The medical benefits, or otherwise, of wine have been much discussed in recent years, but in the middle of the 19th century Dr Christopher Rawson Penfold, a medical man who had transplanted himself and his wife Mary to Australia, was in little doubt of their benefits. On arrival Down Under in 1844 he planted the vine cuttings that Mary and he had tenderly nurtured on the long voyage from England, establishing the Magill Estate close to Adelaide in the process. Before long the couple were making a range of Port and sherry-style wines to fortify his increasing flock of patients!
Whatever the efficacy of the wines, the success of both the good doctor’s practise and the wine business saw him focus on medical matters and leave much of the running of the young Penfolds estate to the indomitable Mary, and when he passed away in 1870 she took complete control. The business continued to flourish and she passed it on to her daughter Georgina in 1884. By 1907, Georgina had built the company into South Australia’s largest wine concern.
Building on the foundations laid by Dr Penfold, Mary and Georgina, the company has gone from strength to strength, forging an enviable reputation for the high quality of its wines across its considerable portfolio. In the process they created, under the auspices of their brilliant and determined winemaker between 1948 and 1975, Max Schubert, the iconic and most highly sought after of Australia’s wines, the inimitable Grange, named after the cottage that Dr and Mrs Penfold built for themselves when they arrived from England.
By the 1960s, the focus of Penfold’s winemaking began to shift from the focus on fortified wines, upon which the company had hitherto relied, to table wines both red and white. The expansion of the range has continued to this day, with a tradition of using bin names derived from the storage area of one of the first such wines, Kalimna Bin 28, which was introduced in 1959. They have garnered a superb reputation across a portfolio that runs the gamut from entry-level good value to the pinnacle of Australian wines.
Today, Peter Gago is head of winemaking, only the fourth chief winemaker in their history since Max Schubert began his tenure. The team make wines primarily from fruit harvested across South Australia, with their impressive home base and winery at Tanunda in the Barossa Valley.
The Magill Estate, the same piece of land first bought by Dr and Mary Penfold in 1844, is the only single-vineyard in the portfolio and Penfolds’ winemakers have shown themselves to be among the finest exponents of blending across a plethora of plots, terroirs and grape varieties to create their prestigious range. Grange itself draws fruit from several sources a variety of locations that have included Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Wrattonbully, Coonawarra, Clare Valley and the Magill Estate.
In the last few decades, the Penfolds style has evolved, becoming one of intensity of flavour allied with finesse rather than the fruit-bomb blockbuster style that is still all too often perceived as ‘Australian’. The high quality and ageworthiness of Penfolds’ premium wines illustrates that beautifully and proves that there is no resting on laurels.