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Secret cellars of forbidden fruit up for auction

Estimated at over $150,000, a rare collection of Penfolds Grange, spanning 52 years of Australian history, is set to go under the hammer at Wickman's Fine Wine Auctions on Thursday night.

A passion for fine art and history have always gone hand in hand, playing a major role towards setting the extravagant prices sometimes paid for these wines, listed by the National Trust as a heritage icon and, according to auctioneer Mark Wickman, often regarded as an art form.

"When you take into account the initial public vilification, secretly made vintages, its limited production and a delayed rise to success you have the stuff of legend, the making of a folk hero and a potential investment opportunity." Wickman said. "Max Schubert didn't engineer Grange Hermitage, he crafted and created his masterpiece using vines and fruit as the paint and science as his canvas, his vision created a legacy for Australia and a wine that today stands proud amongst the greats of Europe."

In the 1950's Schubert studied under one of the great old-school winemakers of France and returned to Australia with a determination and innate skill that turned him from journeyman to master in just a few short years. The inaugural vintage of Grange Hermitage in 1951 was experimental and the few bottles remaining are extremely rare. It can occasionally turn up in unexpected places and dusty old basements around Australia, and on its own, can fetch up to $50,000 at auction.

The vintages from 1952 to 1956 were made for the first commercial release of Grange Hermitage and were finally pulled from under wraps and put on the table for tasting in 1956. Instead of compliments, Schubert received wide spread criticism, and these vintages, including the 1951, were given away to food and wine societies and wine people around Australia in the hope of building support.

Just before the 1957 vintage Schubert was ordered to stop production by the Sydney head office. With the clandestine help of local South Australian management, he was able to secretly produce and hide three years of production in reduced quantities before management realized how good it was and ordered it to 'officially' to made again.

Complete collections of Grange are very rare with only a limited number known to exist throughout the world. Sometimes attracting bids as high as a quarter of a million dollars, the condition, general history and provenance behind each bottle in the collection will go a long way towards establishing a value for it, but at the end of the day it is the collector and resultant custodian of this masterpiece of Australian history that will determine the price it falls to under the hammer on Thursday 24th of July 2008.



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