In 1844, Christopher Rawson Penfold planted vines on the slopes of Magill to produce fortified wines. Now the historic bluestone cellars are home to a tradition of fortified winemaking dating back over 150 years.
In 1915, an oak cask containing a blend of the finest tawnies the company possessed was set aside for the exclusive use of the Penfold family. This became known as ’the Grandfather’ due to the great age of the oldest tawnies in the blend.
Penfolds Grandfather Rare Tawny is batch-aged in old oak hogsheads for approximately eight years. After this stage it enters the six-stack ‘Grandfather Solera’, a fractional blending system utilised to maintain consistency in style.
Each year winemakers draw one-twelfth of each barrel from the lowest level of the Solera. The barrel is then topped up from the barrel sitting above it and the process is complete when the barrels on the highest level are one-twelfth empty.
The top barrels then receive the blended eight-year-old Grandfather Tawny. Theoretically, the wine drawn from the lowest level of the Solera is now at least twenty years of age, having been in the fractional blending system for twelve years.
During the maturation process, the wines become more concentrated and complex; opulence, weight and sweetness is intertwined and balanced by the alcohol, acidity, oak nuances and volatility. Grandfather Rare Tawny, with an average age in excess of fifteen years, has a dense, tawny colour, with rich, nutty aromas and extraordinary intensity on the palate.
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Chocolate mud cake
|Australia’s winemaking history of less than two hundred years is brief by European measures though, like Europe, punctuated by periods of extreme success and difficult times. From the earliest winemaking days Penfolds has figured prominently and few would argue the importance of Penfolds’ influence on Australia’s winemaking psyche.
Without the influence of Penfolds the modern Australian wine industry would look very different indeed. Sitting comfortably outside of fad and fashion, Penfolds has taken Australian wine to the world on a grand stage and forged a reputation for quality that is without peer.
Penfolds’ reputation for making wines of provenance and cellaring potential might suggest a mantle of tradition and formality is the preferred attire of a company with so much history to defend. But to label Penfolds as simply an established and conventional winemaker, would be to confuse tradition with consideration and to overlook the innovative spirit that has driven Penfolds since its foundation, and continues to find expression in modern times.
If there is anything traditional about Penfolds, it is the practice of constantly reviewing the wines it already does well, and continuously evolving and refining styles as vineyards mature and access to ever older and more varied vineyard sites improves.