Penfolds’ The California Collection opens up a world of possibilities

February 25, 2021
By Melissa Parker

Twenty years in the making, Penfolds’ ‘California’ Collection release couldn’t be better timed. With China on the backburner, the US market is in full focus for Australia’s luxury wine market. Our most globally recognised prestigious wine brand leads the way with its newly released Californian wine range set to make extra inroads into the lucrative US market.

It all began when Penfolds’ winemakers cultivated vine cuttings from the brand’s most prized South Australian vineyards in the bountiful soils of the Camatta Hills vineyard in Paso Robles. It was part of an ambitious viticultural program in Australia called ‘Heritage Selections’.

Experimental vintages occurred in 2006 and 2007. Senior winemaker for Penfolds, Stephanie Dutton (pictured above with Andrew Baldwin and Peter Gago who were also instrumental on the project) remembers the handwritten bottles on the shelves at the winery labelled Camatta Hills.

She recalls her first experience visiting the Penfolds vineyard in the US.

“Driving into the Camatta Hills vineyard for the first time, an Australian accent greeted me, the vineyard manager was Australian and visually, to look at the vineyard, it looked like I was in Australia; the posts we were using, the structure of the vineyards and the structure of the vines, there were huge parallels with our Kalimna Vineyard here in the Barossa Valley,” Dutton says.

Dutton says there was always the intention to do something with the vineyards, but the trials needed to happen first.

“In 2017, we started to get serious with more direction and purpose because the vines were coming into their own. Any inaugural release requires exceptional vintage conditions to line up, and we were really lucky because our decision to press ‘go’ lined up with an incredible 2018 vintage in California,” she says.

Dutton explains that while the South Australian genetic material was in the grapes from the Paso Robles vineyard, the range also sourced grapes from other vineyards in the Napa Valley. She says they discovered in the Napa an excellence that distracted them as a winemaking team: the exceptional quality couldn’t be overlooked. She explains that it was A-grade material full of polish and beautiful maturity in the Cabernet space.

“As blenders, and that is very much part of our craft at Penfolds, we started to think about not just having Paso Robles fruit in our toolkit but also Napa Valley fruit as well,” Dutton says.

There are four wines in the portfolio. The first is the Penfolds Bin 600 Cabernet Shiraz, the Paso blend, which Dutton says parallels with the Bin 389 in both craft and style. The second wine, the Bin 704, is all about purity and is 100 per cent Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 100 per cent Penfolds in style and 100 per cent French oak. The top two tiers are cross-regional blended wines from the Napa Valley and South Australia. Quantum Bin 98 Cabernet Sauvignon and Bin 149 Cabernet Sauvignon are 85 per cent Napa Valley fruit and 15 per cent South Australian fruit.

“A couple of drops (of the South Australian wine) created something altogether different. It added an extra layer and, to me, shifted the personality of the wines,” she says.

“You talk about people who are worldly, well-travelled, full of wisdom and multi-layered, and that is what I felt we had done in terms of the shift we had created with that blend. It was a blend that was altogether different and gave us something to capture in bottle that we truly wanted to share with consumers.”

Dutton says this multi-regional winemaking style makes for a truly global wine or a wine of the world.

“2018 is the year before Penfold turned 175 years old. I felt a positive cultural reminder in the team when we were embarking on this project that our 175 anniversary is approaching, and whilst we are incredibly respectful of our past as a team, we want to future proof the brand for the next 175 years and part of that recognises Penfolds has become a global brand, and there is a curiosity to put boots on the ground globally as well,” she explains.

The California project follows Penfolds’ collaboration with Champagne and although there is nothing in the immediate pipeline in terms of other global viticultural regions, Dutton says Penfolds has a ‘never say never’ approach, and it does open up the rest of the world to possibilities.

“As long as we stay firmly entrenched in the fine wine market and remain quality-driven, then we are allowed to throw the rule book out the window. Out of all the projects to land in your lap, this is one I am certainly grateful to be a part of,” Dutton says.

The Penfolds inaugural ‘California’ Collection will be available globally, including in Australia.

2018 Quantum Bin 98 Cabernet Sauvignon  RRP $950

2018 Bin 149 Cabernet Sauvignon                  RRP $220

2018 Bin 704 Cabernet Sauvignon                  RRP $120

2018 Bin 600 Cabernet Shiraz                          RRP$90

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