Penfolds: Australia’s Most Expensive Wine

Penfolds Wine at Business Dinner
Source: The Collective Wine Company

Australia’s seventh oldest winery is no stranger to the headlines. In 2014, a bottle of Penfolds became the wine that launched a thousand protests and overthrew a NSW Premier, single-handedly bolstering the investigation of influence peddling between Barry O’Farrell and Australian Water Holdings’ chief executive Nick Di Girolamo.

5 years later, Penfolds is once again on the media’s radar, this time in a much less controversial light – a single bottle of Grange Hermitage 1951 has broken auction records and earned itself the title of Australia’s most expensive wine.

Having previously sold for $78,000 and $50,000 – each record-breaking in their own right – this particular occasion saw the vintage leaving the market at roughly $80,000.

The auction, hosted by Langton’s in December last year, had already generated a buzz among wine connoisseurs and collectors alike. It stood to be the world’s largest Penfolds auction in recent history, boasting a collection of 2,635 bottles up for bidding.

However, it was not only the largest, but one of the rarest. Much of the collection featured vintages that had never before been offered, such as the coveted Penfolds Bin 80C Magill Dry Red 1954, reported to be the last bottle in existence. It sold for an unexpected $1,748.

But how was a bottle that was the last of its vintage eclipsed in auction by one which was arguably less rare and had been sold before? Both were from a seminal period of experimentation in Penfolds’ history under the leadership of their first appointed Chief Winemaker, Max Schubert. The difference, however, lies in that the Grange Hermitage 1951, was never made commercially available.

In fact, Schubert never even sold it privately. Created initially as a secret experiment alongside his official work on the Penfolds Bin wines, Schubert distributed it only as a gift to friends and family.

While 1951 marked its first year of production, it wasn’t until 1952 that Grange was commercially released. Today, this precious vintage is listed on the National Heritage Trust; and of the mere 160 cases ever produced, only 20 bottles still exist.

It wasn’t simply controversy and record sales that gave Penfolds its notoriety. Its inception began at Magill Estate in 1844, founded by Dr Christopher and Mary Penfold – yet behind closed doors, largely operated solely under Mary.

Penfolds Wine
Source: Capo Del Vino

Science, innovation, and experimentation formed the primary focus of the vineyard, and it is this to which Penfolds credits its early success, becoming the largest South Australian winery in 1907.

Rightly so, as it was also this that drove Max Schubert and the reason for which his winemaking for Penfolds is so highly celebrated. He propelled the winery onto global markets and produced some of the world’s most critically acclaimed and award-winning vintages.

Grange – ironically originally disliked and, until the 1960s, banned from production – has received many accolades, and as of its 50th anniversary, was listed as a South Australian heritage icon.

To this day, Penfolds has remained one of Australia’s most prominent wineries and holds a permanent place in the collections of specialist wine aficionados across the globe.

With well over 20 national and international awards under their belt, it is only to be expected that Penfolds will continue to prove themselves ground-breaking and innovative winemakers.

Feature Image.