TIME IN A BOTTLE
Interview with Peter Gago Chief Winemaker of Penfolds
The Penfolds Collection 2020
I love tasting wine, I love drinking it, I love talking about it. I particularly like making it.
─ Peter Gago, Penfolds Chief Winemaker
Peter Gago is tasting all flavours of life in a glass of red wine.
As a wine lover, you should be no stranger to Penfolds. It is one of the most wellknown wine brands in Australia and the world, with Peter Gago as its ambassador, the Chief Winemaker behind the brand.
During their time in Victoria, he and his wife both became dissatisfied with their life and decided to make a career change. He then went to Adelaide in 1986 to study oenology (winemaking) and started with Penfolds in 1989, initially making sparkling wines before moving on to reds, 31 years and never a dull moment.
This time we are very honoured to invite Peter Gago, Penfolds Chief Winemaker, to tell us the story behind his winemaking.
Penfolds Vineyard of McLauren Vale is the place where grapes are sourced for Penfolds Grange and St. Henri Shiraz.
We know that you were a chemistry and mathematics teacher before, how does this background help you with winemaking?
PG: The role of winemaker is craftsman, scientist, performer and bon vivant. As a former science and mathematics teacher, much of the science and chemistry knowledge that I gained in my 4 years of studying chemistry helped me with studying winemaking. The teaching and communications aspect of my previous 8 years of teaching experience has also helped me better connect with people to explain our wines and winemaking philosophy.
Please describe the moment when you first fell in love with wine.
PG: It was during my university days and all a bit of a blur, my appreciation of the drop evolved as a gradual realization, wine became something that just made sense to me. It’s like death in a way in the manner that you don’t know how to deal with it at the time. It only hits you later, the realization of what you’ve missed when you go back to a bottle and see what you lost. You think, “that is profoundly wow.” All my mates were buying cars and I was buying Grange.
I love tasting wine, I love drinking it, I love talking about it. I particularly like making it. It starts with this little thing called a grape and then it becomes a AUD $100, $200, $800 bottle. It’s the ultimate in value added. There’s a bit of alchemy, a bit of magic, a lot of science and a lot of luck.
You have been with Penfolds for over 30 years, and more than 18 years as the Chief Winemaker. Can you share with us your key to success?
PG: Obsession – but it’s obsession married with excitement and with many other things. As for success, part of it is consistency. It’s always stylistically intact – the wines aren’t bouncing off walls depending on what this year’s fad is and there’s that ability to age.
Penfolds today is a culture, not just a brand. There are challenges and there is responsibility. There is the custodian role within our winemaking department. There is an obligation to the 176 years and there is respect for that heritage, not only at Penfolds but also that responsibility to be an ambassador for Australian wine.
For me, no two days are the same. I’m like a kid in a sweet shop really. I get paid to do something I love. For a native of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in the North-East of England, it is a dream job.
What qualities should a wine possess in order to be beautiful?
PG: When talking about a wine’s charm and beauty, I think immediately of harmony & balance; character & poise. Notwithstanding, an underpinning of optimal fruit quality and structural integrity are certainly necessary and will help ensure longevity. A wine doesn’t transform into a great wine at a certain age. It’s not just about oak or alcohol, nor extract or acidity. The ‘wow’ factor of a beautiful wine speaks more to purity & style than it does to power & dimension.
We know there are numerous superb Penfolds wines, but which one is your favourite?
PG: It is easy to say that my favourite is the latest 2016 Grange that received not just one but two perfect scores upon release with – 100/100 points from Ken Gargett, 20+/20, Matthew Jukes as well as some less-than-perfect scores including 99 points from Joe Czerwinski of Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, 99 points from Tony Love and 99 points from James Halliday.
But it’s really not a mere numbers game. We are all our best personal wine critics and know what we like. I am personally quite fond of the 2018 vintage of RWT Bin 798. RWT is made from fruit primarily selected for its aromatic qualities and plush texture. Its style is opulent and fleshy, contrasting with Grange, which is more muscular and assertive.
Please introduce the new Penfolds collection to us.
PG: Special mention must be noted for the 2018 Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz, a release that commemorates the 60th anniversary since it was first made in 1960, by Max Schubert. Harmonious, balanced and focused, this wine demonstrates why Bin 389 remains one of Australia’s most popular collectable red wines.
My other favourite is the 2016 Grange that received not just one but two perfect scores upon release with – 100/100 points from Ken Gargett and 20+/20 from Matthew Jukes as mentioned earlier.
As life goes along, everyone encounters a different episode of life, just as the unique taste of wine. Some are as bold as brandy, dare to live without fear; others are as spirited as champagne, passionate about life… While Peter Gago’s life is like red wine, matures slowly into a mellow brew, getting better with age.
The 2016 Grange received not just one but two perfect scores upon release with – 100/100 points from Ken Gargett and 20+/20 from Matthew Jukes.