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Max Schubert

1915 – 1994

Max Schubert AM (1915–1994) was born in the Barossa Valley to German parents who were devoutly religious and spoke German at home. When Max was five they moved from their mud cottage to Nuriootpa, where Max was soon to gain work at the butcher’s and greengrocer’s. However, his first and last permanent employment was with Penfold’s, where he started full-time mixed menial work when he was fifteen. In due course he became assistant to the company’s first chemist, Farsch, learning how to culture flor yeast for dry sherry and to check the cellars for bacteria. On account of his enthusiasm Leslie Penfold Hyland invited him to come and work at Magill; he enrolled in chemistry at the Adelaide School of Mines and continued to work with Farsch. During the 1930s the winemakers were battling ‘mousey taint’, caused by Brettanomyces and Dekkera yeasts, and by Lactobacillus bacteria; against such frustrations, Schubert and Farsch fought daily. Mindful of the suspicion with which his family had been treated in the First World War, Schubert enlisted early; but he returned, after the war, to Penfolds, where he was national production manager (essentially chief winemaker) from 1948 until 1975. Schubert’s great achievement was Grange. In late 1949 he was sent to France and Spain to look at the production of port and sherry. In Bordeaux, he visited the great estates of the Medoc and evaluated rare old vintages. Back in Adelaide, he hunted down the right raw materials and combined French ideas, Australian techniques and chemistry from Penfolds to make his first experimental wine in 1951.The following year saw the first commercial release of Grange Hermitage. Although this is now seen as a historic event, in 1957 the Sydney-based Penfolds board repudiated Grange. Thousands of miles away, Schubert hid his existing bottles and continued his experiments in secret, sharing his results with friends only. In the late 1950s Penfolds management sampled the 1951 and 1955 vintages again, liked them better, and authorised the recommencement of production. Over the 1960s Grange’s reputation as Australia’s great wine was cemented. Now, it is recognised as one of the most tradeable wines in the world; heritage-listed, it is the pride of South Australia. The diffident Schubert was Decanter magazine’s Man of the Year in 1988, and won the inaugural Maurice O’Shea award in 1990.

Updated 2018