During the late 1940s and early 1950s the Australian winemaking landscape was changed forever thanks to the foresight and brilliance of two men in the Penfolds winemaking stable. The men in question, Max Schubert and Ray Beckwith, were tasked with overseeing wine production at Penfolds South Australian winery in the Barossa.
At the time, Penfolds were specialists in the world of fortified wines, producing good old fashioned Australian port and sherry. These two giants of Australian winemaking history embarked upon a journey which saw them work hand in hand to revolutionise the way that wines were made in the Penfolds cellars. Endless experimentation with stainless steel, temperature control and pH levels resulted in vast improvements in wine stability and resulted in wines of greater quality and consistency.
Penfolds winemarkers and scientists converge for a tasting down at the lab in the 50s. Image source: Drinkster
“Although the wines were initially met with disapproval by the Penfolds hierarchy, Schubert stuck to his guns, secretly producing ‘Grange’ until its class was recognised…”
During an educational trip to Europe in the early 1950s, a young Max was fortunate enough to be invited to tasting of the great ‘table’ wines of Bordeaux. As a result he was inspired to create his own vinous masterpiece on his return to his South Australian roots. Blown away by the ability of these first growth wines to improve in the bottle and develop over twenty years (or even longer), Max began the process of creating what would eventually go on to become the poster child of Australian fine wines. Although the wines were initially met with disapproval by the Penfolds hierarchy, Schubert stuck to his guns, secretly producing ‘Grange’ until its class was recognised, and eventually carved his name into winemaking history.
Today, there are very few releases in the wine world that are as hotly anticipated as a new release of Penfolds super iconic ‘Grange’. The word ‘Grange’ alone stimulates the senses. There’s something magical, decadent and mystical that comes with the opening of a bottle of Grange. Something special. When Grange is good, it is so very good and great vintage can last for decades, with some of the earliest bottling made by Max Schubert still drinking well to this day.
Today, Grange remains at the pinnacle of the Australian fine wine market and recent releases have done nothing to knock it off its perch. The recently released Penfolds Grange 2010 has been lauded as one of the greatest releases ever with critics and armchair fans alike clambering over their older vintages to fill their cellars with a case or two. It joins the 2002 as being classified as one the greatest Grange vintages of all time and will outlive most of us if stored in the correct conditions (see our guide on how to cellar wines).
There are few, if any, wines being produced within Australia that can rival Grange when produced in a strong vintage. Henschke’s ‘Hill of Grace’ is a contender for the title of Australia’s greatest red but is produced in a different style, being the product of one single vineyard rather than the traditional blend that makes up Grange. A peer rather than a challenger perhaps? New pretenders to the throne have released super premium wines in an attempt to take the mantle away from Grange, but none share the same history, the same mystique and the same personality as a bottle of Grange. For the meantime, it looks like Grange is here to stay - and if the past 60 years have taught us anything about the resilience of Penfolds, Grange will be at the top of the vinous tree for many, many years to come.