Dating back to 1844, the historic Penfolds winery is synonymous with high-quality Australian wine. It all started when Dr. Christopher Penfold and his wife Mary Penfold moved from their native England to Australia with vine cuttings from France in hand. They landed at Magill Estate near Adelaide and planted their first vines, officially launching the iconic brand.
While the winery is most recognized for its flagship wine, the Penfolds Grange — which can fetch around $850 a bottle at release — Penfolds actually offers a wide range of wines that span from the accessible to the luxurious. Here are 10 things you should know about Penfolds.
The winery’s original estate is one of the world’s few urban vineyards.
The Magill Estate, the winery’s first site, is still the heart of the Penfolds winery today. This vineyard, planted to 100 percent Shiraz, is located only 15 minutes away from Adelaide’s central business district. This single-vineyard monopole is used to make the Penfolds Magill Estate Shiraz, but in select vintages, fruit from this vineyard is used in the esteemed Penfolds Grange blend.
Penfolds works with sites throughout South Australia.
In addition to its historic Magill property, Penfolds works with vineyards across South Australia, with each site contributing distinct properties to the wines. Many of the winery’s most celebrated vineyards are in the Barossa Valley, which is known for its old vines. These vineyards contribute Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz grapes to Penfolds’ renowned Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz blend, and the Shiraz is also used in popular Grange. In addition to sourcing Cabernet and Shiraz from esteemed vineyards in Australia’s McLaren Vale and Coonawarra regions, Penfolds also works with the cooler, high-altitude sites in Adelaide Hills to produce its white wines like the Reserve Bin A Chardonnay. And it also crafts its Bin 51 Riesling from the Eden Valley, a region widely recognized for its world-class Riesling.
One of Penfolds’ vineyard blocks is home to the oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the world.
The Barossa Valley is renowned for its high density of old vines, and Penfolds is proud to work with the region’s Kalimna Block 42 vines. Planted in the 1880s, these are thought to be the oldest continuously-producing Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the world. These grapes are typically used in Penfolds’ most prestigious blends, but in 2012, the winery released 12 handcrafted ampoules of the rare 2004 Kalimna Block Cabernet Sauvignon that went for about $168,000 AUD each.
Penfolds’ most famous winemaker started out as the winery’s messenger boy.
Hellbent on making his mark on the Australian wine industry, local 16-year-old Max Schubert was determined to do whatever it took to get his foot in the door at Penfolds. Schubert eagerly took a position at the company as a messenger boy in 1931 and worked his way up to become Penfolds’ first chief winemaker in 1948.
The iconic Penfolds Grange wasn’t an instant hit.
In the early 1900s, a majority of the wines produced in Australia were fortified wines. So when Schubert ventured to Europe to study winemaking practices, he was taken by the still red wines of Bordeaux and was inspired to make something similar — but distinctly Australian. Upon his return to Adelaide in 1951, Schubert started working on an experimental wine using Shiraz grapes — the wine that would later become Penfolds Grange.Don't Miss A Drop Get the latest in beer, wine, and cocktail culture sent straight to your inbox.
When Schubert finally brought the wine to the Penfolds management team in Sydney for a tasting in 1957, it was universally disliked and he was ordered to stop working on the project. But Schubert was determined to make Grange succeed and continued crafting the wine in secret, hiding the ‘57, ‘58, and ‘59 vintages deep in the cellar. Finally, in 1960, the Penfolds team came around to the idea, and the production of Grange officially began.
Penfolds Grange went on to be a highly decorated wine.
After its rocky start, Penfolds Grange skyrocketed to fame, quickly becoming one of the most sought-after luxury wines on the market. The 1990 vintage of Grange was listed as Wine Spectator’s red wine of the year in 1995, and in 2001 Grande was listed as a South Australian heritage icon. The 2008 Grange was also the first Australian wine to receive two 100 point scores from influential wine magazines as well.
Penfolds is one of the most counterfeited wines.
Due to its name recognition and hefty price tag, Penfolds Grange has become one of the most commonly counterfeited bottles of wine. There are numerous instances of police seizing thousands of bottles of fraudulent Penfolds bottles in large counterfeiting schemes. Penfolds is committed to protecting the craftsmanship of its brand and works to combat these fake bottles. It takes extensive measures including monitoring online and offline markets, partnering with local governments and industry authorities, and taking legal action to protect its brand and trademarks to ensure customers can find authentic bottles. The winery also works with authorized retail partners that customers can trust.
Penfolds helped start the tradition of “bin wines.”
Perhaps you’ve noticed a bin number on a bottle of wine in the past, and have wondered what it actually means. The term “bin” is an acronym for Batch Identification Number, and references the storage location of the wine in the cellar where it is kept for maturation. This tradition was actually started by Schubert to keep track of each wine’s location in the cellar when he was experimenting with the creation of Grange, with Bin 1 being the original 1951 location. In 1959, Penfolds released the Kalimna Bin 28 Shiraz as the first Penfolds release with a bin number, and this system has been embraced by other wineries since.
Even though Penfolds has strong roots in Australia, the winery is expanding globally.
Penfolds has recently dipped its toe in global expansion, starting with a line of wines made in California. This California range was about 20 years in the making, starting when the brand first imported vine cuttings from its esteemed South Australian vineyards and planted them in Sunshine State soil. In 2023, Penfolds marked its third California wine release with a wide range that incorporates both Australian and California style, priced from $40 to $850.
Penfolds has worked with other countries to produce special bottlings, too; it released its first wine made in China in 2022.
Penfolds just announced its first creative partner.
In 2023, Penfolds partnered with fashion icon and designer NIGO, as the brand’s first-ever creative partner. NIGO designed the specialty label for this collection, making a one-of-a-kind, limited-edition bottle for fans of Penfolds. ONE by Penfolds features three red blends from Australia, California, and France, and is meant to celebrate the idea of “one-ness” and what brings us together. The collaboration launched on July 13 in Hong Kong with a performance by Pusha T.