The grip of the grape



Photo by Samantha Hawker

There’s a story behind every bottle of wine. The authors are the winemakers, combining science with art and a touch of magic. Here Penfolds Chief Winemaker, Peter Gago, pops the cork on his love of the grape and passion for winemaking.

A gradual awakening

Peter didn’t come from a winemaking family. His career began as a teacher of chemistry and mathematics. But the grape beckoned and Peter moved to Adelaide to complete a Bachelor of Applied Science (Oenology) at Roseworthy College. He graduated dux and joined Penfolds in 1989.

“We often refer to the grip of the grape and I think that pretty much describes my journey. The more I got into it, the more I wanted to get into it. Not coming from a winemaking family as such, it was just a pure interest; a pure love of wine. It was just something that happened very naturally.”

WinePhoto by Samantha Hawker

You start with a grape

Peter is thrilled when he’s overseas, in an obscure part of the world, and sees someone opening a bottle of wine that he’s had something to do with. He’s helped to create something from next to nothing – that’s the appeal.

 “We often talk about winemaking as being a bit of craft, a bit of art, a bit of science and a bit of alchemy. But it’s also, in a very simplistic way, the ultimate in value-add. You start with the grape, it becomes a wine in a bottle that people purchase,” says Peter.

The continuum of the vines

In today’s hectic word, Peter finds solace in the timeless and unhurried qualities of the grape vine.

“One of the great things about arriving at Magill Estate each morning, regardless of my schedule, is that the vines out the front do basically the same thing every year. Every year they get a bit older, perhaps a little bit better, though there is that regulation produced by nature and the natural order of things. Businesses come and go as does wealth, but the continuum of the vines and the wines I hope won’t stop any time soon.”

WinePhoto by Samantha Hawker

When stars align

Peter talks about the rich tradition of Penfolds and his role as custodian of 172 years of endeavour. The culture remains the same but Peter points out that times are different. Penfolds now operates in an era where social media and marketing play a crucial role. Still, the most important part is what’s in the glass, today and tomorrow.

“When we hand over the baton we want the next lot to carry something that’s richer than what we had when we started,” says Peter.

As a multi-award winning winemaker, is there something Peter is still striving for?

“Yes, the elusive wine, the great wine yet to be created. It’s a funny thing, great wines are a product not only of winemaking, but when all the stars align and we’re able to optimise what we can get out of what has been given to us out of that vineyard, out of that fermentation or out of that blend.”

This article is based on an interview conducted by Gourmet Traveller Wine and proudly supported by Perpetual. Watch the video here, courtesy of Gourmet Traveller Wine.

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Enjoy wine as it is meant to be (and find out how the principles of good cellaring – quality and time – can work for your finances too).