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A Brief (But Jam-Packed) History of Penfolds

A Brief (But Jam-Packed) History of Penfolds

It’s iconic. It’s historical. It’s Penfolds. If you’re thinking of starting your collection, or have just had a taste of a Penfolds wine and want some context for the deliciousness, here’s a (brief) history of one of Australia’s greatest winemakers.

Penfolds has been around almost as long as Adelaide. It came about only eight years after Adelaide was first established as South Australia’s capital. You might say this winery grew with Australia, so there’s a lot of history to unpack. The story is rich with experimentation, risk-taking and Australian firsts. It’s a great parallel to the Australian way of life as we see it today.

The Colonial Period (1844 – 1899)

Here’s something you probably didn’t know. Penfolds was established and maintained by Mary Penfold in 1844. That’s right, even in a very different time, Penfolds thrived due to the efforts of one very driven business woman.

Officially, her husband Dr. Christopher Penfold is listed as the founder, but he was more interested in medicine, establishing a medical practice and prescribing Penfolds tonic wines to his patients. Back then, it was thought that wine could be used to treat certain ailments. The running of the vineyard was left to Mary.

Penfolds was established on the Magill Estate and the medical practice was built into a cottage known as ‘The Grange’. Mary’s delicious wines, coupled with Christopher’s prescriptions, turned Penfolds into a thriving wine business.

The Empire Period (1900 – 1945)

After 1900, Penfolds continued to expand its vineyards and became a household name in Australia. They began exporting wines to the British Empire and its outposts, eventually making a name for itself internationally.

Max Schubert, who initially joined Penfolds as a messenger boy, headed to Europe after World War II to study wines. He eventually created the iconic Grange – pretty good career arc, huh? You can read about this guy more here.

The Dynastic Period (1945 – 1989)

The birth of the Grange in 1951 eventually led to a collection of wines that were so celebrated, that Penfolds started getting worldwide recognition. Penfolds wines became known for style, consistency and longevity. Schubert fathered a huge dynasty of wines and cemented processes that could be replicated year after year; with subtle differences, but unmistakable consistency and resemblance. An art collection, but with wine.

Bin 128, Bin 389, Bin 707 and St Henri were all created and commercialised during the period. And eventually, Penfolds was able to refine and develop a fool-proof method of winemaking, now known as the ‘Penfolds House Style’. Which is still practised today.

The Modern Era (1995 – Today)

The modern era for Penfolds is another period of experimentation. The ‘White Grange’ project in the 1990s spawned another collection of amazing styles. Including the Bin 144 Yatterna Chardonnay, and the homage wines known as 1990 Bin 90A, 1990 Bin 920 and 1996 Block 42. This led to the launch of the RWT Shiraz, which is a hugely successful Barossa Shiraz matured in French oak.

Then the Re-corking Clinics were also born. Basically wine hospitals, the clinics were a revolutionary service that saves aged wines from corking faults, helping maintain bottles’ value and maturation. Wine collectors can have their aged wines (particularly Grange) assessed, re-corked, topped up and re-capsuled. This has saved over 120,000 bottles from being ruined.

Taking a sip of Penfolds wine is like taking a sip of Australian history. Knowing the story makes the wine taste even better – because you understand the spirit of the founders, the drive of the winemakers and the beauty of the vineyards. Penfolds have a unique and timeless quality, and are a part of our very heritage. So you should probably try some.