Max Schubert's The Story of Grange
The following story is taken from a paper delivered by Max Schubert A.M. at the first
Australian National University Wine Symposium held in Canberra Australia in
So much has been spoken and so much written about Grange Hermitage over the
years that, as its originator, I welcome the opportunity of adding my own
measure to the volume that has gone before, particularly as the spoken and
written word has not always been laudatory but often quite distinctly the
Grange Hermitage has always been a controversial and an
individual wine. It is my belief that if these two characteristics can be
combined, then at least half the ingredients necessary for success have been
achieved. Grange Hermitage has been argued and debated around countless dinner
tables. In its early years it was insulted and classified among the lowest of
the low - yet, through all this it has stood out as an individual wine with its
own particular personality and has been consumed in copious quantity whether it
be with praise and pleasure, or with dislike and condemnation.
It has been almost unbeatable in wine shows, whether it be in
the young vintage classes or the old open classes, having accumulated since 1962
some 117 gold, 63 silver and 34 bronze medals, plus 27 trophies and 7
championship awards. It has recently even won two Jimmy Watson trophies, amazing
the present chairman of wine judges as it is not the type of wine that usually
wins Jimmy Watson awards - not because of its quality but because of its style.
It is a truly controversial wine, never without interest and always open to
debate one way or another. How, then, did an individual wine of this nature come
It was during my initial visit to the major wine growing areas
of Europe in 1950 that the idea of producing an Australian red wine capable of
staying alive for a minimum of twenty years and comparable with those produced
in Bordeaux first entered my mind. I was fortunate to be taken under the wing of
Monsieur Christian Cruse, one of the most respected and highly qualified wine
men of the old school of France at that time, and he afforded me, among other
things, the rare opportunity of tasting and evaluating Bordeaux wines between
forty and fifty years old which were still sound and possessed magnificent
bouquet and flavour.
They were of tremendous value from an educational point of view
and imbued me with a desire to attempt to do something to lift the rather
mediocre standard of Australian red wine in general at that time. The method of
production seemed fairly straightforward, but with several unorthodox features,
and I felt that it would only be a matter of undertaking a complete survey of
vineyards to find the correct varietal grape material. Then with a modified
approach to take account of differing conditions, such as climate, soil, raw
material and techniques generally, it would not be impossible to produce a wine
which could stand on its own feet throughout the world and would be capable of
improvement year by year for a minimum of twenty years. In other words,
something different and lasting.
The grape material used in Bordeaux consisted of four basic
varieties, namely Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec, and
these were used in varying percentages to make the Bordeaux wines. Only Cabernet
Sauvignon and Malbec were available in South Australia at the time but a survey
showed that they were in such short supply as to make them impracticable
commercially - after all, the development of a new commercial wine, particularly
in the high grade range, depends on the quality and availability of the raw
material, the maintenance of standard, and continuity of supply.
I elected to use Hermitage or Shiraz only (which was in
plentiful supply) - knowing full well that if I was careful enough in the choice
of area and vineyard and coupled that with the correct production procedure, I
would be able to make the type and style of wine I wanted. If necessary, I could
always use a small percentage of Cabernet Malbec from our own Kalimna vineyard
in the Barossa Valley as a balancing factor to lift flavour and character. As it
happened, this was not necessary - at least, not in the early Granges. It was
finally decided that the raw material for the first experimental Grange
Hermitage would be a mixture of Shiraz grapes from two separate vineyards and
areas, consisting of Penfolds Grange vineyards at Magill in the foothills
overlooking Adelaide and a private vineyard some distance south of Adelaide.
I had already observed that both vineyards produced wines of distinctive varietal
flavour and character with a great depth of colour and body weight, and felt
that by producing them together, the outstanding characteristic of both
vineyards would result in an improved all round wine eminently suitable for my
purpose. Accordingly, during the 1951 vintage, the first Grange experimental
wine was made, incorporating five new untreated oak hogsheads which I had
observed were used to such good effect in France and other European countries.
The objective was to produce a big, full-bodied wine, containing maximum
extraction of all the components in the grape material used. The procedure to be
employed was first to ensure that the grape material was sound and that the acid
sugar content was in balance consistent with the style of wine as specified.
Using the Baume scale, this was to be not less than 11.5 degrees and not move
than 12 degrees with a total acidity of not less than 6.5 and not more than 7
grams per litre. With strict attention to detail and close surveillance, this
was achieved. The grapes were gathered and crushed and then must consisting of
skins, seeds and other solids comprising the fleshy part of the grape - and
juice were pumped into a 12 tonne open concrete fermentation tank. During this
operation, the must received a dose of sulphur dioxide, to neutralise the wild
yeasts, and also an injection of pure yeast culture previously acclimatised to
the level of sulphur dioxide used.
The tank was filled to the exact level required. Boards, known
as heading-down boards, were placed across the surface of the must in the open
tank, with a narrow gap between each board. These were secured by two strong
pieces of timber placed across the boards and locked in position underneath four
lugs built into the upper tank walls. Fermentation began almost immediately and
as carbon dioxide gas pressure developed, the juice was forced through the
narrow gaps between the boards, keeping the skins and other solids completely
immersed underneath the surface.
Although this was all fairly basic, it was important in
achieving complete extraction, during fermentation particularly, if viewed in
conjunction with other procedures which followed. For instance, it was thought
that in order to obtain full extraction, a much longer period of fermentation
and skin contact would be required, necessitating strict fermentation control.
This was to be achieved by controlling the temperature generated by the
fermentation, on the basis that the lower the temperature, the slower the rate
of fermentation, since there would be a considerable reduction in the heat
generated by the yeast in its frantic efforts to multiply and convert the grape
sugars into alcohol. Of course, vice versa, by allowing the temperature to rise,
an increase in the fermentation rate would result. Temperature control was to be
achieved by incorporating a heat exchanger in the process. The actual
fermentation rate in this case was governed by the predetermined length of
fermentation which was set at twelve days. This required a fermentation sugar
conversion rate of approximately one Baume degree per day.
A further measure of control was achieved by using a graph
system which showed the ideal fermentation line over a twelve day period
compared with the actual fermentation line which was governed by daily
temperature and Baume readings of the fermenting juice. A glance at the graph
immediately showed the degree of cooling or heating required to maintain an even
daily rate of fermentation over the period stipulated. I had previously
determined that to assist in obtaining full extraction it would be necessary to
separate the fermenting juice from the skins by completely draining the tank.
This would cause all the solids, including the heading-down boards and cross
pieces, to settle on the bottom of the tank. Then we would pump the juice back
over the top so that it would percolate through the skins and other solids, thus
extracting further essentials in colour, flavour and character. As the tank
filled, the heading-down boards would rise on the surface until they were again
locked into position by the cross pieces.
It was a comparatively simple matter to incorporate a heat
exchanger in this process, using salt brine as the coolant to achieve
temperature control as indicated by the graph. Fermentation proceeded slowly but
evenly and the development of colour, body and character was extremely
interesting. As the process approached its end, I decided that extraction from
the solids was sufficient and that no useful purpose would be served by
prolonging skin contact.
The fermenting wine was a beautiful rich, dark, ruby red already
showing above - average body, bouquet and fruit flavour. In addition, a general
slowing down of fermentation, which is normal during the latter stages, meant
that temperature was no longer a problem and cooling could be dispensed with. In
fact, a slight increase in temperature was desirable at this stage as an
encouragement for the flagging yeast to complete the conversion of the remaining
sugar into alcohol.
The wine was then separated from the solids for the last time
and a portion was transferred to the five new untreated oak hogsheads, and the
remainder to a 1000 gallon (4550 litre) well-seasoned dry red cask. This was to
be the control wine used to measure the success or failure of the new
experimental hogshead wine. The solids which were left in the fermenting tank
were removed and pressed and the pressings stored in small seasoned casks
holding 30 gallons or about 140 litres. This would be used later on as
topping-up wine, to keep the containers filled to the brim at all times.
Topping-up is a preventive measure against bacterial infection,
and also makes good the removal of lees or deposits which accumulate on the
bottom of containers during the self-clarification process following completion
of fermentation. It was also intended to use the pressings as a balancing medium
for the experimental wine before bottling if required. The experimental
hogsheads were stored in underground cellars where the temperature was constant
at 15C and fermentation was completed in twelve days as previously determined.
Within a month, vast differences became apparent between the
experimental hogsheads and the control cask. Whereas the control wine showed all
the characteristics of a good, well-made wine cast in the orthodox mould, the
experimental wine was strikingly different. The volume of bouquet, comprising
raw oak mixed with natural varietal fruit, was tremendous. These characteristics
were also very apparent on the palate. The overall flavour was much more intense
than the control, and for a big young wine, the balance was superb. To my mind,
even at this early stage, there was no doubt that this wine would be different,
with almost unlimited potential if handled correctly.