Yearly Archives: 1996

Blue Pyrenees – Victoria’s French corner

Were it not for the Second World War, one of Victoria’s largest vineyards might not exist. French-owned Blue Pyrenees Estate (formerly Chateau Remy) was born in the 1960s out of an alliance between Remy Martin Cognac and Victorian Wine Merchants Nathan and Wyeth.

Remy Martin’s Australian agents, Nathan and Wyeth, kept the brand alive during world war two by substituting Australian brandy for French. At the end of the war, the Australians forwarded a substantial royalty cheque to a surprised Remy Martin.

The relationship between the companies blossomed. Cognac shipments resumed and sales of an Australian brandy under the Remy label continued. In the late 1950s Nathan and Wyeth suggested that it might be fruitful to manufacture brandy in Australia rather than buying it from distillers.

Andre Heriard-Dubreuil, President of Remy Martin, agreed and, according to David Dunstan in his excellent “Wines and Winemakers of the Pyrenees”(Pyrenees Vineyards Association), both sides agreed that the vineyard “should not be in one of the Riverland districts where the bulk of Australian brandy was produced but rather some place cooler, somewhere with a climate more like that of Cognac”.

Subsequently, a property was acquired near Avoca, central Victoria, and in 1963 forest clearing and planting of doradillo and trebbiano grapes commenced.

But the writing hand moves on, and, over time, emphasis shifted away from brandy, to sparkling wine and then to table-wine production. Finally, under Frenchman Vincent Gere, a major overhaul of the entire operation commenced, by now under full French ownership.

Gere says, “All of our staff have wine making, viticultural and agronomy backgrounds” and that “the whole set-up is a unit to produce top grapes and from them, top wines”.

Under Gere, lesser grape varieties have been grafted to premiums and the estate, now planted to 153 hectares, will be expanded by 1997 to 207 hectares, yielding some 1600 tonnes of premium grapes — about triple that of the entire Canberra District.

In Australia, that’s a big single estate. Yet the yield of around 7.5 tonnes of grapes per hectare is low. France’s Champagne region, producing some of the most expensive wines in the world, permits yields of 12.5 tonnes a hectare, according to Gere. Even in productive Coonawarra, red-grape yields need to be held to around 10 tonnes a hectare to make full-bodied wines.

Blue Pyrenees Estate’s low grape yields are not accidental. Gere says that each of 70 blocks on the estate is managed individually to produce a set quality — and time has shown that higher yields see a sharp drop off in quality.

It’s logical then, that if you’ve got 7 million dollars tied up in the vineyard, as much again in plant and stock, plus big running costs, the wines have to be good enough to fetch a premium price.

This is familiar territory to the French. They’ve never been shy to demand top dollar for luxury items. For them, the best wines and spirits have always been an extension of the fashion industry. And so it is that Dom Perignon, Bollinger, and Remy Martin Cognac, to name only a few, fetch the big bucks and are as important prestige badges as BMW and Rolls Royce.

But top quality underpins all the hype. The French understand that and have been outstandingly successful — more successful than Australia to date — in adding value to what could be just a horticultural product.

At Blue Pyrenees Estate, the quality emphasis flows from the vineyard to the winery with impeccable care taken at every step to bring out the best in the grapes. The best equipment has been installed. Highly qualified staff are on hand. And Vincent Gere gleans every insight he can from Remy’s far-flung wine empire, taking in not just Cognac but Champagne Houses Krug and Charles Heidseick as well.

I must admit past disappointment in the reds, whites and sparkling wines of the Estate. But the lift in quality under Gere has been astounding. Blue Pyrenees Chardonnay 1995 shows the benefits of wine making discipline: low yields from old, established vines; good wine making; and the use of top-notch oak barrels produce spectacular concentration of flavour

The 1994 and 1995 Blue Pyrenees red show similar class. A reduction of the shiraz component and an increase in the Bordeaux varieties, puts them streets ahead of anything that went before.

And the sparkling wines, Blue Pyrenees Reserve NV, Reserve Vintage and Midnight Cuvee have a delicious, fruity kernel making them real contenders on the top shelf.

Where these wines sit in the Australian hierarchy, it’s too early to say. Now that the vineyard and wine making are in order, we’ll need to see another decade of vintages to see just how good this rather lovely Victorian vineyard is, but I suspect it will become one of our great icons.

A pot pourri of top shelf Aussie wine

Several weeks back I wrote a review of outstanding under $10 a bottle wines. This week, I’ve run my eye along the top shelf, pulled the cork on several hundred bottles, and offer an opinion on those that stood out on the tasting bench.

Tyrrells Vat 47 Chardonnay 1995 topped my list of chardonnays and shows that the combination of the chardonnay grape with oak can be spectacular. But Tyrell is not without competition and other chardonnays to get a guernsey were Mountadam 1995, a sensational wine from Adam Wynn in the Adelaide Hills; Shaw and Smith Reserve 1994, also from the Adelaide Hills; and a relative newcomer, Rosemount Estate Orange Vineyard 1994.

The Rosemount wine offers a big flavour difference because of its comparative austerity, a product, I presume, of the high altitude and cold growing conditions at Orange. It demonstrates that the western slopes of New South Wales’ Great Divide is capable of producing top-notch wines.

This is a big step above anything I’ve seen from the warmer Great Divide Vineyards at Young and Cowra and may even challenge Tumbarumba and Tooma, other promising sites at the Snowy Mountains end of the divide.

The Eden and Clare Valleys, both on the Mount Lofty Ranges, South Australia, made a clean sweep in the Riesling taste off. Leo Buring DW T18 Eden Valley Riesling 1994 looked good and should be easy to find. But it was outclassed, in my opinion, by Henschke Julius Eden Valley Riesling 1995 — a wine displaying the wonderful ‘lime’ aroma seen in the area’s best.

Not even the Henschke wine, though, rose to the heights of Brian Croser’s Petaluma Riesling 1995. It comes from Petaluma’s Hanlin Hill Vineyard in the Clare Valley and year after year rates near the top. And the 1995 is a stunner. It looks good value on special at $15 or $16 a bottle, considering its proven cellaring potential and given $25 plus price tags on chardonnays of comparable quality.

Len Evans keeps telling us that our whites are not as exciting as our reds and he’s right. In the line up of whites there were the few highlights mentioned above in a sound but uninteresting field. But among the reds there were highlights galore.

Saltrams Barossa Reserve Cabernet 1994 delivers all the power and weight the Barossa Valley can muster. It’s extraordinary to think that the wheels fell off this famous old brand under the ownership of Seagrams, the big Canadian Spirit company.

It took a Rothbury take over and wine maker Nigel Dolan to restore quality very quickly and in spectacular fashion.

Talking of return to form, Redmans Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 1994 betters anything I’ve tasted from this northern Coonawarra vineyard for years. There’s world-class drinking here with its elegant, rich fruit and austere, lingering finish.

From southern Coonawarra Ian Hollick’s Ravenswood Cabernet Sauvignon 1992 puckers the mouth with big oak tannins and pleases it with rich, supple ripe fruit flavours. This is an idiosyncratic style made from the best plots of Ian’s vineyard.

Not far from Hollick in Coonawarra, Rosemount makes distinctively fruity, powerful reds of which the 1993 vintage is a great example.

My favourite of all reds in the tasting was Vasse Felix Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 1994. Here we have absolute blue chip quality. A pioneer of the Margaret River area, Vasse Felix has always been reliable and often exciting as in this superb 1994.

It’s an opaque, glass-staining crimson, pulsing with vibrant aromas, layered with rich fruit flavour and plush with velvety, thick, lush textures. It’s seductive and drinkable now but really should be cellared for a decade.

I thought Vasse Felix’s neighbour, Leeuwin Estate, offered exciting quality with its 1991 Cabernet Sauvignon, too. But Vasse Felix stole the show.

If you thought Padthaway’s strength was in whites, then try Hardys Padthaway Cabernet Sauvignon 1993, a big, richly flavoured wine with claret-like astringency. Increasingly, some of our best reds are emerging from this region, just north of Coonawarra.

Hats off, too, to Don Lewis at Mitchelton on Victoria’s Goulburn River. I’ve always preferred Don’s whites to his reds. But that’s what blind tasting are for: to cut away our prejudices. And when the bottles were unwrapped Mitchelton Victoria Cabernet Sauvignon 1993 was amongst the top few — a powerful, intense wine with supple sweet fruit cut with fine, drying oak tannins.

Mudgee, New South Wales, a new centre for wine investment

In the mid 1980s Mudgee, on the western slopes of the Great Divide 300km north west of Sydney, had a little over 400 hectares of vines, a cluster of smallish producers and the middle-sized Montrose Winery. Today it is undergoing an explosion of vineyard development destined to push production beyond the combined output of the lower and upper Hunter Valley and make it one of the most significant quality-wine production areas in Australia.

Developments already underway in Mudgee should soon push annual grape production to around 25,000 tonnes (1.75million dozen 750ml bottles) from the current level of about 6,500 tonnes (455,000 dozen 750ml bottles) according to resident Southcorp Wines viticulturist Bruce Brown.

Brian Sainty, head of a $30million vineyard expansion by privately owned Mudgee Vineyards, says the region has great allure for large wine makers and vineyard investors because it can reliably deliver what the market wants.

Sainty says large wine makers are after high-quality grapes from a wide variety of soils and climates and are prepared to pay a premium over the non-descript product sourced from the very hot irrigated regions. Specific demand for Mudgee grapes far outstrips supply.

It seems the region, at 450 metres above sea level and well inland has the ability to ripen biggish, high-quality crops almost every year. The altitude and distance from the sea temper what might be an otherwise too-hot climate. Yet it not so high that frost is a major problem as it can be further south or further up, and hail, the other great crop stripper, is seldom a problem.

Denis Power, Chief Executive of Rothbury Estate, which leases 100 hectares of vines in Mudgee, backs Brian Sainty’s view. He says quality is not only reliable but very high, especially for reds which constitute 85 per cent of Rothbury’s Mudgee crop.

But he says Mudgee’s allure to wine makers is not shared by consumers. The name seems to be the kiss of death. “The name repels consumers, it’s a positive turn off”, Power told me. But he couldn’t say whether it was the name itself or past associations with Mudgee Mud — a much-reviled beer thrust on our thirsty return soldiers after world war two.

Nevertheless, Rothbury maintains a cellar door presence at its Augustine winery in Mudgee and plans the release of flagship Mudgee reds under the Augustine label. I can vouch for the quality from several tastings of various Mudgee reds at Rothbury’s Hunter winery.

Rosemount chief, Chris Hancock, believes Mudgee has been “seriously under marketed” and wonders why the area’s largest producer, Montrose Winery with 220 hectares of vines (owned by Orlando Wyndham) has done so little to market Mudgee.

Rosemount recently acquired two properties just down the road from Montrose and plans on extending vineyards from the current 65 hectares to 240. Hancock says the Rosemount focus will be squarely on red wines with regional promotion a key part of their effort.

Mudgee’s small makers deserve credit for what little consumer recognition exists for Mudgee. One of those, Ian MacRae of Miramar, owner of 24 hectares of vines, is excited by all the new activity and sees it as a great boost for the district.

What is happening in Mudgee reflects a growing trend for the wine industry to attract substantial capital investment from outside the industry. The $30million Mudgee Vineyards Pty Ltd investment comes from grazing interests and other major investors have likewise seen a great opportunity in wine.

The Darwin-based Paspaley family, is plowing some of its pearling fortune into the land, including a 120 hectare Mudgee Vineyard, and Andrew Harris, a Moree cotton grower, sees a great future in wine production and export. His family is now establishing 90 hectares of vineyards in Mudgee and is investing, too, in a winery and bottling plant.

If Mudgee has become an important hub for the new wave of investment, it is not alone in NSW. I have already covered in this column substantial investments and growth in the Young and Cowra districts. But it seems would-be vineyard investors are combing the western slopes between Mudgee and Harden in search of good sites.

Substantial developments are already underway in Molong and Denis Power tells me he’s involved in a 400 hectare planting at Forbes, about 100 kilometres downstream of Cowra on the Lachlan River.

The new investors appear to be hard-nosed business people with long-term market-orientated strategies. Whatever their motives, Australia’s grape-growing scene is undergoing a revolution that is fairly rapidly lifting the average quality of the wines we drink. More on the Mudgee phenomena next week.

March 24th, 1996

Despite Mudgee’s imminent leap to the big time described here last week, its wine making history dates back to 1858 when Adam Roth established vines at what is now Craigmoor. It is believed that some of today’s important chardonnay plantings, including the Tyrrell Vineyards in the Hunter, are direct descendants of Roth’s vines.

Still, the 13 wineries that existed in Mudgee by the 18880s were small change compared to the broad acres appearing there now. And the sudden leap by Mudgee is all the more remarkable when we consider that by 1964 the area was down to one winery.

Now, its production seems set to overtake that of the Hunter Valley. Indeed, its production by the turn of the century may considerably outstrip that of all Western Australia.

Mudgee’s revival began when Alf Kurz established Mudgee Wines in 1964. In the following decade other boutique wineries set up and developed a following thanks to the likes of Gil Wahlquist at Botobolar with his idiosyncratic, organically-produced wines; Huntington Estate’s Bob Roberts who single handedly proved just how good Mudgee reds could be; Alf Kurz who did so much in establishing chardonnay; and Ian McRae of Miramar who, since the late 1970s, has consistently made completely reliable and often exciting wines.

Mudgee moved up a gear in 1974 with the establishment of Montrose winery by two Italian engineers, Carlo Salteri and Franco Belgiorno-Nettis. They established a large modern winery, installed Italian wine maker Carlo Corino and even included the native Italian grape varieties, nebbiolo, barbera and sangiovese, in the vineyard.

Montrose became the largest in the area and since its acquisition in the mid 1980s by Orlando-Wyndham has maintained that status (until now) with current vineyard holdings of around 220 hectares.

However, its holdings are about to be overtaken as newcomer to the district, Rosemount Wines, pushes its plantings to 240 hectares and Mudgee Vineyards Pty Ltd plants its first of three 200 hectare plots, 20 kilometres north of Mudgee.

Brian Sainty, head of the Mudgee Vineyards Pty Ltd project, says the owners, Mudgee-based graziers, were looking for new agricultural investments and studied many possibilities including olives, citrus fruit and vegetables. But they were drawn to grapes because “historically and in the future Mudgee had a real strength in quality wine production and there was a shortage from the area.”

Talks with major wineries encouraged the company to continue with the idea. “The majors were bullish about Mudgee particularly about its potential for high quality reds — shiraz and cabernet — and full-bodied whites made from chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and semillon”, Sainty told me.

Mudgee Vineyards Pty Ltd was formed after extensive research revealed a market for premium grape varieties grown under a wide variety of conditions. Sainty says “the approach was the antithesis to traditional Australian agricultural pursuits where someone grows something, takes it to the market and says ‘here it is‘. What we’ve done is gone to the big makers, found out what they wanted and built our plans according to those needs. It is very much market driven.”

And we’re talking big bikkies! Over the next five years Mudgee Vineyards plans on investing about $30 million dollars (not including land value) in 1000 hectares of vineyards. Sainty says that the first three 200 hectare plots will be in the Mudgee district, but that the final two will be somewhere between Mudgee and Harden on the western slopes of the great divide.

When I visited Mudgee last week, “Tullamour”, a 200-hectare paddock was being preened for planting in September/October. Sainty says the soil has been analysed to a depth of 2 metres on a 75 metre by 100-metre grid. The soil profile “helps us decide the varieties to be planted, vine spacing, trellis type and is also the basis of our irrigation design including dripper spacing”, according to Sainty.

Tullamour is designed very much with water and soil conservation in mind. Vines need water. But gone are the profligate bad old days of flood irrigation and overhead sprinklers. Computer controlled moisture probes now measure water loss and determine how much needs to be trickled into the root zone for vine health and, ultimately, the right yield of the right quality grapes.

Wine makers look to Mudgee not for massive yields but for a certain quality. The challenge for grape growers is to produce the desired quality at a profit through scientific, sustainable vineyard management — a risky process that includes a business plan, rigorous site selection, large capital inputs and a long-term view.

The unprecedented large-scale investments in Mudgee and other points on New South Wales‘ southwestern slopes are changing Australia’s wine map rapidly. Unfortunately, the Canberra district seems to have been by-passed as a little too risky.

Sniffing the net for virtual wine

The world wide web (www) and Internet bristle with wine references. From the comfort of home wine lovers can now flit from Australia to the USA to the UK in just a few seconds. In the time it takes to refill a wine glass, we can jump from an LA liquor store, to Nicks of Melbourne, to London’s Tesco, to Cellarmaster at Bondi and over to InterWine Australia in downtown Sydney.

Some authors appear more in touch with technology than the subject; some offer real information and entertainment; others offer simple hard sell; some provide good information and hard sell. Most are of limited interest.

Yet there’s enough out there to say that the internet will eventually become a valuable source of information and services for wine drinkers, as well as providing direct access to wines through on-line ordering. The basis is already there and growing exponentially.

And if you think net browsers are just computer nerds or the great unwashed, think again. A recent Commercenet/Nielsen Internet demographic survey revealed that “17 % (37 million) of total persons aged 16 and above in the US and Canada have access to the Internet… on average www users are upscale (25% have income over $US80,000, professional (50% are professional managerial), and educated (64% have at least college degrees).”

If Australia mirrors US and Canadian demographics, then we can conclude that the majority of net surfers (sniffers?) are wine drinkers. Not only that, but feedback from one wine information service suggests Aussie netsniffers visit the www on the boss’s account!

Anne Hanson and Ian Salisbury of InterWine Australia (, a new and ambitious web wine site, tell me that almost all of their several thousand visitors to date logged on during working hours. Friday night and weekends, the peak for so many other sites, sees InterWine deserted.

I haven’t spoken to any other www wine-page operators, but took the odd few minutes out here and there over the past few weeks on several “virtual’ visits.

One US enthusiast even invited me to offer alternative views to local guru Robert M. Parker but who could be bothered? Nicks Wine Merchants, Melbourne calls his web service ‘Vintage Direct’ and offers a good range of wine and gourmet food items for sale.

Nicks an old hand at wine — and familiar to many readers — at least offers what to me seem accurate appraisals of the wines on offer.

Tesco, the very large UK chain, penalised me for being a Macintosh user! The special free, downloadable software required to shop on-line with them was available only in pc versions.

Cellarmaster, the Bondi-based wine direct marketers, offer a small site. But they’re not mucking around with information. They offer wine for sale and you can order it at the press of a button — they collect your e-mailed order and ring you for credit card details.

The owners of InterWine Australia harbour ambitions beyond making a sale. They see themselves as an information hub for Australian wine and wineries. But they don’t plan on doing it for nothing and are asking visitors to subscribe at $55 a year.

You can visit the site free and get a taste for their offerings. But to get the full range of information and services you’ll have to cough up. Several people have done so already. But I’ll wait until more of the dreams become a reality.

At the moment you can visit the site and read wine area descriptions (shallow and uninformative) and view regional maps (not detailed enough to be of much use).

Individual wineries are described generally inadequately, but having faxes and phone numbers on line is very useful as virtually all-Australian wineries are covered.

You can view 1600 full colour labels and read wine reviews by Huon Hooke and Mark Shield (extracted from their Penguin guide).

In the future the intention is to have far more information on wineries and wine, an e-zine (on-line magazine), wine courses, tastings (both virtual and real) for subscribers and wine tours. They will shortly be offering links to other wine writers, Langton’s Wine Auctions and, hopefully, e-mail access to numerous Australian wineries.

You can see the drift — advertising on the www is more immediate and more interactive than conventional means. InterWine and others will bring independent information and opinions to us along with producer marketing and sales material and allow all parties direct access to one another. And that’s using old-fashioned slow old modems and telephone lines. Imagine what the near future holds with arrival of broadband!

Luckily, it’s all just a means to the very happy end of re-filling our glass

Wine Australia – the biggest thing since Barossa Pearl

Len Evans calls Wine Australia 96 the “biggest thing to happen to Australian wine since Barossa Pearl.” For those whose memories don’t stretch back to 1956, Barossa Pearl introduced a generation of Australians to the pleasure of the grape.

It was a sweetish, Eden-Valley-riesling-based sparkling wine, made by Orlando’s Colin Gramp and Gunther Prass and launched during the Melbourne Olympics.

Forty years later and with another Olympics upon us, Wine Australia 96 (to be held at Darling Harbour Sydney) June 15-18, offers city-dwelling Aussie wine drinkers a new experience reflecting the amazing changes that have taken place in just one generation.

Forty years ago we barely drank table wine and barely exported it. Now we consume 900,000 litres a day in Australia and export almost a third of our production. Increasingly, those exports are in bottle not bulk and earn ever-bigger dollars for Australia.

Despite a strong international focus, 68 per cent of wine production remains at home and, even in the face of rising prices, local wines make up 96 per cent of our consumption.

From a handful of makers in 1956, the industry has flourished so that we now have over 800 wine makers spread across every gully, creek, slope and flat of southern Australia. We make everything from tasty, mass-produced whites and reds in the irrigation areas, to handcrafted, idiosyncratic wonders reflecting a myriad of soils, climates, and wine maker predilections.

Wine Australia 96 reflects the ingenuity and diversity of the industry — all under one roof, on an unprecedented scale. Pay a visit in June and you can see a vineyard growing; a winery in operation; a bottling line in action; a cellar; an up market retail store; attend seminars on wine and food; enter the “Wine Options” tasting competition; and, best of all, enjoy wines from more than 250 wineries, representing 35 regions.

Displays will be set up on a State by State, region by region basis and include local foods as well as wines.

When I first reported on the event several months back it was mostly a dream, but wine makers have since given big support (90 per cent of space is booked); and major sponsors have weighed in with money: AMCOR fibre packaging, BOC Gases, Qantas, NSW Government, Vintage Cellars (Liquorland’s fine wine chain); ACI Glass Manufacturers, Australia & NZ Direct Line and LS Booth Transport.

Visit Wine Australia and you can taste wines from South Australia (Clare Valley, Murray Valley, Padthaway, Coonawarra, Mt Gambier, McLaren Vale, Adelaide Hills, Barossa Valley and Eden Valley); New South Wales (Hunter Valley, Cowra, Riverina, Mudgee, Canberra, Young, Orange and Hasting River; Queensland (Granite Belt, Roma, Mt Tambourine and Amberlie); Victoria (Goulburn Valley, High Country, Bendigo, Gippsland, Pyrenees, Grampians, Yarra Valley, Geelong, Macedon Ranges, Mornington Peninsula, King Valley, Rutherglen and Ovens Valley; Tasmania (Tamar Valley, Pipers River, East Coast and Southern Tasmania); and Western Australia (Margaret River, Swan Valley and Pemberton).

Entry to the exhibition will be through a live vineyard (the vines are currently under refrigeration, being fooled into believing they’re in the northern hemisphere). From the vineyard, visitors will pass through a winery, bottling hall and cellar to a courtyard. In the courtyard, Vintage Cellars will have a fully stocked retail store and the courtyard will also give access to the self-contained regional displays.

The regional displays are to be separated by three metre high walls so that each may properly display wines and produce and give visitors a series of unique experiences.

The organisers expect the majority of visitors to be local and the event is primarily aimed at promoting Australian wines to Australians. But the long-term aim (the exhibition is to be held every two years) is to make Wine Australia an important International happening.

This year, 800 international trade and media representatives are being flown in to Sydney, so our wines are assured another round of international exposure. And to help smaller makers with export ambitions, key trade visitors are conduction workshops to inform makers about their markets.

Tickets for Wine Australia 96 cost $30 for a single one day pass; $50 for a double one day pass and $80 for a single four day pass and will be available from Ticketek from April 1. As well there is a 24 hour information line on 02 9965 7203. Organisers anticipate opening 40,000 bottles over the four days — a good incentive for us all to visit Sydney for the event.

Max Schubert on the birth of Penfolds Magill Estate Shiraz

In February 1992 I spent several days at Magill Estate, Adelaide, interviewing Max Schubert (1915-1994), creator of Grange Hermitage. During a break in the interviews I wandered past open concrete vats bubbling with the new-vintage Magill shiraz. The sweet and sour, unforgettable fermentation aroma filled the air as it must have for a younger Max savouring whiffs of the first Grange from those same vats back in the early 1950s.

The tenth vintage of Magill Estate that I saw and smelled in the vats four years ago has just been released and it seems fitting to reminisce, with the help of the Max Schubert interview, on how the wine came into existence in 1983 and how its success prevented the historic vineyards and winery disappearing under urban Adelaide.

Max Schubert: “… well it goes back to the time when Magill land was being sold off for subdivision and this was being done by Adelaide Steamship (owners of Tooths Brewery which owned Penfolds) because the cost of running the vineyards around Magill was damn near twice that of running them elsewhere. That was one reason. We could never make the Magill vineyard pay…. what I tried to get them to do — I know that was thrown out quick smart — that they should cost each vineyard on the basis of the quality of the of wine it was producing. For instance, Magill produced only top grade quality wine … which brought in the greatest amount of profit and they should be costed on that basis and it was quickly pointed out that that wasn’t in the system.

… he (the financial controller) was thinking of selling the bloody cellars and all at one stage. And we tried to get the government interested… Tonkin was first, and then even Dunstan… in sort of buying the land for posterity, and all Dunstan wanted to do was to carve it up and put a high school there. But Tonkin, he was very sympathetic, but wouldn’t come at buying the place … and preserving it as a heritage thing.

… I discussed it with Jim Williams (Penfolds General Manager) and I reckoned we could make something along the Chateau line… he was enthusiastic about it, so we went into the next board meeting with this proposition that I would design a wine that would be different to a Grange and somewhat different to our other wines in the main and it would be more in keeping with what was then termed as the modern style… and reluctantly this was agreed to provided I did the design down to the nth degree sufficiently for them to get a true costing done and a probability excercise. It was all to be very hush hush, and it was all to be done within the Board itself because our finance man was also in charge of costing and all that rubbish. So this was done and the original design … was all done in my handwriting and was given to the finance director, and he came up with a nice answer.… it allowed for all possible costs, even hidden costs, and so this was placed before the board, and surprisingly they went along with it and well, we haven’t lost any money over it.”

Thus Magill Estate earned the stamp of approval and between Max Schubert and the Penfold wine making team, the first vintage was produced in 1983. And the wine was far different from Grange as the grapes were picked earlier; the wine was fernented at a lower temperature; and it was matured in a mix of American and French oak rather than in all American oak as is the practice with Grange.

Magill quickly carved a reputation for itself and remains amongst an elite group of highly sought after wines at Australian auctions.

Its success underpins a unique status in the Penfold range of reds. It is the only single vineyard wine produced by the company and is the only wine now produced at Magill Estate (Grange production moved to the Barossa Valley in 1973).

To my taste Magill Estate Shiraz has undergone a considerable transformation in its short history. When I revisit those earlier vintage, I find I am indifferent to them — beautifully crafted and structured though they are. Max himself was a great believer in the flavour of fully ripened grapes and I firmly believe those earlier vintages lack that important flavour element.

But in the 1990, 1991 and 1992 we see Magill at its full potential. These vintages pack in beautiful, ripe shiraz flavours that lift the wine to new heights. The 1991, in my view, is the best yet and overshadows the nevertheless brilliant, probably earlier maturing 1992.