Penfolds | Bottoms up for a domain down under
When presenting this domain, we’re taking you much further than we usually do – more precisely, all the way to southern Australia. Penfolds is a viticultural giant where vines have been grown since 1844. It may not be surprising that almost two centuries of work has led to the pinnacle of excellence, the history of this supremacy still deserves our attention, as do the wines produced here…
The history of Penfolds in a nutshell
Penfolds isn’t a little domain hidden away in a corner of the countryside. On the contrary, from the slopes of Adelaide Hills to the red soils of Coonawarra, Penfolds is a veritable kingdom with an intimate knowledge of a whole tapestry of terroirs.
As we often see in the history of vineyards, this one began as a family property. In 1844, Christopher and Mary Penfolds arrived from England to plant French vines in 200 hectares of Australian land, proof already of an open attitude that brought together myriad cultures. To begin with, though, this wasn’t a project of producing wine for the pleasure of drinking it. In fact, Christopher first established himself in the production of fortified wines for medicinal purposes, firmly believing in its health benefits. It was only after seeing the searing success of this venture that the couple aimed higher, expanding both the surface area of their vineyards and the variety of grapes grown. Over the years the 700-hectare estate has built a solid reputation, thanks to their great red wines that are suitable for ageing and, since 1950, their beautiful Shiraz, in particular.
Diversity in wines and terroir
It is clear that this philosophy of diversity in both the growth of the vines and the production of the wines has been a driving force for the domain throughout its life. The Magill Estate was at the heart of Penfolds’ humble beginnings, the domain’s spiritual home in other words, and is one of the few urban vineyards in the world. Over time, Penfolds has expanded to eventually become the largest estate in southern Australia with vineyards in five other regions, and unsurprisingly this remarkable reach translates into a great diversity in their work.
Both single-varietal wines and blends are produced, and this flexible approach has three major benefits. The first is that the domain can draw out the best from a whole palette of Australia’s finest terroirs. Secondly, this is a strategic element in the management of the domain, since a large part of their expertise is found in their aptitude for maintaining consistent quality in all of their cuvées, even during years with difficult weather conditions. Finally, all of this brings with it a great freedom, with space both to express their quintessential style and to progress with new innovations.
Grange, Penfolds’ symbolic cuvée
To create this legendary wine, all you need is “the best grapes grown in Australia in one wine” according to Peter Gago. These grapes sometimes travel several hundred kilometres before being turned into wine – something unheard of in France. Grange was the brainchild of Max Schubert, who worked on the cuvée in secret during the 1950s. He wanted to create an Australian fine wine that could be aged like a Bordeaux. Upon release, Grange wines became a huge global success and they have started some scraps at our iDealwine auctions. This Shiraz wine exhibits all the best of the noble Barbarossa Valley.
Penfolds, a team with impact
Managing this viticultural empire requires the input of a whole team of wine makers, each with their own speciality within the domain. At the head of this team is Peter Gago, only the fourth Head Wine Maker in Penfolds’ history. He used to work in red wine for the domain, and his current role allows him to share his own vision for the future of wine production at the various properties. He wishes for the original, traditional range of wines to remain a reference point in terms of style and quality, whilst encouraging the domain to expand its horizons for the region and its wines. Another important member of the team in Stephanie Dutton, a red wine maker working in the Barossa Valley, a region whose roots run deep in terms of wine history and culture. Here, Penfolds grows very old Cabernet Sauvignon vines which they use to make their iconic Grange collection. The domain’s white wines are produced elsewhere, in the Adelaide Hills, where the fresher slopes are propitious to the growing and vinification of more ‘contemporary’ cuvées as well as Pinot Noir. The strength of Penfolds clearly lies in the complexity and far-reaching influence of its work.
The success of this Australian estate
Evidently, we can’t claim to be the first to discover the beauty of Penfolds. The Grange cuvées are highly coveted, with the 2008 vintage being Australia’s only wine to have received a score of 100/100 from both Wine Spectator and Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. Equally well-scored are the 2012 (100 points from Andrew Caillard MW), the 1953 (20/20 from Jancis Robinson) and the 2010 (100 points from Tyson Stelzer), and this is no exhaustive list!
It’s not only the wines that have been given accolades, with Peter Gago having been honoured by the Australian government in 2017 for his services to the wine industry. Finally, the Penfolds winery has a global renown of its own, and has received prizes from several guides and reviews, most notably in Australia and the US.
Some Penfolds cuvées available at iDealwine
Adelaide Hills Bin 311 Chardonnay: A perfect illustration of Australian Chardonnay: fruity with nutty notes, revealing of its maturation in wood. A gastronomic wine, that’s for sure!
South Australia Yattarna Chardonnay: With this multi-regional Chardonnay, Penfolds have created one of the greatest Australian white wines.
Coonawarra Bin 128 Shiraz: A fine Australian Syrah produced from grapes grown on the fresh Coonawarra terroirs.
South Australia Grange: The Holy Grail of Australian wines as some like to call the domain’s flagship cuvée.