“We must not be afraid to put into effect the strength of our own convictions, continue to use our imagination in winemaking generally, and be prepared to experiment in order to gain something extra, different and unique in the world of win.” Max Schubert.
Max Schubert’s famous quote still underpins the Penfolds winemaking philosophy today and highlights the impact Max had on building an unmatched family of wines. As the man who created Australia’s most famous wine, Grange, Max was a pioneer who should be remembered for contributing to the Penfolds vision of past, present and future.
When Max Edmund Schubert was born in Moculta (on the north-eastern fringe of the Barossa), Australia was at war - the Great War: a conflict so terrible that for generations, the word great would never again infer anything good. Working at Magill Estate, Max received his first promotion just 6 months later, and within a couple of years - having been transferred to Penfolds’ operations at Magill - was apprentice to the head winemaker.
Biographers often refer to Max as a loyal company man, which he demonstrably was. But he was also a man determined to walk his own path: When Australia became embroiled in WW2, Max ignored a management directive ordering workers to remain at their posts - and enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. On his discharge from the AIF, Max returned to Magill where he was probably not surprised to find himself demoted to cellar hand. But management didn’t stay mad at Max for long. Just 3 years later, in 1948, Max Schubert was appointed Penfolds’ first ever Chief Winemaker. It was a position he would hold for 27 years.
In 1950, Max was packed off to Europe to study sherry and port making. (Fortifieds Penfolds’ stock-in-trade at the time.) During a side trip to Bordeaux, he met one of France’s most respected and highly qualified old-school winemakers, Monsieur Christian Cruse. Cruse took Max under his wing, showing him everything he wanted to know, and introducing him to magnificent old Bordeaux first growth wines. Max was astounded at their still-potent bouquets and rich, generous flavours. For Max, it was a Light Bulb Moment; for the rest of us, an utmost important encounter in Australian wine-making history.
Of course, without this visit to Bordeaux, we would today be without Grange. After this time in France, Max Schubert started experimenting with making a long-lived red wine that would match to that of the French. He created the first Grange in 1951 but had to keep it in secret in the Cellars of Magill away from the Penfolds Board of Directors, as it was a truly controversial wine for the time.
The undercover production continued, however as vintage followed vintage, it became apparent that the world needed to see and evaluate the wonders of what was hidden away. It was in 1960 after several years of lying idle underneath the underground cellars of Magill, that the Board of Directors instructed Max Schubert to make Grange again. All in all, it was close to ten years from the first experimental Grange, to when the wine gained general acceptance and Max started to receive the praise and awards we now know today.
In his lifetime Max received many awards, including Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for his contribution to the Australian wine industry. Today, we acknowledge his contributions and celebrate his bold and passionate spirit.
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