Max Schubert

Richard Humphrys Archive
Max Schubert

Max Schubert was hardly a renegade, but in the 1950s he blew up the Australian wine industry.

The Australian winemaker was a dedicated company man, starting his career at Penfolds in 1931 as a messenger and retiring in 1975 as chief winemaker. But in 1957, he ignored a direct order from the company's board. That year, the directors pulled the plug on the experimental red wine Schubert called Grange Hermitage. But he continued making small quantities, and a few years later, the board relented. In time, Grange would become the icon of Australian wine.

While Schubert is best known for Grange, his work on Penfolds' higher-volume wines was just as important. In the 1950s, 70 percent of Australian wine production was fortified—hearty but rustic reds called Port and oxidized whites dubbed Sherry. Penfolds' cellars were dirty and its winemaking primitive. Schubert had no formal enology training, but he was smart and methodical. In 1948 he took a trip to Bordeaux and soaked up its methodology. Back home, he introduced temperature-controlled fermentations, long, gentle macerations and aging in small oak barrels. Schubert's rebellious experiment was truly the beginning of Australia's modern wine era. He died in 1994.