Originally called Grange Hermitage, Penfolds Grange was to become Australia’s most collectible wine. Penfolds Grange is made predominantly from Shiraz grapes (formerly referred to as Hermitage), usually with a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon. The first vintage was made by winemaker Max Schubert. After touring Europe in 1950, his aim was to create a red wine able to rival the finest Bordeaux wines in quality and ageing potential.
The ‘father’ of Penfolds Grange, Max Schubert, was born in the Barossa Valley in 1915. He was educated at the local high school and at the South Australian School of Mines and Industry. Schubert joined Penfolds, one of South Australia’s oldest wine companies, as a messenger boy in 1931 and by 1948 he was chief winemaker.
In 1950 he was sent to Europe to study winemaking practices and on that trip was impressed by Bordeaux wines 40 and 50 years old which were still sound and had excellent bouquet and flavour. On his return, determined to produce a comparable red wine, he began experimenting with the local Shiraz grapes.
The road to fame for Penfold Grange was not a smooth one. In 1957, when the 1951 vintage was submitted to experts in Sydney – including his own top management – no one liked it. Schubert was instructed to stop making it but continued to make small batches over the following years. By 1960 the wine had gained enough recognition for Penfolds to endorse its production.
Grange has since been acclaimed as one of the world’s great wines. The wine that was sold off to Beef and Burgundy clubs for a few shillings in the mid-1950s now sells for $900 a bottle. It is officially listed as a Heritage Icon of South Australia and has picked up legions of international awards – among them the naming of the 1990 vintage as Wine Spectator’s Red Wine of the Year in 1995. It’s one for the cellar – Penfolds recommend the peak drinking period for the 2014 vintage as 2020 to 2045.