Home of the Grange

Mark Eggleton sits down with Penfolds' chief winemaker Peter Gago

Mark Eggleton

Let’s not beat around the bush. Australia is the Middle East of rocks. Australians dig stuff up and sell it to other countries and they then make stuff we buy back. The number of truly international Australian industries which actually start with local raw materials, then continue along the chain of production, distribution and finally sales hovers comfortably around zero.

There is one standout though – the nation’s wine industry.

It really does deliver on all levels. As Penfolds chief winemaker, Peter Gago says there’s “a real creation aspect to it”. 

And unlike the mining industry for example, “We do everything,” Gago says. “People forget to remember that we till the earth; we establish the vines; we tend the vines and then we pick the grapes, make the wine, bottle it, ship it and then finally sell it.”

Gago enjoys chatting about his love for the industry. It’s an industry where he has one of the world’s most sought-after gigs because he is the custodian of Australia’s iconic Grange.

In a wide-ranging chat with Lunch Magazine, Gago shared his views on the latest line-up of Penfolds annual all-stars as well as his wine philosophy.

To start, his philosophy is pretty simple – wine is there to be enjoyed. It shouldn’t be elitist and in the last few years Gago has been trying to bring wine back to its roots and has proactively tried to make it more approachable and mainstream.

Sure the top end of the market such as a $950 outlay for a bottle of Grange probably shoves it into the elite class but to Gago, every bottle has a story, a personal story and that’s the beauty of wine.

Maybe that story involved a hangover but there is still a story.

Interestingly, Gago’s own story is not one of a man destined for the wine industry. For starters, he was born in England. What’s more: he didn’t actually discover wine until he was at university and even then it may have been because there was no beer in the fridge.

Yet that initial discovery led him from being a high school maths and science teacher to Roseworthy College where he was dux and then onto Penfolds where he has been since 1989. He ascended to the top job in 2002.

As for my suggestion that winemakers continually call every couple of vintages classics just to flog more product, Gago says I’m a little wide of the mark. It would seem it’s mostly luck.

“It’s mostly climate and a little bit of science. As someone once said ‘You can’t put in what God left out’. The climate has to be perfect, then comes the winemaking and then there’s a little bit of luck,” he says.

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