More than two decades ago, Penfolds, one of Australia’s most iconic wineries, started exploring the bountiful soils of sun-drenched California. And in 1998, heritage vines from its most prized vineyards in South Australia were ambitiously planted in Paso Robles soil, with an intent to create a range of wines unrestricted by region or continent. Today, Penfolds will unveil its inaugural California Collection of four wines that can best be described as ‘worldly’ in style.
Penfolds has long been celebrated for its rich history, diversity, and fine craftsmanship. The 19th-century vineyard and winery, which dates back to 1844, may best be known for its flagship Grange (a multi-varietal blend first born in 1951)—easily Australia’s most revered wine and one of the most acclaimed reds in the world. With a “quality-first” philosophy that has been passed down through generations of winemakers, the company prides itself on an unwavering pursuit of innovation, experimentation, and boundary-pushing creativity, as evident in its latest endeavor.
The journey to the Golden State started decades ago when Penfolds established an ambitious viticultural program in Australia called ‘Heritage Selections,’ where winemakers identified single vineyards and vines that produced the greatest quality fruit. Cuttings from these exceptional selections were then propagated and sent across the world to the Creston 600 Ranch in Paso Robles (now known as Camatta Hills Estate)—initially as an experiment, simply to see what would happen. With a comparable climate and terroir to the South Australian vineyards, the nearly 12-acre Californian block was fully planted by 2001.
In the early 2000s, the Penfolds team began experimenting with the California fruit. Then in 2017, “we started some more extensive winemaking trial work,” shared senior winemaker Stephanie Dutton. “And not only were we looking at the Paso Robles fruit, but we got distracted by the quality excellence we saw up in Napa Valley at the same time.”
The following year, Dutton, along with chief winemaker Peter Gago and winemaker Andrew Baldwin, embarked on the 2018 California harvest with a groundbreaking approach that blended grapes from premier winemaking regions across Australia and California—all meticulously crafted through the Penfolds lens, proudly bearing the brand’s stamp and trademark house style. This highly-specialized blending across hemispheres is a first in the fine wine sector.
Leading the California Collection are two flagship wines: 2018 Quantum Bin 98 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2018 Bin 149 Cabernet Sauvignon. Penfolds describes the taste profile as ‘Wine of the World’ since each extraordinary blend crosses continents—made from predominantly Napa Valley cabernet with a significant addition of shiraz (in Quantum) and cabernet (in Bin 149) from South Australia.
“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,” explained chief winemaker Peter Gago.
“The wines pay respect to California terroir, yet one thing remains overtly consistent: the red Penfolds stamp,” said Gago. “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.”
The California Collection will be available starting Thursday, March 4th. The 2018 Quantum Bin 98 Cabernet Sauvignon ($700) serves as the most powerful expression of Penfolds’ exceptional blending style (Dutton describes it as having a blue-fruited plushness and tight structure while being full of untapped energy), while the 2018 Bin 149 Cabernet Sauvignon ($149) embodies more classic Penfolds characteristics, with an overt aromatic profile, strong tannic foundations, and dark fruit intensity. Both flagship wines are matured in French and American oak.
Rounding out the portfolio: 2018 Bin 704 Cabernet Sauvignon (a silky expression with red fruit succulence of Napa cabernet matured in French oak; $70) and 2018 Bin 600 Cabernet Shiraz (a fragrant all-California cabernet-shiraz blend featuring grapes from the original 1998 vine cuttings planted in Paso Robles, matured for 16 months in American oak; $50).
Penfolds celebrated its 175th anniversary in 2019 and plans to continue its worldly approach to producing the finest wines. “We hope that over the next 175 years, we exist not just as a global brand, but with our boots quite literally on the ground around the globe,” shared Dutton. Currently investigating opportunities in Bordeaux and Champagne, Penfolds will likely uncork many more ingenious collections in the future.