Australian winemaker Penfolds launches its inaugural California wine collection of four wines that challenges the definition of New World wines.
The next time you buy a bottle of Penfolds, you may want to pay close attention to the label – it may not have been made in Australia. It may be from California instead.
Over two decades ago, the Australian winemaker took possession of several hectares of vines in Paso Robles, California for an ambitious project. But the story begins earlier – back in the 1980s, Penfolds embarked on a viticultural programme in Australia called the ‘Heritage Selections’, where its viticulturists and winemakers identified the best vines from its most prized vineyards. Some of those cuttings from Penfolds’ iconic Magill Estate and Kalimna were propagated and planted at the Paso Robles vineyard site, which they had renamed Camatta Hills.
30 years down the road, the Penfolds California wine project finally bears fruit. In 2018 Penfolds chief winemaker Peter Gago, senior winemaker Stephanie Dutton and winemaker Andrew Baldwin headed to California and embarked on that year’s harvest from the vines that were transplanted to the United States. From that vintage – its first-ever – Penfolds created four wines it calls its California Collection, a range comprising the 2018 Quantum Bin 98 Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2018 Bin 149 Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2018 Bin 704 Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2018 Bin 600 Cabernet Shiraz.
Shiraz, or Syrah, of course, is not new to California – the varietal was first recorded in the Paso Robles area back in 1975. The 2018 Bin 600 Cabernet Shiraz sees 78% Cabernet Sauvignon combined with 22% Shiraz, blended using grapes from the Paso Robles sub-appellation of Creston District, with those from Napa and Sonoma. Cab Shiraz as a style was popularised by Australia; this blend is less common in California.
Then there’s the 2018 Bin 704 Cabernet Sauvignon, vinified with grapes wholly from Napa Valley. This latter wine is essentially a Napa cab that’s interpreted from an Australian – and uniquely Penfolds – lens.
Wines made in California by Penfolds from vines that’s been transplanted from Australia? We get that.
Here’s where the new Penfold’s California collection can get controversial. Rather controversial, in fact. The 2018 Bin 149 Cabernet Sauvignon is what Penfolds calls a “Wine of the World”; essentially it blends together Cabernet Sauvignon from both Napa Valley and South Australia to create a single expression. The flagship of Penfolds’ California Collection, the 2018 Quantum Bin 98 Cabernet Sauvignon, similarly combines together Cabernet from Napa and South Australia.
Wines of the World
Blending across different winemaking regions isn’t uncommon, of course, nor is blending wine from different countries. China, for example, imports millions of litres of bulk wine annually from Australia, Chile, and Spain to blend with their domestically produced wines. Closer to home, Bali too imports wine from Australia to blend with its locally produced wines.
What is unusual is the quality that Penfolds places on its “Wines of the World”. Cross country blends tend to be of lower standards, but Penfolds’ California range represents the pinnacle of Penfolds winemaking. To give an example – both the 2018 Bin 149 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2018 Quantum Bin 98 Cabernet Sauvignon see the addition of pedigree Cabernet and Shiraz respectively of the highest quality from South Australia.
You can call this a new frontier in the New World of wines.
“A quality-first approach underpins this inaugural release, led by 2018 Quantum. This blend assembles parcels of prized Cabernet Sauvignon from some of the Napa Valley’s best vineyards and pedigreed Shiraz from South Australia. This is a first for Penfolds,” Peter Gago, chief winemaker at Penfolds, declared.
“The wines made in California pay respect to California terroir, yet one thing remains overtly consistent – the red Penfolds stamp. AP John barrels, open fermenters and time-honoured Penfolds winemaking techniques have been applied. Being global isn’t just about selling wine around the world, it is about working with both feet on the soil. We will have the Californian sun above and soil beneath, but everything in between will be Penfolds,” Gago added.
You’ll notice that the bottle labels on each Penfolds California wine isn’t particularly informative and can hard for the typical consumer to ascertain appellation. But that’s simply Penfolds’ style-driven perspective, as opposed to a terroir-based one.
Such an irreverent approach to winemaking, of course, is part of the Penfolds DNA. Their core range exuberantly blends across regions and vineyards. We’ve even witnessed how they took different vintages of their iconic Grange to create its limited-edition, non-vintage g series.
Blending across different hemispheres for these “Wines of the World” was the next logical, and ultimately inevitable, step for Penfolds.
The Penfolds California Collection is available from March 2021 on www.penfolds.com. The 2018 Quantum Bin 98 Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2018 Bin 149 Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2018 Bin 704 Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2018 Bin 600 Cabernet Shiraz are priced at S$700, S$149, S$70, and S$50 respectively. Consumers in Singapore and travellers through Changi Airport may purchase these wines on KrisShop and iShopChangi via the respective platforms’ pre-order to flight and airport collection programs, or opt for local delivery within Singapore.
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