Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

  • About

Penfolds, makers of Australia’s most famous fine wine Penfolds Grange, now owned by treasury wine. Penfolds’ first vineyard was founded in 1844 at Magill, South Australia, by Dr Christopher Rawson Penfold. For more than 100 years, Penfolds, in common with most Australian wineries, concentrated on producing fortified wines and brandy, much of which was exported to the UK. In 1950, Max Schubert, then chief winemaker, visited Europe, primarily to observe the making of sherry in Spain, but detoured on the way home to visit Bordeaux, where he was taken in hand by Christian cruse. This inspired him to adopt an entirely new approach to fermentation techniques and the use of new oak, the aim being simultaneously to protect the varietal flavour of Shiraz while adding a level of complexity previously unknown in Australia. Schubert’s ambition was to create a red that would rival the finest wines of Bordeaux for both quality and the potential to improve with age for up to 50 years. This he achieved with Penfolds Grange (known as Penfolds Grange Hermitage until eu authorities objected to this misappropriation of a French place-name), now widely acknowledged to be Australia’s greatest wine. The first vintage of Grange, named after Dr Penfold’s cottage in Magill, was 1951; all early vintages were made from Shiraz grapes grown at Magill and Morphett Vale, Adelaide, and the wine was matured in new American oak for 12 months. So intense did the first vintages seem that they were rejected as maverick ‘dry port’. In 1957, Schubert was ordered to cease production of Grange; instead he took the operation underground, emerging three years later when maturing vintages began to fulfil their promise. In fact, fine vintages of Grange improve for up to 30 years and beyond (the 1952 and 1953 vintages were still magnificent), and the wine became the first new world wine to become an internationally acknowledged collectible. Fruit from Kalimna in the Barossa Valley was introduced in 1961, boosted by grapes from the Clare and Koonunga Hill vineyards. Small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon are included in most vintages of Grange, and the wood-ageing period has been lengthened to between 18 and 20 months. The wine is not released until five years after the vintage.