This unprecedented alliance to make quality bubbly marks a new era for both wineries

It may seem like an unlikely meeting of the Old and New World, but as Penfolds chief winemaker Peter Gago affirmed guests at the global launch of this first-of-its-kind initiative in Paris last night, the historic partnership between the Australian wine giant and family-owned Champagne House Thiénot was “the most natural thing”. “We hardly ever argue,” he quipped.

What started as a thought during a conversation between Gago and Thiénot managing director Stanislas Thiénot a few years ago quickly grew into a serious discussion about plans to make this unique meeting of minds and passion a reality. At that time, Thiénot was helping Penfolds with the distribution of their wines in France. Almost four years later, the two wineries are in Paris announcing their collaboration with the launch of three champagnes from a particularly stunning vintage.

Champagne lovers and pundits were noticeably astounded. “If we tried to do this 30 or even 10 years ago, people would just laugh,” Gago told T.Dining just before the official reveal at The Ritz Paris. “You’ve got a new Old World winery, very forward thinking, strategic and entrepreneurial, and a New World winery of age coming together very naturally.”

“We are a young champagne house created by my father in 1985,” Thiénot explains, adding that while there were many disadvantages in being a young winery, the upside was that they “were not prisoners of their past”. Starting from scratch, he continues, they experimented with various vintage cuvee but always with a focus on quality rather than quantity.

Their first to be released, in fact, is the 2012 Champagne Thiénot x Penfolds Chardonnay Pinot Noir Cuvée (available in June), a stunning champagne that reflects the wine styles and philosophies of both Thiénot and Penfolds.

This is also a clear reflection of Gago’s love of champagne and the art of blending. “Some time back, we announced our intent to make a champagne,” shares Gago who, coincidentally, started out as a sparkling winemaker; Penfolds started making sparkling wine over a hundred years ago but ceased production in the nineties.

“Originally, we wanted to put a little bit of Yattarna in the dosage, just a symbolic little drop, (for) a bit of Penfolds in each bottle, but of course, we can’t do that,” Gago tells. The liqueur d’expédition (or dosage liqueur) is nonetheless housed in Penfolds’ Yattarna barriques shipped from Australia for that said symbolic touch.

Ultimately, though, these champagnes, shares Thiénot, are “modern reflections showcasing fruit, freshness, and finesse”. Focussed on ensuring Penfolds house style and blending philosophies aligned with those of Champagne Thiénot and their winemaking approach, Gago concurred, highlighting the fact that this collaboration is inspired by champagne and the style of wines Thiénot prefers make.

“I didn’t even know how good the 2012 vintage was when we selected these wines (to launch with),” he confesses. “If we were to start with the grape, the vineyard, the blending, the focus groups, you’re looking at a twenty- to thirty-year project. (With this partnership) we have made a very firm start.”

What’s great, he adds, is that they share the same “sensitivity” and “ambition” for the champagnes they like to make. These include two single vineyard varieties: the 2012 Champagne Thiénot x Penfolds Blanc de Blancs (Avize Grand Cru) and 2012 Champagne Thiénot x Penfolds Blanc de Noirs (Aÿ Grand Cru), which are slated to be released in 2020.

What a way to celebrate Penfolds’ 175th anniversary. So, could their success inspire Penfolds to start making sparkling wines in Australia again? "This is exactly why we are not doing it,” Gago confidently insists with a laugh. “Which doesn’t in any way say we do not like Australian sparkling wines, we love it. It won’t preclude making sparkling wines in Australia—you never say never—but, gee, if you can do this, why?"

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