During the months that followed, treatment was confined to the
removal of lees from all containers including the control cask and the addition
of small amounts of tannic acid. After twelve months, both wines were crystal
clear, with superb dark, full, rich colour and body - but there the similarity
ended. The experimental wine was bigger in all respects. It was a big wine in
bouquet, flavour and balance. The raw wood was not so apparent but the fruit
characteristics had become pronounced and defined, with more than a faint
suggestion of cranberry. It was almost as if the new wood had acted as a
catalyst to release previously unsuspected flavours and aromas from the
I was delighted with the result of the experiment so far. To my
mind, the marriage of all components had taken place and it required only the
sealing of all these wonderful characteristics into bottles for a marriage to be
consummated. After a total wood storage of eighteen months, and without any
further treatment, the wine was bottled and binned away in underground bins
where the temperature was more or less constant at 15C. Several hundred dozen of
the control wine were also bottled and, while it developed into an exceptionally
good wine in the orthodox manner, it never reached the heights of the first
experimental Grange Hermitage. It did, however, set the guide lines for the
production and marketing of a whole range of special red wines which have been
sought after, vintage by vintage, to this day.
In the meantime, the 1952 vintage had come and gone with an
increase in quantity production of Grange Hermitage, using the same raw material
and method of production with similar results. It was a superb wine to my mind.
A variation occurred in 1953 in that in addition to Hermitage, a straight
Cabernet Sauvignon from our Kalimna vineyard in the Barossa Valley was made
experimentally, employing the same method of production as for Grange. The
quantity made was five hogsheads as in 1951. The decision to make an
experimental Cabernet at all, despite the shortage of this variety, was
influenced by the fact that in 1953 the analytical balance of the grapes was
similar to that laid down for Grange.
To obtain balanced Cabernet, at least in my sphere of operations
at that time, was rare and while the volume of flavour and character of the
finished wine was usually magnificent, the imbalance of the fruit invariably
manifested itself on the palate with a noticeable break in the middle and a
thinnish, hard, astringent finish. However, this was not so with the 1953
vintage and I still rank this wine as one of the best Grange-style wines made.
As vintage followed vintage, the accumulation of bottled stock
grew and the improvement shown in the earlier vintages was all that I had hoped
for. Gone was any suggestion of raw wood, and a complete wine was emerging with
a full buoyant almost ethereal nose of great intensity and a palate which was
full of rich flavour and character. The balance in every vintage I thought was
near perfect. The time appeared to be ripe to remove the wraps and allow other
people to see and evaluate this wonderous thing.
Besides, my superiors at head office in Sydney were becoming increasingly aware of the
large amount of money lying idle in their underground cellars at Magill.
Representative bottles from each vintage from 1951 to 1956 were called for, and
a wine tasting arranged by the then managing director. Those invited included
well-know wine identities in Sydney, personal friends of the board, and top
management. The result was absolutely disastrous. Simply, no one liked Grange
Hermitage. It was unbelievable and I must confess that for the first time, I had
misgivings about my own assessment of Grange. However, I was determined to prove
the Sydney people wrong and, with the help and support of Jeffrey Penfold
Hyland, who was then assistant general manager of our South Australian
operations, numerous tastings were arranged in and around Adelaide and at
Magill. We availed ourselves of every opportunity, donating various vintages to
wine and food societies, Beefsteak and Burgundy Clubs, and wherever wine
drinkers congregated. However, the general reaction was little better than the
earlier disaster in Sydney.
It may be illuminating at this time to record some of the
assessments made by experts and critics alike in public and in my presence
during the darkest hours of Grange Hermitage. Some of the remarks were downright
rude and pained me no end.
"A concoction of wild fruits and sundry berries with crushed
"Schubert, I congratulate you. A very good, dry port, which
no one in their right mind will buy - let alone drink"
Then there was the smart person who wanted me to give him a
couple of dozen. He was not going to pay for it because he did not think it was
worth anything. Another very smart one wanted to buy it and use it as an
aphrodisiac. His theory was that the wine was like bull's blood in all respects
and would raise his blood count to twice the norm when the occasion demanded. A
young doctor friend even thought he could use it as an anaesthetic on his
girlfriend. I could go on, but I think that will give you an idea of Grange's
initial reception by most people at that time.
There were, of course, some notable exceptions, whose faith in
Grange never wavered. They were people such as Jeffrey Penfold Hyland, without
whose support Grange would have died a natural, but not peaceful death, George
Fairbrother, that doyen of wine judges, Tony Nelson, at that time managing
director of Woodley Wines, Douglas Lamb, who needs no introduction from me, and
Dr. Max Lake who, I recall, either purchased for a song or consumed most of the
1953 experimental Cabernet himself
There were a number of others who would not commit themselves
but preferred to wait and see. At least they did not condemn and were prepared
to give the wine a chance. To all these I offer my gratitude. The final blow
came just before the 1957 vintage when I received written instructions from head
office to stop production of Grange Hermitage. The main reasons given were that
I was accumulating large stocks of wine which to all intents and purposes were
unsaleable and that the adverse criticism directed at the wine was harmful to
the company image as a whole. It appeared to be the end.
However, with Jeffrey Penfold Hyland's support, I disregarded
the written instructions in part, and continued to make Grange in reduced
quantities. Finance was not available to purchase new hogsheads, but some
benefit gained by using hogheads from previous vintages. This undercover
production continued through to 1959 and the wines made, although good, lacked
that one element which made the difference between a good wine and a great wine.
In all, it was ten years from the time the first experimental Grange was made
before the wine gained general acceptance and the prejudices were overcome.
As the earlier vintages matured in bottle and progressively
became less aggressive and more refined, people generally began to take notice,
and whereas previously it had been all condemnation, I was now at least
receiving some praise for the wine. A little of this filtered through to my
board of directors, with the result that just before the 1960 vintage, I was
instructed to start making Grange Hermitage officially again, with ample funds
available for this purpose.
Since that time, Grange Hermitage has never looked back.
In 1962, after many years' absence from Australian wine shows,
the company decided again to take part in these competitions, and Grange was
first submitted as an entry in the open Claret class in the Sydney Show of that
year. It was awarded a gold medal. This was the 1955 vintage which, in my humble
opinion, was one of the best Granges ever produced. This wine won in all fifty
gold medals, until its retirement from the show arena a couple of years ago, not
because it was defective in any way - in fact, in 1977 it was awarded the trophy
for the best dry red in the Melbourne Show - but because my board wished to give
later vintages the opportunity of winning or adding to the number of gold medals
already won. In retrospect, the 1950s were exciting years of discovery, faith,
doubt, humiliation and triumph. The 1960s were rewarding years of consolidation
and success, and the 1970s have been mellow years of contentment in the
knowledge that the continued making of Grange is in good hands.
I wish, at this stage, to pay tribute to the many winemakers,
technicians, cellar managers, senior cellar hands and vineyard supervisors who,
over the years, so ably assisted me in the making of Grange.
Each one had a part to play in every vintage made, and even
though I always retained absolute control of all stages of Grange production
and, indeed, company production generally, without their help, support, interest
and co-operation, it would have been almost impossible for me to cope,
particularly in the later years before my retirement in 1975.
In conclusion, I would like to express the hope that the
production and the acceptance of Grange Hermitage as a great Australian wine has
proved that we in Australia are capable of producing wines equal to the best in
the world. But we must not be afraid to put into effect the strength of our own
convictions, continue to use our imagination in wine-making generally, and be
prepared to experiment in order to gain something extra, different and unique in
the world of wine.
With 35 trophies and championships, 117 gold and 97 other
medals, Grange remains the most successful Australian show red of all time,
despite that fact it has not been entered in domestic wine shows since the early
1980s. Overseas awards include a gold medal at the 1979 Wine Olympiad in Paris,
where the 1971 Grange shocked the French by winning the Shiraz class against top
wines from the "home" of Shiraz - France's Rhone Valley. And Wine Spectator
magazine named the 1990 vintage Grange 'The Best Red Wine in the World'.
Few wines made anywhere in the world can match the consistent
quality of Grange. Any unabridged tasting of Bordeaux, Burgundy or California
Cabernet will have its share of bad vintages. However, because Penfolds Grange
Hermitage is a blend from several different vineyards it has achieved a level of
outstanding quality consistently over each vintage.
Grange's aging curve is long and graceful. It loses its baby
fat, firms up and fleshes out at about eight to ten years, then remains at a
plateau of richness for another five to 15 years. Three outstanding wines from
the 1970s, for example, retain freshness and have extra nuances: 1976 fits that
description, while the older 1971 is all harmony and the younger 1979 is still a
big wine with room to grow. Penfolds Grange Hermitage is a monument of opulence.
Its hallmarks are the ripe, opulent, spicy flavors of Shiraz on a plush
structure that owes everything to the deep, sandy soils and warm, even climate
of Barossa Valley and the Southern Vales.