As Chief Winemaker at Penfolds, Peter Gago leads the production of some of the world’s most iconic wines, including the undisputed champion of Australian wine, Grange. Starting in 1989 as head of sparkling wine production, he took the top job in 2002 and has been there ever since. As only the fourth person to hold the position since Max Schubert began working on Grange in the 1950s, he walks the tightrope of progressing and evolving the label, while also observing and maintaining the company’s traditions of craftmanship. As both steward and representative of Grange and other famous Penfolds wines, Peter is a rock star of the wine world, and his promotion of the wines sees him rubbing shoulders with big names from all walks of life including politicians, celebrities, entertainers and sportspeople.
That’s a difficult question. I guess the winemaking, and the sensory stuff is a given. There are all sorts of other bits and pieces. But you have to love it, and it’s got to be real. And the word ‘real’ is very apt, in a winemaking sense, and in the role sense. If it’s not real, it doesn’t last.
Here at Penfolds tradition is all around us, but there’s always been an innovative approach as well. Next door, there’s a Cambridge pH meter [a device for measuring acidity or alkalinity] that was used in the 1940s, before anyone else in the industry had ever heard of it. There’s always been this drive for innovation here, and in recent years I’ve accelerated that. Some people might think it’s marketing, but it’s not. It’s purist winemaking.
It’s less a flash of lightning, or an epiphany. With the 1991 Grange, on John Duval’s watch, people ask what was so great about that vintage, and my standard reply is, ‘nothing went wrong’. It’s not like you think, ‘wow, I’ve never seen anything like this before’. That very rarely happens. It’s really about the rewards of patience.
I think one of the highlights was the character and impression of what came out of the south-east, Coonawarra in particular. It started off relatively dry in the growing season, and they still had hot weather, with 14 days above 35 degrees, and the Barossa had 21 days. That predicted La Niña failed to materialise; we thought the rains would arrive but they didn’t. It went really, really well.
Both the Barossa and McLaren Vale had winter rainfall well below the long-term average. The Barossa had 31 days above 35 degrees, McLaren Vale had 25, and Clare Valley wasn’t far behind. The yields were down across everything so the 2019 Grange is going to have a big set of boots to fill following the 2018, because the ’18 has already amassed eight 100 point scores.
I love patterns at Penfolds. I love the 2009 Grange, I love the 1989 Grange in particular, and 2019 is following. They’re all in the shadow of other great Granges. They’re what we refer to as sleeper vintages. Look at the 1989, 1999, 2009 and now the 2019 – I think it’s a lovely quartet. And I think the 2019 vintage will ascend those other three.
It’s great having these links to all sorts of people, musicians or sports stars, all sorts of people. How lucky am I that wine has been the conduit, because I’m under no illusions – it’s not my effervescent personality! It’s pouring and sharing wine, sharing meals, sharing stories, and it’s real. We’re getting back to that word, again. If it wasn’t real, people wouldn’t put up with it.
Penfolds Bin 311 Chardonnay 2022 Lime blossom, white peach and melon with hints of struck match. This is concentrated and streamlined with a graceful mineral line: effortless, cool-climate chardonnay.
Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2020 A resonant fruit-forward style, with boysenberry and peppercorns, bursting with pomegranate jewels, and rosehip freshness, deepening through darker briary shades to a spiced fruit core.
Penfolds Grange Shiraz 2019 Brimming with intense black fruits and trove spice, this is powerfully complex and statuesque, with tantalising velvety tannins and swathes of deep-set, rich fruit.
Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2021 Superbly rendered blue, black fruits with subtle violet, carob and bay leaf characters. Defined by tense structural tannins, this is classically restrained, long and flavoursome.
Penfolds RWT Shiraz 2021 Glossy black cherry and Christmas cake with layers of luxuriously vibrant fruit. Nuances of garden herb, spice and savoury tannin tempers the RWT’s inherent depth and richness.
Products featured are available from 02/08/23 to 05/09/23, while stocks last. Some products or varieties featured may not be available in all stores.