What happens when one of Australia’s oldest and finest wine makers, Penfolds established in 1844, collaborates with world acclaimed UK designer Faye Toogood? The Blocks, a design and sensory playground, housed in finger wharf 2/3 at Walsh Bay. Not only does old collide with new, but all pre-conceptions about how you intuitively select and interpret wines is challenged in this bold approach that pushes way beyond all the conventional boundaries. The confronting scented totems dominate the space and immediately engage your eye, mind and the individuality of your senses that ultimately shape the template of your palate.
The first oak totem represent the different layers of aromatic whites. The imposing height represents the topography of where the grapes are harvested, and the Messmate, Tallowwood, Blue Gum and Red Iron bark materials highlight the mineral and vibrant aspects of the aromatics. Koonunga Hill Riesling, Thomas Hyland Sauvignon Blanc, Eden Valley Traminer and Cellar Reserve Pinot Gris are examples of the style in the portfolio. The light plays and is captured throughout, and the subtle but spiced perfumed scents engage those who enjoy the vibrancy of wines that are represented by this totem in the exhibit.
Chardonnay is represented by the second totem, noticeably bare in comparison to the first, but representing the clean and fresh background of the grape according to the designer. Thomas Hyland, Henty Bin 311, Cellar Reserve Bin 07A are all indicative of the stone fruit and citrus spectrum that the smooth and scented Cyprus Pine conveys. Perhaps this grape varietal, often maligned in serious wine debate, is portrayed in an austere and linear way, but this installation allows and encourages such interpretation on a personal level. It strikes me that Penfolds in The Blocks are not only looking to engage a new demographic, but challenge themselves in how they represent the unique nature of their products versatility. It is certainly a brave and intellectual medium to explore those possibilities.
The third totem, a massive oak comprising Karri, Ironbark, Jarrah and Cypress Pine represents varietal blends. The various edges demonstrate the various elements and how they ultimately form a harmonious outcome. Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet, Bin 2 Shiraz Mourvedre, Bin 138 Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre and Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz are examples of such blending. Moving around it, I feel the dominant aspects of that process, and the challenge the wine maker has to balance that with the aspects of another varietal to achieve both colour and complexity, whilst expressing the true aspects of various elements with integrity.
The fourth totem is an expression of regionality and uses Bushbox, Blackbutt, Tallowwood and Messmate to highlight the altitude, undulations and geography of the landscape. Adelaide Hills Bin 23 Pinot Noir, McLaren Vale Reserve Tempranillo, Barossa Valley Sangiovese and again the Barossa Valley Bin 138 Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre are highlighted as prime examples. The undeniable role that characteristics of a region plays, in the ” terroir”, colour and shaping of a wine is examined as a sense of place by the designer. It is a thoughtful approach that pays homage to Penfolds that showcases grapes from various regions to fully express their individuality.
Shriaz, perhaps the foundation upon which Penfolds rests, given the reputation achieved through its flagship wine Grange is the basis of the fifth totem is listed as being made from Karri , and Blue Gum to display the deep and rich nature of the grape. Kalimna Bin 28, Coonawarra Bin 128, St Henri and Barossa Valley RWT are all fine examples of what this iconic company has achieved through Shiraz, let alone its representation in the Special Bin range. The size of this fifth totem in many ways recognises how important this grape has been in the rich tapestry of Penfolds history, that ironically saw Max Schubert challenge convention back in early 1950.
Penfolds, through The Blocks is once again challenging how we smell, view, taste and perceive wine again through a highly intellectual, but accessible pop-up installation where intuitive use of our senses allow us to explore and interpret our palates. It may polarise some, but such cutting edge endeavour always will, but what you obtain from it will be dictated by how open-minded you approach it. I have barely scratched the surface of what this experience offers deliberately so you can explore, form and shape the identity of your own palate through the beautiful synergy of art, food and wine.