Penfolds is without a doubt one of the most, if not THE most famous and iconic Australian producer. It has established its worldwide reputation not only from the diversity and quality of its wine ranges and uncountable Bin numbers, but also from one of the longest continued history of winemaking in Australia. Some of the significant points of this 180-year business history I’ve tried to summarize for you below even though it IS a lot of numbers.
Penfolds was founded in 1844, eight years only after the foundation of South Australia, by a young English doctor migrated from West Sussex. Dr Christopher Rawson Penfold was born in 1811, and had studied medicine at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London, graduating in 1838. After arriving ‘Down Under’, he bought with his wife Mary 500 acres of ‘the best land in Mackgill’, and built a modest stone cottage at Magill Estate, on the outskirts of Adelaide. On the land surrounding the house they called ‘The Grange’, they began cultivating the French vine cuttings they had collected before leaving England, to produce their own medicinal tonic wine.
The initial production was also focused on what the local market demanded at the time: fortified wines, port and sherry styles. While Dr Penfolds was seeing patients, his wife Mary had to be involved in the vine growing and winemaking operations. After Dr Penfold’s death in 1870, Mary took over control of managing the vineyards and winery. She very successfully continued developing the business, experimenting and exploring new methods of production. By then, the 60 acres of The Grange Vineyard at Magill was producing several varietals including Grenache, Verdelho, Mataro, Frontignac and Pedro Ximénez. In 1895, after 25 years of determination running Penfolds, Mary retired leaving responsibilities to her daughter Georgina and son-in-law Thomas Hyland. They eventually passed on to their two sons and two daughters in the early 19th century. The company is so successful that by 1920, Penfolds accounts for 50 percent of all of the annual wine sales across the whole of Australia.
In 1931, a 15 year-old boy leaves his home in a German community at the edge of the Barossa Valley and heads to Adelaide to join Penfolds, as a messenger boy. His name was Max Schubert. He will become Penfolds’ Chief Winemaker.
In 1943, Penfolds purchases 303 acres including the Auldana vineyard where the St. Henri ‘Claret’ had been produced since 1890. The label will be revived 14 years later by then winemaker John Davoren.
In late 1949, now Penfold’s Chief Winemaker Max Schubert is sent to France and Spain to investigate sherry-making practices and the production of port. He also stops over 10 days in Bordeaux. The story says that he decides there to create an age-worthy wine of his own, able to compete with the best French. He makes the very first experimental vintage of Penfolds Grange Hermitage in 1951. Its label identifies its maturation area as Bin number 1. First commercial release of Grange is 1952. But in 1957, Penfolds Management disapproves the continuation of the Grange project, and Max Schubert has to hide the barrels ‘behind a fake wall in the tunnels at Magill Estate’. Just in time for vintage 1960, Max convinces his employer to start the production again. The 1960s will establish Grange as the most iconic Australian wine.
1959: Penfolds creates a new Barossa Valley Shiraz, and for the first time decides to name it simply after the storage area of the cellars where it is aged. Bin 28 becomes the first commercial Penfolds Bin number wine.
1960: Penfolds creates Bin 2, a blend that marries Shiraz and Mourvèdre, also known as Monastrell or Mataro. At the time, Mourvèdre was rarely seen in table wines, but rather used in the production of fortifieds.
1964: first vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 707 using grapes from vines planted in 1885 at Block 42 of the Kalimna vineyard, Barossa.
1993: the availability of Cabernet Sauvignon in Australia has greatly increased. Inspired by Bin 707, Penfolds sources fruit from various regions and vineyards and creates a new Cabernet Sauvignon blend: Bin 407.
In the 1990s, the Yattarna project leads to an expansion of the white wine portfolio of Penfolds. Two white wines complete the Bin range: Bin 311 Chardonnay and Bin 51 Riesling. Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend also joins the Koonunga Hill range.
2004: Penfolds releases two Special Bin wines: Kalimna Block 42 Cabernet Sauvignon and Bin 60A Cabernet/Shiraz offering the wines en primeur (before bottling). The Thomas Hyland range adopts the Adelaide appellation and launches two new whites: Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling.
2005: Southcorp Wines, owner of Penfolds becomes part of the Foster’s Group.
2011: Fosters Group separates its wine operations from the brewing. Two companies are formed and Foster’s wine business becomes Treasury Wine Estates (TWE).
Today, Penfolds has very large number of different wines, with more Bin numbers than figures above even though I thought this was already too many for a web page! I’ve counted about 180 wines currently available for sale. They are divided in different ranges as:
- Rawson’s Retreat: the entry-level wines
- Koonunga Hill: one step above
- Thomas Hyland wines from the Adelaide winegrowing region
- The Penfolds Collection including Grange, Yattarna Chardonnay, the many Bins, RWT Shiraz
- There’s also Cellar Reserve, Special Bins, Limited Editions and fortified wines
Here are my reviews:
[catlist thumbnail=yes thumbnail_size=300,256 name=penfolds]
For further info, visit Penfolds official site.
Find all Penfolds wines to buy near you on Wine-Searcher.