No other wine captures the true essence of Australian wine making better than Penfolds.
The label could trace its roots from two immigrants in 1844 through the husband and wife team of Dr. Christopher and Mary Penfold. Dr. Christopher was a pharmacist, and their initial purpose of putting up a vineyard was so that he and Mary could concoct wine tonic to cure anaemia (as the old saying goes, “A little wine for thy health’s sake”).
They purchased what was then known as the “Makgill” (now called “Magill”) estate and concentrated on sherry and port production. They planted a combination of vine cuttings they brought from South Africa, and some that they bought from William Macarthur (sourced from France, Switzerland, and Northern Italy before being planted in Camden Park).
Years after establishing their vineyard, Dr. Penfold died in 1870, leaving behind his widow Mary to continue winemaking. During her time, the Penfolds winemaking was dictated largely by Mary’s taste, and they ended up with a diverse selection that concentrated primarily on sweet wines.
It slowly started to change after Joseph Gillard, Penfolds’s cellar master (and the man responsible for urging Mary to continue the family business) started winning awards, particularly one in 1893 for the Penfold’s No. 1 Claret.
Her daughter, Georgina, married Thomas Hyland, and together, they continued the business after Mary’s death in 1896. Their son, Herbert (fondly known as Leslie), managed the company. His brother, Frank, studied winemaking in Europe, and then established Penfolds’s cellars in 1901.
Over the years, and after several acquisitions of vineyards in different parts of Australia, they slowly established Penfolds as the wine of the land down under… Largely, by hiring the most phenomenal winemakers at the time.
Among them were Alfred Scholz, the “father” of the famous Grandfather Port; and Ray Beckwith, whose discoveries in preventative winemaking set precedence for applying science in winemaking. He also established wine production methods that are still being taught in wine schools (and applied by present-day vignerons globally).
Perhaps the most legendary Penfolds winemaker was Max Schubert. He joined Penfolds in 1931 when he was just 16 years old, and showed such an amazing talent that Frank Hyland’s widow, Gladys, sent him to London to study sherry production.
Max Schubert’s name, however, is forever associated with his production of the Grange Hermitage, the top-of-the-line Penfolds icon wine. He was inspired to make the first Grange after studying Bordeaux wines and having the idea of making red wine capable of “staying alive for a minimum of 20 years”. This style of wine (and the methods used to create it) was unheard of during the time in Australia, so he was not without naysayers. Amazingly, he pressed on, and proved everyone wrong.
Today, Grange is considered one of the best wines in the world, and has consistently secured a spot in the top 10 wines of the world.
Schubert has gone on to garner several accolades himself, including “Man of the Year” (1988, UK Decanter), and was considered amongst the 100 most influential winemakers of the 20th century (2001, Sydney Morning Herald). He lives on after his death in 1994 through the creation of a new political electoral district in the South Australian parliament, which was named after him.
As his name is forever linked with his contributions in Australian winemaking through Penfolds, it was only fitting that he would have a range named after him.
The Max’s range of wines from Penfolds is a collection of delicious and accessible wines that gives a fitting homage to Max Schubert’s amazing innovations and pursuit of excellence during his years with the label. The deep, dark crimson wine has complex notes of dark, sour cherries and savoury smells of sage and bayleaf. On the palate, it calls to mind red berries and the signature pepper characteristics from the Shiraz, with a creamy texture and an amazingly long finish.
I will talk about the different tiers of the Penfolds brand, including the Grange and the BIN series, in a future article… For now, I think I’ve whetted my appetite enough and am craving for a bottle.
*some information sourced from the book “The Rewards of Patience” by Andrew Caillard, MW