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Flavors: Blending Great Wines: Penfolds and Matchbook

Stella Fong

For the 2019 MSU Billings Wine and Food Festival, Matchbook Wine Company and Penfolds brought New World wines to help raise scholarships. Owners John and Lane Giguiere from Dunnigan Hills in Yolo County outside of Sacramento California presented their Matchbook wines with their whites created with 100% varietal and their blended reds. Ewan Proctor, Australia Brand Ambassador and Head of Luxury Education for Treasury Wine Estates of America, shared Australia’s iconic wines, most famous for their red wine blend, Grange.

Credit Amy Brown
Penfolds' Grange from 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 from the 2019 MSU Billings Wine and Food Festival auction.

Blending is the core of great wines for wine makers, much like food ingredients brought together by a chef to create a great dish. Winemakers combine not only different varietals, but may unite the same varietal of grapes grown in different areas of a parcel or different varietals from the same estate or from different vineyards. Combinations can also include wines from different vintages. The marriage of different grapes allows the winemaker to have more control of the signature wine they want to produce. With infinite influences from Mother Nature, blending may enhance a wine that fail to blossom that particular vintage.

Both Penfolds and Matchbook are steeped in history. John Giguiere’s family immigrated to Yolo County from Quebec City in the 1850s to farm wheat while Dr. Christopher and Mary Penfold established the Penfolds wine company in Adelaide in 1844 after leaving the United Kingdom. Penfolds initially produced fortified wines in the style of sherry and port. John and his brother Karl were pyromaniacs as children which lead to the Giguiere’s wine business name.

With such history, the wineries want to establish a style of wine structured and inspired from a base philosophy and creed.

For Ewan Proctor, he shared of Penfold’s philosophy, “One of them for sure is the maintenance and development of the house style.” “The house style can be defined as something that can be quite bold yet as well somewhat refined,” he added.

Credit Amy Brown
A bottle of 2009 Grange.

At Matchbook, John Giguiere said, “We are striving to make wines that not only taste good, but feel good on the palate.” For John and Lane, their first venture in wine began with R.H. Phillips in 1984 to be sold to Vincor International sixteen years later. Matchbook’s first plantings were established in 2002.

“Blending is very important at Penfolds. It is part of our style and I think it is somewhat misunderstood in the era when people are very interested in terroir. From even a single vineyard, you are most likely to be blending different components,” Proctor added.

Giguiere continued, “Our experience has been most of the time the main varietal that you are using may not have everything you want.” At Matchbook, the winemakers may blend together different varietals and different clones within a varietal. For instance, for their chardonnay, they may plant half a dozen clones. “Many people talk about hands off, to let the fruit speak for itself. Our philosophy is really intervention,” he shared of making a good wine.

Back in 1951, wine maker Max Schubert at Penfolds brought together inspirations from European winemaking and Australian influences to his first experimental wine made with Shiraz. Unfortunately, the wine was not well received by the top management and its production was ordered to stop. However, Schubert continued to craft the wine in secret so in 1960 when the Penfolds board reinstated Grange’s production, three vintages ’57, ’58 and ’59 already existed in the cellars.

Credit Stella Fong
Bottles of 2017 The Arsonist Chardonnay made by Matchbook Wine Company signed by John Giguere.

Grange has become one of the most celebrated and collected wines since. Procter said of Grange, “I think its a unique and distinctive style that was created some 60 years ago that we have maintained a tradition.” “We weathered some criticism over the years. In the 1990s a lot of people thought we should transition to French oak as we use American oak in Grange, 100% American oak,” he added.

For John Giguiere, a good wine means “Ageability would be one of the factors, but I would say intensity and balance are also important.”

“We’re trying to make powerful wines and our wines aren’t about extraction, finesse with extraction,” Giguiere said of creating wine that is too concentrated, overly rich and tannic. “We are trying to figure out the clonal selection that would aid us in that wine style.” 

Credit Stella Fong
Ewan Proctor, Penfolds Brand Ambassador helps auction off wine lot #35 with Grange vintages 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Lane Giguiere emphasized how work in the field and in the cellars affect Matchbook’s wines, “When we started R. H. Phillips there was a lot of skepticism that we could grow grapes where we are.  She continued, “We want to prove out our quality of the area and plant the right clones and make wines that really show the quality of this area so every year we are constantly experimenting with vineyard techniques, wine making techniques to improve the quality, to keep the same price points.”

Both Penfolds and Matchbook are using their experience and history to bring new possibilities into the future. For Matchbook, Spanish born grapes raised in California such as Tempranillo, Tannat, Graciano and Verdejo are being fermented into wine while Penfolds is collaborating with Champagne House Thiénot to make a Chardonnay Pinot Noir Cuvée, and single vineyard Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs.

For this year’s MSU Billings Wine and Food Festival, Matchbook and Penfolds were the perfect blend in helping raise scholarships for students. 

Stella Fong shares her personal love of food and wine through her cooking classes and wine seminars as well as through her contributions to Yellowstone Valley Woman, and Last Best News and The Last Best Plates blogs. Her first book, Historic Restaurants of Billings hit the shelves in November of 2015 with Billings Food available in the summer of 2016. After receiving her Certified Wine Professional certification from the Culinary Institute of America with the assistance of a Robert Parker Scholarship for continuing studies, she has taught the Wine Studies programs for Montana State University Billings Wine and Food Festival since 2008. She has instructed on the West Coast for cooking schools such as Sur La Table, Williams-Sonoma, Macy’s Cellars, and Gelsons, and in Billings, at the Billings Depot, Copper Colander, Wellness Center, the YMCA and the YWCA. Locally she has collaborated with Raghavan Iyer and Christy Rost in teaching classes.