The Magic of Penfolds

We have both been long time fans of Penfolds. We first experienced Penfolds from a random buy at K&L Wines in San Francisco. We immediately fell in love with the wine. It was Bin 389, their Cabernet / Shiraz blend.

Lots of jammy flavors, think lots of blackberries and plums. Without much hesitation we decided to join their wine clubs. They ship only a few times a year and we haven’t had a wine from them that we haven’t loved.

History of Penfolds

Penfolds is one of Australia’s oldest wineries, dating back to 1844 when Christopher Penfold, an English physician, founded the winery in Adelaide, Australia.

Penfolds initially began producing fortified wines, such as cherry and port. As the demand for wine increased, Christopher decided to expand the winery’s portfolio. He initially used the fortified wine for its medicinal properties, and as his practice required more of this time, his wife, Mary, assumed the running of the winery. She continued to do so after her husband passed away in 1870.

A journalist reported in 1874, four years after the death of Christopher Penfold, that Mary blended “the wines when they are two or three years old”, a process that “is done under Mrs Penfold’s personal supervision, not in conformity with any fixed and definite rule, but entirely according to her judgement and taste”.

The Penfolds Grange is one of the most revered Australian wines, and showcases the tenacity of Max Schubert and his pursuit of perfection. Max joined Penfolds as their first Chief Winemaker, and started experiment with blends, which eventually formed the Grange.

The moment management first tried the Grange experiment.
The moment management first tried the Grange experiment.

In 1957, Max was asked to showcase his efforts to top management, along with some wine celebrities and friends. The experiment was not received as well as he was hoped, and it almost got shelved completely. This bump fueled Max to continue working on the Grange, and it paid off. A bottle of 2014 Grange will set you back around $800. But you can still try what’s considered the “Baby Grange”, Bin 389 for a much more affordable price.

Today Penfolds’ Chief Winemaker, Peter Gago, continues the work of his predecessors with an incredible team of winemakers. He’s been part of the Penfolds family since 1989 and has helped ensure the quality of Grange and some of their other offerings, while continue the push the boundaries of Penfolds’ wines.

Currently, Penfolds has vineyards in Adelaide (Magill Estate), Barossa Valley (Kalimna, Koonunga Hill, Waltons & Stonewell), Eden Valley (High Eden, Woodbury), McLaren Vale and Coonawarra. The grapes here range from Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Grenache.

So, what about the California Collection?

In 1980, Penfolds started exploring growing grapes in California in the hopes of producing a quality wine blended with grapes from their Australian vineyards. In 1988, they acquired a stake in Geyser Peak winery. In 1997, they purchased a large estate in Paso Robles. Today the company also enjoys access to prime vineyard sites in Sonoma and Napa, as part of the Treasury Wine Estates group.

2021 marks the year of their first California release with four different wines:

  • Bin 600 Cabernet-Shiraz, US$50.
  • Bin 704 Cabernet Sauvignon, US$70
  • Bin 149 Cabernet Sauvignon, US$149
  • Quantum Bin 98, $700

Bin 149 benefits from a dollop of Australian Cabernet Sauvignon, while the Quantum Bin 98 contains some Australian Shiraz.

This marks an important part of the Penfolds history, and within the wine world as a whole. There aren’t many examples of wines that are blended from grapes that are grown across different companies. Today is decades in the making for the team at Penfolds, with intricate planning and winemaking that sets them apart from many other wine makers.

I am excited to try all the wines from this release over the next few weeks and I hope that you too are able to give some of these a try.

Digital Launch Event

A few months ago we bought two bottles and received an invite to the digital release event. We got Bin 704 and Bin 149. The letter mentioned to decant the wines about an hour prior to the event. We picked Bin 704.

The event itself was wonderfully paced and packed full history on the wines, Penfolds and why this is such an important moment in their history. To be honest, I couldn’t believe we were able to be part of this whole experience. Peter Gago and Stephanie Dutton took us through some of the history behind how the California wines came to be.

We finally got to the tasting part. Stephanie and Peter took us through each of the wines. Spoke about how it came to be, the process behind it, the regions from which the grapes were picked. We are lucky to have both Bin 149 and 704, for this event we decided to open Bin 704. A Cabernet Sauvignon that sourced its grapes from a variety of vineyards across Napa Valley.

It was a balanced wines with pronounced yet supple tannins, lots of plums, blackberries, oak, pepper and tobacco. We are massive fans of their Bin 389, and this continues our love for Penfolds wines.

At the end of the event, grammy award winner Leslie Odom Jr. gave us an amazing performance with which to continue enjoying the wine.

Overall, it was a wonderful experience and although I wish it could be in person, Penfolds did a great job keeping viewers engaged throughout. I am excited to try some of the other California releases over the next few weeks and sharing that with you.

I am hopeful that Penfolds will open up tasting rooms in their Paso Robles and Napa Valley vineyards. We have been huge fans of them for a few years now and they’re quickly becoming one of our favorites. With their history in wines and continued rise in quality, you’d be mistaken to overlook them.

With that I really hope you give their wines a try soon, and to experience a wine that’s so special.

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