There’s a hill just outside of Adelaide that seems like any other. But deep beneath it, you’ll find a tunnel. It lies almost 18 metres underground, extends more than 150 metres and was dug out many decades ago. And while most Australians wouldn’t know it was there, it’s a place of history. In this tunnel, almost 70 years ago, the wine widely accepted to be Australia’s finest was born: Penfolds Grange.
“The tunnel is behind the Magill Estate winery,” says Penfolds global ambassador Jamie Sach, who explains that the first vintage of Grange – the 1951 – was stored and aged in the cavernous, dimly lit lair. “Every time I go into that tunnel, I feel like I’m standing on hallowed ground.”
At Magill Estate – a five-hectare property with historic bluestone buildings and magnificent vineyards, just 15 minutes from the Adelaide CBD – there are many ways to get your Grange on. Soak up the history (and wine) by taking the Ultimate Penfolds Experience, which starts with a tour of the 19th-century Grange Cottage, complete with saw-cut floorboards and doorways so low that many find themselves having to stoop. Home of the Penfolds founders, Christopher and Mary Penfold, the cottage has been restored to its former glory, with original furniture donated by the Penfolds family in 1949, when the residence and other winery buildings were heritage-listed.
There’s something very special about drinking a glass of Grange in the place where it all began. The Ultimate Experience includes a tasting of six top-shelf Penfolds wines – from Yattarna chardonnay and St Henri shiraz to the flagship Grange.
And when you swirl that glass of Grange in your hand, make a silent toast to its creator. Max Schubert was born in the Barossa Valley so he grew up with wine in his veins. But he also had tenacity in spades. His first vintage of Grange, a bold shiraz aged in oak that was quite unlike the mellow wines of the time, was panned, first by the Penfolds board and then by wine critics. He was ordered to stop making it but he continued, so fervent was his belief.
“He discovered something that was radically different to what anyone had done before,” says Sach. “In the early days, people saw the wines as being too bold, too big and too tannic. But he knew that these wines would age gracefully.” He was, of course, proved to be correct.
Beyond the tour, there are other means of savouring the revered drop at its home. Pull up a stool at the long bar of the onsite Magill Estate Kitchen, where you can enjoy Grange by the glass and delicious fare (lemon-infused king prawns, anyone?) in a casual setting bathed in natural light. Or book a table at the fine-diner Magill Estate Restaurant, where head chef Scott Huggins plates up exquisite dishes, such as nori-laced chicken and lobster warmed in kombu, in a refined dining room with plush couches, striking chandeliers and views of the vineyards where it all began 176 years ago.