Iconic Aussie wine brand Penfolds to produce baijiu for China

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Penfolds' Peter Gago said the company's tradition of blending its fortified wines dated back to the time of Dr Christopher Penfold, who founded the winery in South Australia in 1844. ©Getty Images
Penfolds' Peter Gago said the company's tradition of blending its fortified wines dated back to the time of Dr Christopher Penfold, who founded the winery in South Australia in 1844. ©Getty Images

Related tags: Wine, China, Australia

One of Australia's best-known wine brands is set to launch a fortified wine for the Asian market, infused with an iconic Chinese spirit.

Treasury Wine Estate, the maker of Penfolds Grange, said the premium Barossa Shiraz contains 6% baijiu ​spirit to capitalise on the company's booming exports to China in recent years.

Considered by many Chinese as a spirit with great prestige — and often a matching price tag — baijiu ​is beloved of the country's ruling classes and bottles of it are traditionally given as a gift.

Recently, baijiu ​brands have been released to appeal to the popular market, following a government crack-down on its consumption as part of its graft-busting measures.

Penfolds chief winemaker Peter Gago said Penfolds' tradition of blending its fortified wines dated back to the time of Dr Christopher Penfold, who founded the winery in Adelaide, South Australia in 1844.

He said the the new Lot 518 spirited wine also recognised Penfolds' strong relationship with its markets in China and the surrounding region. "When we fortify wines, we infuse these beverages with many different things, and in this instance, we are being very brave, very courageous."

Lot 518 will be available at the cellar door and through Penfolds' partner network across Asia.

The South Australian winery has also announced two other special bottlings: the Lot 1990 pot-distilled 28-year-old single-batch brandy and a champagne, which will be available from 2019.

From Down Under to the West Coast

Also on the radar will be the brand's first first commercial production of Napa Valley wines from Californian grapes, which will be harvested during the next vintage.

Treasury Wine Estate owns several wineries in California, some of which are being retrofitted to allow for Penfolds' specific winemaking techniques, such as heading down boards. Other techniques Penfolds will likely bring to California include reduced time on skins and an increased focus on barrel fermentation.

The premium Californian offerings are expected to be Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah / Shiraz, and will be released globally, but not until at least late 2020. Gago said the wine would pay respect to the Californian terroir but be made in the "Penfolds house style"​.

"We'll have the Californian sun above and soil beneath but everything in between will be Penfolds — the AP John barrels, open fermenters, perhaps, and all of the techniques that have worked in South Australia to craft and create Californian styles,"​ he said.

"Being global isn't just selling wine in 100-plus countries, being global is working there, doing things offshore and broadening that base​."

The move into California has been on the cards for more than two decades. The winery first took Shiraz cuttings from its Magill Estate in Adelaide and Kalimna vineyards in the Barossa Valley and planted them in Camatta Hills, California in the mid-90s.

The grapes were then used by Penfolds to make experimental wines from 2006 to 2008, but the wines were never commercially released.

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