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Christopher Penfold was a believer in the medicinal benefits of wine and, before emigrating to Australia, he obtained some vine cuttings from southern France. Arriving in Australia from Angmering in Sussex, he set up in practice at Magill on the eastern outskirts of Adelaide, South Australia and planted vines around his stone cottage which he called “The Grange” after his wife, Mary’s, former home. Initially, Penfold produced fortified wines for his patients in the style of sherry and port. As demand for the wines increased, the winery was expanded.
Mary Penfold assumed the running of the winery after the death of her husband in 1870. After she retired in 1884, her daughter Georgina and son-in-law Thomas Hyland took over the day to day running of the winery. The Penfold family continued to operate the business very successfully and, although the company became public in 1962, the Penfold family retained a controlling interest until 1976.
In 1903 Penfolds was the largest winery surrounding Adelaide producing 450,000 litres of wine. Between 1904 and 1912 more vineyards in McLaren Vale and Sydney were bought.
During the 1940s and 1950s the company changed its focus to table wines to accommodate changing tastes. This led to experiments by Penfolds’ chief winemaker, Max Schubert, which eventually led to the production of Penfolds’ and Australia’s most famous wine, Grange Hermitage, later renamed Grange.
In 1976 control of Penfolds passed to Tooth and Co., a brewer based in New South Wales and then, in 1982, to the Adelaide Steamship Company. In 1990, SA Brewing purchased Adelaide Steamship’s wineries. It then separated into three entities: the brewing assets retained the S.A. Brewing name, the wine assets were named Southcorp wines and the whitegoods and other manufacturing interests became Southcorp, an Australian conglomerate. Since 2005, Southcorp wines have become part of the Foster’s Group. Penfolds currently operates two wineries; Magill at the base of Adelaide’s eastern foothills and Nuriootpa in the Barossa Valley. Despite the fact that the Adelaide area has been deemed a “super zone” by the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation, the Magill Estate is one of two operating wineries in the Adelaide metropolitan area, the other being Patritti at Dover Gardens.