Penfolds Magill Estate in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia, is the original home of Penfolds wines and of Australia’s most prized wine, Penfolds Grange.
In 1949, Penfolds new Chief Winemaker, the now famous Max Schubert, was sent to France and Spain to learn about fortified winemaking. While in France Schubert visited the Bordeaux region where he was introduced to aged Bordeaux wines, tasting these fine French fines inspired Schubert to set about creating a wine for Penfolds that would match the ability to age that he has seen in France. In 1951 the first experimental wine of this project was produced. Schubert named this wine "Grange Hermitage", a combination of the name of the Penfold family cottage "Grange" and the French appellation "Hermitage". Unlike the Bordeaux wines, Grange was comprised not of Cabernet, but almost exclusively Shiraz. The French appellation Hermitage was a Shiraz/Syrah growing area and so the name was chosen. 1952 saw the first commercial release of Grange however it was not popular and when, in 1957, Schubert was asked to show his efforts in Sydney to top management, invited wine identities and personal friends of the board the Grange experiment was universally disliked. Further tastings in Adelaide resulted in negative opinion. One critic observed, 'Schubert, I congratulate you. A very good, dry port, which no one in their right mind will buy – let alone drink.' Embarrassed, angry and dejected, Max Schubert's ambitions to make 'a great wine that Australians would be proud of' were completely destroyed.
As fortune would have it, it was the distance between senior management in Sydney and winemakers in Adelaide, 1,400 kilometres apart, which saved Penfolds Grange. Schubert enlisted the help of Magill's assistant general manager Jeffrey Penfold Hyland and his team of winemakers, and hid all the experimental Grange in the underground cellars of Magill and from 1957 to 1959, the 'hidden Granges' were made without the knowledge of the Penfolds board. Max Schubert continued to source fruit and make his experiments in secret.
While management was kept away, friends and associates were brought in from time to time to taste the wines. Bottles were even given away and, although considered uncommercial in 1957, news was filtering out about Schubert's unique red wine. A second tasting with the same members of the board was organised in 1959. They tasted the 1951 and 1955 vintages, both aged in bottles, and the response was one of enthusiasm (the 1955 went on to have a very successful wine show career). The Penfolds board ordered production of Grange to restart, just in time for the 1960 vintage. Schubert was vindicated. During the 1960s Grange cemented its position as Australia's most distinguished wine. This marked the beginning of a 'dynasty of wines' that would capture the imagination of the Australian wine consumer.
Today, Grange is arguably Australia’s most celebrated wine and is officially listed as a Heritage Icon of South Australia. Crafted utilising fully-ripe, intensely-flavoured and structured Shiraz grapes, the result is a unique Australian style that is now recognised as one of the most consistent of the world’s great wines. With an unbroken line of vintages from the experimental 1951, Grange clearly demonstrates the synergy between Shiraz and the soils and climates of South Australia.
Such is the quality and importance of preserving Penfolds Grange and enjoying it at its peak, 25 years ago Penfolds introduced “Re-corking Clinics”. Since their inception Re-corking Clinics have allowed wine collectors to have their bottles assessed and if necessary topped up, recorked and re-capsuled. Over 130,000 bottles across four continents have been certified at Clinics by the winemaking team.
The idea of holding a Re-corking Clinic was inspired by Chateau Lafite Rothchild’s practice of re-corking old bottles for its customers. In fact Max Schubert would also re-cork old vintages of Grange for his friends. These clinics not only provide collectors with a high quality after-sales service, the clinics also give Penfolds an insightful understanding of how its wines are ageing under various conditions across the world.
The clinics have become an institution, where collectors enjoy talking face-to-face with the Penfolds winemaking team.
Vintage release tasting notes are written by Penfolds winemakers for each wine at the time of their release and include a general overview of the wine, maturation details, vintage conditions and commentary on the colour, nose, palate and peak drinking period of the wine.
As the wines mature and evolve with time, tasting commentary is provided and excerpted from The Rewards of Patience (seventh edition) for most of Penfolds back vintage wines. Every five years Penfolds opens up its museum collection for an international panel of 30 independent and wine critics and commentators who taste almost 500 wines from varying vintages across the Penfolds portfolio alongside the winemaking team. The resulting tasting notes and recommendations, together with an in-depth historic account of the Penfolds story, are published in the book The Rewards of Patience (Seventh Edition) - the ultimate guide to the Penfolds catalogue of wines.
A visit to Magill Estate is an essential on any wine enthusiast’s South Australian itinerary. Just 15 minutes from Adelaide, visitors can join the wine education team for a tasting of Penfolds’ famous labels, see the vineyard where the Grange story started, and dine on South Australian produce in the award-winning restaurant.
A variety of indulgent and fascinating experiences is on offer. A tour of the property includes the heritage-listed winery, the underground tunnels (the hiding spot of Schubert’s Grange), the heritage-listed bluestone cellars and Still House, as well as Grange cottage - the original home of Dr Christopher and Mary Penfold and can be combined with a guided tasting, lunch or seven-course degustation.
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