Penfolds: An Australian Classic

With a portfolio of both iconic and everyday wines, Penfolds is getting a renewed focus.

Penfolds chief winemaker Peter Gago aims to make wines that improve upon the traditional offerings, while seeking to create new classics.
Penfolds chief winemaker Peter Gago aims to make wines that improve upon the traditional offerings, while seeking to create new classics.

In September, Penfolds wines were poured at official Emmy Awards parties, and each Primetime Emmy winner received a bottle of 2012 Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz in a commemorative wooden box. This partnership is just one of several efforts Treasury Wine Estates (TWE) is making to support the iconic Australian brand in the U.S. marketplace.

Noting the recent “Numbers Can Be Extraordinary” advertising campaign, as well as the Best Dressed Somm contest, extensive ambassador training and distributor outreach, TWE North America president Sandra LeDrew says the push on Penfolds is far from over. “This month’s release of the new vintage is again being accompanied by our Penfolds Collection launch dinners, where we meet with high-end restaurateurs, retailers and sommeliers,” she explains. “Chief winemaker Peter Gago is also leading a tasting during Wine Spectator’s New York Wine Experience this month.” LeDrew adds that the brand plans to work with hotels and luxury department stores on promotional programming.

The ongoing efforts surrounding Penfolds appear to be paying off. Against a backdrop of sluggish Australian wine sales in the United States, depletions of the entire Penfolds line increased 11 percent in 2014 to 216,000 cases, according to Impact Databank. The brand is more than just another Australian wine. Established in 1844, Penfolds has been at the forefront of the wine industry in Australia for decades and has been world-renowned for nearly as long.

Stefano Campanini, owner of the store Wines by the Bay in Miami, has hosted three Penfolds tasting events in the past year. He says customers clamor for a chance to taste some of the winery’s more sought-after labels, including Grange, RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz, Bin 389 and Bin 407. “There are a few brands that go beyond their borders and are really world-class wines, and Penfolds is one,” Campanini adds.

Chris Adams, CEO of New York City’s Sherry-Lehmann Wine & Spirits, observes that the increased efforts from Penfolds are resonating with his staff and his customers. “Peter Gago is a great ambassador,” he says. “We’ve had him visit a few times to lead training sessions with our staff and to interface with our customers in the store and at dinners.” Adams notes that this in-person interaction is key. “If you have a great brand, you’ve got to get out and tell your story,” he explains. “Consumers want to learn. Penfolds puts people in the market and develops social media programs, which distinguish the brand.” Adams says his customers trend toward the traditional offerings from Penfolds, but the brand’s other labels are starting to pick up steam.

Gago believes that Penfolds’ success lies in a balance of tradition and innovation. “Some of our styles are traditional, but we have wines like our Cellar Reserve range, which is as cutting-edge as any upstart wine business on the planet,” he says. The Cellar Reserve label is a range of handcrafted, limited-production wines that explore new varieties and styles.

For the U.S. market, TWE has boosted its on-premise efforts for Penfolds luxury brands, identified as wines retailing at $20 and above. “We have our key SKUs—Bins 389, 28 and 407,” LeDrew says. “They’re experiencing growth across all channels and categories, and we’ve doubled our points of distribution over the past two years.” She cites new brands in the “entry luxury” tier, including the Cabernet-Shiraz Bin 8, and the Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 9, which both retail for about $25 a 750-ml. bottle. “The combination of those two SKUs, along with Bins 389, 28 and 407, has us up crazy numbers,” LeDrew says.

Earlier this year, Penfolds unveiled the opening of its redeveloped home, Magill Estate in South Australia. Changes include a state-of-the-art Cellar Door space and the new Magill Estate Kitchen casual dining concept that complements the Magill Estate Restaurant. TWE chief marketing officer Simon Marton says the redeveloped site is “critical to the continued growth of the brand.” Sherry-Lehmann’s Adams praises the initiative. “Part of being a great brand is having a place people can go and experience it on the ground,” he says.

As TWE continues to boost Penfolds, the focus is on ensuring the wines remain top quality. “The goal is to make better wines than some of the classics that Penfolds has released over the last 150 years,” Gago says. “We aim to put new classics on the world wine map.”