Penfolds' global brand strength might never have crystallised if Max Schubert had not been dispatched to Spain in 1950 to learn more about making sherry, detouring for an unplanned brief visit to Bordeaux – which led to the (unplanned) birth of Grange.
The current Penfolds Collection of over 20 wines, led by 2011 Grange (RRP $785), with a flotilla of the so-called Bin wines from 2013 following in its wake, Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon having reached the dizzy heights of $500 a bottle. (When first released in '96 it was $80.)
Price rises to one side, the Collection has carefully grown the scope of its red wine offers, adding Bin 169 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon at $350, Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz $80, Bin 8 Cabernet Shiraz $45, Bin 9 Cabernet Sauvignon $30, and the revived Bin 2 Shiraz Mataro $30.
But there is another side to Penfolds' reputation as Australia's foremost maker of red wines, all indelibly stamped with a house style build on a triptych of fruit, oak and tannins. It stemmed from a decision by then CEO Ross Wilson that there should be a white wine to stand alongside Grange.
The extraordinary focus group research that followed included a convocation of wine writers assembled from all parts of Australia to consider the claims of semillon, riesling and chardonnay. Despite the greater longevity of top class semillon and riesling, the choice fell on chardonnay. In retrospect it might seem blindingly obvious, but back then the devil was in the detail.
The first vintages of Reserve Bin A Chardonnay and Yattarna were 1994 and '95 respectively, and the Penfolds winemaking team learnt rapidly over the following years. While Yattarna (like Grange) is not entered in wine shows, Reserve Bin A Chardonnay, Bin 311 Tumbarumba Chardonnay and Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling are, Reserve Bin A with an outstanding show career.
No chance of all the eggs in the one Bin.