There’s an unnerving empty paddock at Penfolds Magill Estate where vines once stood but will be back soon.
On Tuesday night, deep below the heritage buildings, Penfolds unveiled its new millionaire’s plaything: the $185,000 hand-cut crystal pourer that comes with six litres of 12 Grange. Andrew Caillard gave it the perfect 100. I reckon he’s being a bit harsh. In a week when China became our number one export market, three coaches pulled up, among the guests, apparently, a billionaire Asian dude who was in Red Obsession and made his coin in sex toys. Jack Buckskin played the didgeridoo, the Australian Dance Theatre was someone else’s cup of tea and Sam Neill from Jurassic Park and Two Paddocks said, “I feel a bit like a maker of lovely dinky toys who’s been parachuted into Rolls Royce territory.” Penfolds is perky. TWE boss Michael Clarke rescued the business, lifting morale. Everyone wants to work there now. “Everyone loves a winner,” chief marketer Simon Marton said
It was the most beautiful dinner setting I’ve ever seen. Light caught the dangly bits on the chandeliers and candelabras and turned them green, pink and purple. Grange and Bin 389 barrels were rolled out to make way for the 50-metre-long black table lined with 600 French crystal glasses hand-cut by Saint-Louis, established 258 years before Penfolds. Normally what’s in your glass at a Grange knees-up is worth more than the cup holding it; not this night. Winemaker Adam Clay pointed my way and whispered “$2,000.” My suit? “No, the glass.” The goblets were Hagar-the-Horrible heavy. How did that jumbo get off the ground? If the purple candles burned out I was going to slip some crystal down the front of the Farrah slacks, the preferred pants of Penfolds royalty like John Bird, who had a seat at this inclusive table. VIPs checked their Rolexes to see how long they had left in heaven. I checked my Fitbit, which started making funny noises when the otoro, Japanese pickles, cultured cheese and caviar came out; it blew up when the beef tataki, puffed grains, anchovy and foie gras arrived.
A wise writer whispered, “This is elite – equal to what any high-end Champagne house would put on.” Nick Mount made that $168,000 hand-blown ampoule, now rendered old-hat by an upstart $17,000 its senior. What’s this all about? “Craft,” Nick said. Dramatic music accompanied the apparition. Two-hundred-and-eighty eyes peered down the long table at a pitch-black space with foreboding steel gates – the ultimate backdrop for a scary clown. Two bright red lights shaped like Christmas trees hovered over a strange object. Peter Gago stepped out of the shadows, soft light falling across his face like Bohemian Rhapsody. The holy grail glowed in the dark like a New Year’s Eve wrist band and so did a hundred iPhones, beaming images to Chinese toy shops and beyond. PR job done. The Messiah left the building at 10; had a red-eye to catch on the way to Manhattan. “We launched the ampoule in Moscow, which was great, but look at this,” he smiled, his eyes popping like frog cakes. “And to think it’s happening in little ol’ Adelaide.” Then he was gone. With half an inch left on the candles, I downed a stray glass of 50 Year Old Rare Tawny that some stupid bastard had left on the table. I looked around and drank in the atmosphere one last time and emerged from the cave sadly with nothing down the front of my slacks, but a warm inner glow in my heart. – Ed