Men, Women & Wine Shows

Max Schubert, Ray Beckwith and the Making of Penfolds

How two white knights saved a mismanaged company

‘Max Schubert and Grange helped transform Penfolds from being makers of cheap fortifieds into one of the great wine companies of the world.’ Richard Farmer.

Max Schubert will forever be known as the Creator of Grange, the Genius who created Grange or the Father of Grange. Everyone knows the story of Max being ordered to stop making Grange because the early reviews were scathing, and the timid people who ran Penfolds couldn’t see past their noses.

Few will remember that, as winemaker, Max Schubert improved every wine Penfolds made, or that he improved every wine-making process when he was Penfolds’ Production Manager, or that he optimised the output from every vineyard and winery Penfolds owned.

Ray-Beckwith-with-Max-SchubertRay Beckwith, Alfred Scholz and Max Schubert enjoying a spot of Grandfather Port – photo credit: Milton Worldley

Max had a lot of help from Ray Beckwith and others in turning Penfolds from a maker of cheap ports and brandies into a powerhouse table wine company, but he was the driving force. It’s not well-known that Max was a heavy smoker most of his life, and that he died of emphysema in 1994.

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Ian Hickinbotham – Restless Genius

Australian Plonky – the colourful life of an inventive mind

Ian says the title of his autobiography reflects the derision and disdain qualified winemakers were treated with in the fifties. He adds that the word plonk comes from the 1st World War diggers in France who would ask for (vin) Blanc when ordering a drink.

The book is a fascinating story, but the structure and flow resembles a series of notes, thoughts or recollections, often in random order. It’s sometimes hard to read and other times harder to follow, and all the photos look like they were taken with a Box Brownie.

That said, Australian Plonky is the story of a brilliant man, an inventive mind like few others in the history of Australian wine. A child prodigy whom David Wynn put in charge of the company’s Coonawarra Estate at the age of 22, in 1951. Ian was only the 35th qualified winemaker to come out of Roseworthy, where his father Alan had created Australia’s first oenology degree course.


A few highlights of Ian’s Invention

The floating lid in wine storage tanks

The bag in the box (Chateau Cardboard)

Limited pasteurization (63⁰) process for stabilising sparkling wines

The first Spumante

The Amos crusher, the Mono pump, the Coq press

The hermetic centrifuge and the transfer machine (a first in the world for preventing oxidation during the making of sparkling wine)

Stelvin capped miniature bottles for airlines

Individual vineyard labels (Kaiserstuhl)

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James Halliday, a Life in Wine

Not a book review, more a note to the author

Dear James,

Over many decades, you’ve written many books on wine that gave us insights and knowledge. We stand in awe of your achievements and your capacity for work, which is that of 3 ordinary men. How many of us can claim two lighthouse winemaking ventures, and authorship of over 50 books? All while holding down a high-powered job? Not to mention more wine tastings and dinners in numbers that would’ve killed ordinary men long before their prime.  

You always assigned yourself a backseat in your writings, giving centre stage to wine, so I couldn’t wait to read this story of your life. A good friend warned me that it was disappointing, but I chose not to believe him. Sadly, he was right: This was the most important book of your life, and it should’ve been much more exciting than it is.

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Chateau Chunder beats Burgundy at its own game

‘Chardonnay? Buy Australian!’ (Decanter)

The BBC documentary that ran on the ABC last night charted the rise and fall of Australian wine in the UK from the early days, when it was known as Chateau Chunder from Down Under. If you missed it, you can watch it here on your computer

It’s a fascinating and thought-provoking story, and here are a few of my thoughts to fill in some of the blanks.


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Len Evans – Not my memoirs


Not a book review

In a way, the title of this book is spot on. By that I mean that I didn’t feel I knew Len any better when I finished reading it, and that applies to the fascinating people he met on his travels. Len has been called a colossus towering over all others on the Australian wine landscape, and as a man who has had a profound influence on Australian wine becoming what it is today.

Len Evans has been described as ebullient, forthright, brilliant and competitive, as autocratic, didactic and caustic, as unpretentious, unfailingly enthusiastic and uproariously entertaining. He has been called a pugnacious hedonist, a great teacher, a wonderful raconteur and a man of immense generosity. Len was short and stocky and enjoyed being compared to Napoleon. More >>

Nick Stocks Good Wine Guide 2013

It’s not just the weight, it’s the dullness of the content

The first thing that struck me about Nick Stock’s new oeuvre was the weight of the thing. It has ads in it so the whole thing is printed on heavy duty paper. The edges are sharp as well, so it becomes painful to hold in your hands when reading in bed.

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What about the content, you ask. There is a lot of it since Nick fails to deliver on his promise in the Intro that ‘Life is too short to even waste time reading about bad wine. So instead of having to sort through vast pages of average wineries and wines to find the good stuff, the 2013 Good Wine Guide brings you straight to the leading edge – the cream of the crop.’

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What’s wrong with our wine show system?

Are trophies and gold medals worthless bling or worse?

The purpose of wine shows is to serve as a guide to quality for consumers, and a style guide for winemakers. I’ve long been puzzled by the gongs thrown up (no pun intended) by our wine show system. A few recent examples I covered in previous posts include

  • McWilliams Hanwood Estate Shiraz 2010
  • Taylors Promised Land Shiraz 2010
  • Brands Laira Cabernet Merlot 2009
  • McWilliams Mount Pleasant Jack Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
  • Wolf Blass, Red Label Shiraz Grenache (2010)

I threw in the Wolf Blass to show that it isn’t just me. I didn’t even bother with this $7 wonder, despite the raves and the 2 trophies and 2 golds at the Adelaide and Melbourne shows. Even JH heaps praise on it: ‘What an amazing wine,… vibrant purple-crimson, with totally delicious red berry and spice flavours, …  94 Points

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