regular supply of independently grown fruit and establishing a clear idea of winemaking philosophy were the key elements to Penfolds red wine making trials – which began in 1995.
Vineyards with a track record of producing the best Shiraz grapes in the region are constantly targeted by competitors. An ex-Grange or RWT vineyard brings certain guarantees of quality and strong marketing/ provenance cachet. Grower relationships – which extend to vineyard improvement programmes, loyalty and quality premiums – are especially important. Penfolds has a dedicated field team of grower liaison officers that work and advise independent growers on how to grow Penfolds standard fruit at optimum ripeness and flavour development.
When a new Penfolds Barossa Shiraz was first mooted, it was necessary to start an extensive red wine making trial from the ground up. It needed to be distinctly Barossa in character yet foiled the other great Shirazes in Penfolds portfolio. The wine had to be different from the elegant and muscular Magill Estate Shiraz, the maturation style St Henri and the opulent and powerful Grange. Winemakers preferred the perfumed, richly textured and seductive Shirazes grown in a broad arc across the west and north-west Barossa Valley. These 20 to100 year-old vineyards are found in the dry, hot northern districts around Kalimna, Moppa and Ebenezer. Other top vineyards are located in the central west district around Stonewell, Marananga and Seppeltsfield. The Shiraz is particularly perfumed with fine textures and plenty of fruit richness.
At vintage time the fruit is batch vinified and then classified according to intensity, texture and concentration. The components of RWT are each vinified in headed down open stainless steel fermenters. Towards dryness, the wine is racked into new tightly grained French oak to complete fermentation. This Penfolds technique is exactly the same treatment given to Grange. RWT differs because of its regional fruit selection and the use of French rather than American oak. It was Penfolds ground-breaking work with Grange that began a Barossa tradition and love of American oak with Shiraz. By the 1990s, however, there was an increasing movement of Barossa winemakers towards toning down the characters of American oak in Barossa Shiraz.
Barrel fermentation and maturation of Shiraz in new French oak is of great importance to the RWT style; the subtle underlying spice/savoury oak characters season and bring further complexity to the wine. The wine is matured in new and seasoned French oak for a period of around 12 to 15 months. RWT Barossa Shiraz is an opulent powerful wine with sumptuous fruit sweetness and seductive texture. Josh Greene noted that, “these are wines that completely absorb and harness the oak to drive and sustain flavour development.”
RWT is already establishing a strong track record of support as collectors recognise the cellaring potential and consistent quality of RWT vintages. The 1999 was served at the Nobel Prize award ceremony in Stockholm. More recently the 2003 won the coveted George Mackay trophy for Australia’s best exported wine. The 2000 RWT was in the Wine Spectator’s Top Ten Wines of the Year in 2003.
Penfolds Magill Estate Shiraz
The historic and heritage protected Penfolds Magill Estate “monopole” is one of the few single vineyards in the world located within city boundaries. It was here that Dr Christopher and Mary Penfold settled in 1844, just eight years after the founding of Adelaide. The vineyard itself today only comprises 5.2 hectares but remains a highly evocative piece of South Australian history. The original cottage – built in 1845 – still remains among the vines. Max Schubert, Penfolds Chief Winemaker from 1948 to 1975, worked at Magill Estate and lived nearby. This is where the experimental and early Granges were first made.
During the 1950s Magill became a centre of winemaking experimentation using both grapes from the estate and drawing fruit from other surrounding vineyards. There are many bottlings; the early Grange vintages and single on-off releases including the celebrated 1956 Bin 136/ Bin S56 Magill Burgundy. In 1972, Penfolds sold off a part of the vineyard for subdivision in the hope of staving off and saving the greater vineyard. In 1975 the South Australian Land Commission “acquired 65 hectares of vine area under compulsory conditions.” This created uproar within the community; attempts were made to reverse the decision but to no avail. Ironically media coverage of this debacle brought further fame to Penfolds Grange. Magill was also known as the “Grange Vineyard”; the controversy made Grange a household name across Australia.
Magill Estate Shiraz is Penfolds only single estate wine. It belongs to a rare genre of urban vineyard wines; Chateau Haut Brion and Chateau Pape Clement in Bordeaux are other examples. Although the wine was only first made in 1983, the vineyard has been in production since around 1847 (it was planted in 1844). Located approximately 8 kilometres east of the centre of Adelaide in the sheltered haunches of the Mount Lofty Ranges, it was regarded as one of the choicest sites in early colonial South Australia. The mostly dry-grown vineyard – established on a two-wire trellis system – is elevated at around 130-150 meters and planted on relatively fertile red-brown earth over limestone; ideal for the production of Shiraz. The vines are hand pruned to mostly the cane and spur method. The vineyard comprises three blocks replanted in 1951 (2.85 ha) , 1967 (1.87 ha) and 1985 (0.52 ha). All of the vines are planted on their own roots. None of the original Magill vines used for the production of the early Granges survive.
While the remaining 5.2 hectare vineyard and substantial bluestone winery complex are now heritage listed, Don Ditter – Penfolds Chief Winemaker of the time – said, “We needed to find a continuous and meaningful use for the vineyard to protect the last remaining vines from further threat. The release of Magill Estate Shiraz was our way of justifying its existence.”
Don Ditter consulted with Max Schubert, who still retained an office at Magill. It was agreed that the wine needed to be a completely different but contrasting, rather than competing, style to Grange: “Our ambitions were to make an elegant wine based on a different fruit profile and maturation regime. It was meant to be lasting that would reflect the character of vineyard site rather than something that could go on for 100 years.”
The first Magill Estate vintages 1983-1989 represent a work in progress rather than a clear vineyard style. The older wines are holding, but some vintages have not lasted the distance. It has been commented that the early picked low alcohol strategy of the 1980s had not paid long term dividends. From 1990 the wines start showing much brighter fruit definition and more expansive palate structure. Penfolds winemakers are particularly interested in flavour development and tannin ripeness resulting in wines with supple structures and more fruit richness.
Penfolds Magill Estate is batch-vinified in open wax-lined concrete tanks at low temperatures. Towards the very end of fermentation the wine is drained and gently basket pressed. Fermentation is completed, then matured in a combination of 2/3rd new French and 1/3rd new American oak for a period of around 12-15 months.
John Bird – retired Penfolds senior red winemaker and a longstanding consultant – says, “Magill Estate is a genuine single vineyard Monopole wine. It is equivalent to a Grand Vin. We now more fully understand the nuances of vineyard site and the overall fruit profiles. One part of the vineyard will bring perfume and structure, another concentration and ripeness and another complexity and finesse. The best wine is made through selection, classification tastings and trial blending. When Magill Estate is assembled prior to bottling we believe that it is the finest possible wine of the vintage.”
Penfolds St Henri
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.
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. 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”.
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 1957 vintage is officially recognised as the first release, John Davoren was still calling them trials until 1960.
Davoren replicated the original St Henri label. 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.
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 an increasing percentage of 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 experimental 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.
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.
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 at Nuriootpa and open fermenters at Magill. 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 1460 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.
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.
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 Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz
Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz is the classic South Australian red wine with a reputation and universal appeal that transcends the ordinary. It best represents the ambitions and hopes of succeeding generations of Penfolds winemakers; this is a much-loved, beautifully consistent and utterly Australian style that shows all the hallmarks and benefits of cross varietal/multi regional blending, continuity of winemaking philosophy and brilliant teamwork. This is an Australian Grand Vin; a selection and interpretation of the best parcels, from the best vineyard sites by a winemaking team steeped in the ethos and tradition of a great Australian wine style.
Almost half a century after first release, Bin 389 – with all its ripe fruit, richness, volume and generosity – has become a sentimental and enduring favourite among wine consumer and collectors. It has featured consistently in the benchmark Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine since the listing was first published in 1991. In 2007, it was Australia’s most popular auction wine; not by value, but by volume of supply and demand. In the context of the world wine market Bin 389 is a “super-second” Australian wine with a wonderful track record of fulfilling its aging potential.
The first Bin 389 – named after its original “binning” compartment at Penfolds Magill cellars – was released during at time of intense but secret activity at Penfolds. A decade of technical advances, experimental winemaking and planning during the 1950s had provided a genuine competitive and commercial edge; a fine red wine boom was just around the corner. In his memoirs Ray Beckwith said, “Following Max Schubert’s observations in France, he set about producing the definitive standard in Australian premium red winemaking by selecting suitable grape material (by variety and location) and finishing the fermentation in oak hogsheads and storing the wine therein for a protracted period of 1½ to 2 years.”
Several red winemaking trials – based on Cabernet and Shiraz – were made during the 1950s. There had been early Cabernet-based vintages of Grange and one-off special bins or blends. The very early St Henri wines were Cabernet-Mataro blends so the successive releases of a single vineyard 1960 and 1961 Bin 389 Auldana Cabernet Shiraz – both vinified at nearby Magill – complimented Penfolds emerging fine wine portfolio.
No controversy accompanied Bin 389. Doug Crittenden, a Melbourne Wine Merchant was an early supporter and used to transport the wine over from Adelaide by barrel. The pressure of a growing market and urban encroachment resulted in the wine gradually becoming a multi-district blend.
In many respects it is Bin 389 that set-in-train the tradition of Penfolds house style and winemaking philosophy. It is also a compelling advertisement for the Cabernet-Shiraz blend. At first the early vintages were made from vineyards around the Adelaide foothills including Magill, gradually and then almost entirely Barossa Valley fruit and over the last twenty years from distinguished vineyards around South Australia including the Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, Padthaway, McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek, Clare Valley, Robe and Bordertown.
From the very start, Max Schubert favoured warm climate fruit as a source for Bin 389 reflecting his strong preference for richly concentrated “buoyant” fruit. He wasn’t really looking for varietal character as we articulate it today; rather he was looking for maturity and complexity of aromas, flavour development and structure. Nonetheless Schubert fully understood the potential of Cabernet and Shiraz as blending companions.
He believed that each component could bring something extra and different. The philosophy holds true today. Cabernet Sauvignon is highly perfumed, elegantly structured and intensely flavoured with chocolaty firm tannins. Shiraz is more opulent and fleshy with power and generosity of fruit. Combined the wine can show extraordinary volume of fruit, mid-palate richness and finesse. The style has evolved with the times never stepping backwards.
Although Bin 389 is an intricate cross-regional blend, it is ultimately the personality and the structure of the fruit that really matters. Penfolds Bin 389 was a major beneficiary of technical advances and evolution of winemaking practice during the 1970s and 1980s. The introduction of refrigeration and stainless steel saw major progresses in style and control; the wine was fermented at lower temperatures resulting in intense clear fruit aromas and palate freshness. A quantum leap in vineyard management, improved seasoning of new American oak and barrel selection have also contributed to further refinement in style. The overall winemaking practices have not changed; the classical heading down in open fermenters remains a key Penfolds technique. Further some components of the blend still complete fermentation in barrel to enhance complexity, richness and integration of new American oak.
Bin 389 is matured in a combination of new (20-30%), one and two year-old (70-80%) American oak hogsheads for 18 months prior to bottling. The Rewards of Patience tasting records “an army of lovely old wines” and a steady almost unbroken progress of quality and style. In previous editions the panel has noted “an impressive discipline in fruit selection and winemaking".
Edited extract – 6th Edition Penfolds The Rewards of Patience, Andrew Caillard (Allen & Unwin, Sydney 2008)
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