Winemaker Penfolds engages in vintage storytelling

In Trends by Peter Gearin

Penfolds’ permanent online video series shares tales that are good to the final drop.

How long does it take to tell a great story? Do you need a 10-part series, or a three-hour movie? For Penfolds and National Geographic, the answer is 90 seconds. The two have partnered to produce Great Stories Uncorked – a series of 14 short stories appearing on the Penfolds website and its social media channels.

The series tells the personal stories behind customers who come to its global “recorking” sessions, where those with old, or in some cases ancient, bottles of Penfolds classics, such as its iconic Grange, come to have them uncorked and tested by the company’s chief winemaker.

If the wine is in good shape, the bottle is topped up with a more recent vintage and recorked, and its owner gets a note of certification to go with their sigh of relief. If the wine is past its best, or has become unsalvageable or undrinkable, well … that may present another opportunity for priceless storytelling.

Penfolds introduced recorking clinics in 1991. Since then its winemakers have claimed to have checked more than 130,000 bottles across four continents. Penfolds teamed up with National Geographic to film short stories at recorking events in Sydney, Adelaide, London, New York, Vancouver, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Each story is remarkable in its simplicity. Viewers generally only get to hear the first name of each wine owner, who explains how they came to have such a treasured bottle of Penfolds. It’s not so much that their wines are valuable – although a 1951 Grange Hermitage recently sold for $51,750 – it’s the emotional ties these bottles have for themselves and their families.

“The notion that every bottle has a story continues to reign true.”Penfolds’ Peter Gago

We meet a father and son – Phillip and Peter – who came to share a love of wine. It all started when Phillip bought a boxed 1964 Grange (from who he says was the original Dan Murphy!) in a Melbourne bottle shop in 1969.

Then there’s the story of former Olympic rugby captain Ed Jenkins, whose wife Dominica bought a bottle of 1986 Grange as a wedding present. The cork had started to come out of the bottle and they were making sure it would be OK to crack open for their second wedding anniversary.

Or Leslie, who came to the recorking clinic in New York with a story of having taken the cork of a 2001 Grange on her tour of Afghanistan with the US Air Force in 2010. She took a picture of the cork in various places, which formed a picture book for friends, reinforcing a memory of the best bottle of wine she had ever tasted.

“The notion that every bottle has a story continues to reign true,” Penfolds’ chief winemaker Peter Gago said in a media release. “As winemakers, it’s so meaningful and rewarding to meet collectors and share their personal story of their wine’s journey. Professionally it is gratifying to witness the ongoing quality of rare treasures that span so many decades, each one adding to the unfinished story that is Penfolds.”

What Penfolds and National Geographic recognise is the power of suspense. It’s the moment when Gago pulls out the cork, sniffs it and pours the wine into a glass. Even though this ritual is usually accompanied with the winemaker saying something like “well, this is when you cross your fingers”, the viewer knows this already. At least we’re more prepared for this moment than the subjects in the films, who have to deal with the brutal truth with a camera in their faces.

Each of the stories are nicely told and edited sympathetically. Some resemble a well-crafted TV news feature; even the more complex stories don’t sound like they have been squeezed into their allotted time.

All 14 videos will have a home on and select digital channels by the start of 2018. A Penfolds spokesperson says the series will be a permanent feature on the winemakers’ website. “Penfolds’ recorking clinics are an important part of Penfolds’ DNA and this video series captures the essence of our brand history and the emotional connection between collectors and their Penfolds bottles.”

The final videos in the series will be from Penfolds’ Singapore recorking clinic, which is on November 14.

In a statement, Fox Networks’ group director of advertising and partnerships Julia Scales said National Geographic – the brand – “empowers and enriches the explorer and storyteller in all of us” across the world. “We are thrilled to collaborate with Penfolds on this branded content opportunity and share authentic and premium stories showcasing the deep history and passion for winemaking from Australia and around the globe,” she said.

Penfolds says the digital series marks the beginning of a “long-term collaboration” between the winemaker and National Geographic. Cheers to that.

Links & references

Brand Tales’ taste tests Brown Bros’ website

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