• Peter Gago Part Two: Re-corking Penfolds one bottle at a time

    If you have a bottle of Grange hidden away somewhere then you might want to take advantage of the Penfolds re-corking clinic that is coming to London on September 30. Richard Siddle talks to chief winemaker, Peter Gago, about what to expect and why Penfolds continues to run the service after 25 years.

    If you have a bottle of Grange hidden away somewhere then you might want to take advantage of the Penfolds re-corking clinic that is coming to London on September 30. Richard Siddle talks to chief winemaker, Peter Gago, about what to expect and why Penfolds continues to run the service after 25 years.

    mm By August 5, 2016

    Peter Gago and the Penfolds winemaking team are taking to the road to celebrate 25 years of its re-corking clinic. Here’s what to expect.

    Does what it says on the tin: re-corking a bottle of Grange
    Does what it says on the tin: re-corking a bottle of Grange

    Let’s face it other than the most steely (and super self confident) wine critic, we all hate having to send a wine back in a restaurant because we think it is corked or faulty.

    So imagine actually going out of your way to travel, bottles in hand, to a special clinic, not to send a bottle of wine back because you think there is something wrong with it, but just to find out if it is OK.

    But that’s exactly what thousands of average wine drinkers do every year in order to attend any of the special Penfolds re-corking clinics that take place around the world.

    Over the last 25 years some 130,000 bottles have been given the once over by Penfold’s super taster and chief winemaker, Peter Gago, and his team of fellow winemakers.

    After care service 

    It really is the ultimate in customer care. To take part all you need is to own a bottle of Penfolds red wine that is at least 15 years of age.

    For that you can have as many bottles as you like (within reason) tested, tasted, analysed and re-corked. What’s more Penfolds will even include your bottle in their files as having been given the scientific once over and classified in to its annals. Giving you a certificate of proof if you ever need to show it to someone down the line. What’s more it’s all free.

    The downside is you might find that the prized possession of vintage Grange you have had hidden under your bed all these years is actually corked and not worth the thousands of pounds you thought it did the moment you walked through the clinic’s doors. But more of that later. 

    Back on the road

    An impressive line up
    An impressive line up

    The Penfolds re-corking team are about to go on yet another world tour taking their corkscrews and specialist equipment with them. To help celebrate the clinics’ 25th anniversary the team will be hosting a number of special clinics over the coming months. Starting in Perth, Australia, on August 9 it then travels to Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, London, Adelaide, New York, Miami, and Vancouver before finishing up in Los Angeles on November 2. The London event is being hosted at Haberdashers Hall on September 30 (register here).

    King of the re-corkers is Gago who has attended every one of the clinics over the last 25 years. For him it is what winemaking is all about. For no matter how many bottles of wine it makes of a certain vintage every year, each bottle has their own unique story. And it is hearing those stories at each clinic which makes it such a fascinating initiative to do even after all these years.

    “We are able to learn so much more about our wines and get the chance to taste ones going back 30, 40 and 50 years,” says Gago.

    “I suppose it is the ultimate in after care service and a unique opportunity to meet out customers who have bought our wines over generations.

    “You never know who is going to turn up. We get billionaires and mums and dads coming along.

    “It’s fascinating but when you ask them why they have not opened the bottle yet they’ll say things like: “I could afford to buy it, but I can’t afford to drink it”. Or “I am still waiting for the right occasion”.

    Gago says the sessions are as much a free consultancy service as they are re-corking clinic.

    “It’s a chance to talk to them about the right time to drink the wines, that’s what ultimately we want them to do. We explain to them what ‘drinking windows’ mean. If it says the best drinking time is 2038, you don’t have to wait until 2038 to drink it. We will also talk about how to store and keep their wines.”

    Gago says he is still blown away about the numbers of people that can turn up at the clinics. “In Australia we can full all day from 9am to 6pm for three days back to back,” he explains.

    “We are seeing people we saw 20 years ago who are now coming back and bringing their children with them.”

    Peter Gago at a Perth wine clinic with a Penfolds customer. Credit: Sharon Smith, The West Australian
    Peter Gago at a Perth wine clinic with a Penfolds customer.
    Credit: Sharon Smith, The West Australian

    Handling bad news 

    It’s not, though, all good news. There are times when people arrive with a bottle wine, that Gago says, they think is worth the equivalent of a price of a car. But then find it is, in fact, worthless.

    “It is has been stored under you bed all this time then the chances are it is not going to be in good condition,” he stresses.

    No matter how hard it is to deliver such bad news it is absolutely crucial Gago and his team remain 100% vigilant. “We have to be absolutely sure that the wine is OK. That someone buying this wine at an auction is getting what they think they are paying for.”

    “There is a bit of drama about every bottle of wine we open as we don’t know what we are going to get. We do have people breaking down crying and there is a level of counselling you have to do,” he says.

    The issue of money is clearly the elephant in the room, but Gago, stresses it is not a topic that he or his team bring up. Yes, they will advise about what sort of price a certain vintage has raised in the past, but they are not there to offer a valuation for each bottle, he says.

    Instead it normally invites an auction house (it works closely with Langtons)  to be present that can talk separately to owners about their individual wines.

    It all sounds a bit like a vinous version of the Antiques Roadshow.

    The 10 steps of the re-corking clinic:

    • first each bottle is checked for any leakage and where the level of wine comes to in the bottle. If it is below the neck then the chances of owning a fortune are on the slide.
    • It is only with the owner’s permission that any cork will be removed from the bottle.
    • Then around 10-15mls of the wine is poured in to a glass
    • A mixture of nitrogen and CO2 gas is then fired in to the bottle to protect the wine whilst the assessment takes place.
    • The glass of wine is then tasted by the winemaker and the consumer to check its condition and whether it is true to the style of that wine.
    • If it is then the remaining bottle is then topped up with wine from the latest release of that particular type of wine and it is certified as being “true to that style” on the specific date.
    • A certification label is then placed on the back of the bottle that states this is an authentic bottle of Penfolds.
    • The bottle is then re-corked ensuring any air is sucked out during the process.
    • It is then fitted with a new red cap.
    • And handed back to the owner nicely wrapped in Penfolds tissue wrapping paper.
    • You can read the first part of The Buyer’s interview with Peter Gago here where we he talks about his winemaking principles and his love of travelling the world and meeting customers and spreading the message about Penfolds.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *