Max Schubert the creator of Australia's greatest wine icon, originally had cabernet sauvignon in mind for his new wine style which he first trialled in 1951 after a trip to France. He wanted to make a red wine that would stay "alive" for at least 20 years and be comparable to a great Bordeaux. But there was not a good supply of cabernet available so he settled for shiraz.
How cruel were the wine critics and experts of the 1950s to those first releases of Penfolds Grange! "Schubert, I congratulate you," said one leading wine man of the day. "A very good dry port, which no one in their right mind will buy - let alone drink." The bad reception led the Penfolds board to ban production of Grange by the 1957 vintage. But Schubert continued to make it in secret.
The so-called Hidden Granges of 1957, 1958 and 1959 were made by Schubert with the aid of loyal employees who hid Grange behind a false wall at the the Penfolds Magill Cellars. Cellar hands were paid in wine and brandy to bottle those secret Granges on their days off.
The board changed its mind in 1960 when it retasted Grange with some age (which is why Grange today is always released with at least 5 years ageing in new American Oak barrels).
The first trial Grange, the 1951 vintage consisted of five 300 litre hogsheads. It was bottled in whatever bottles Schubert could get his hands on and given the simplest of labels. Today the 1951 vintage is the most prized Australian wine on the auction market attracting bids of more than $30,000 (AUD) a bottle !!!
Max Schubert christened his creation Grange Hermitage because hermitage was a common synonym at the time for shiraz. However, from the 1989 vintage onwards, it was re-labelled Penfolds Grange because French geographical place names such as Hermitage were banned from our labels.