John Duval

John Duval – One Of Australia’s Greatest Winemakers.

By Nick Adams, Master of Wine

Behind all the wines on the WineTrust list are real people making hands on wines in a creative, expert, and passionate manner. I thought it would be good to start an occasional series of blogs highlighting some of the revered personalities that make these fantastic beverages.

John Duval

In the modern history of Australian winemaking several individuals have become standard bearers for the whole industry – people such as Max Schubert, Don Ditter, Michael Hill Smith OA, Brian Croser OA, Stephen & Pru Henschke to name but a few. One name that needs to be included in that list is John Duval. 

John Duval worked for 29 years at Penfolds, during which time he was the head winemaker for 16 of those years. Here he oversaw the production of Australia’s most famous wine Grange. This was a significant responsibility to say the least, as this wine – right up to Governmental level – had become recognised as “Australia’s First Growth”. During this period John’s skill was formally recognised twice as International Wine Challenge Red Winemaker of the Year – in 1991 and 2000. In 2003 he decided the time was right to branch out on his own – and given his family heritage and history in The Barossa – this was a completely logical and understandable move. A graduate in Agriculture and Winemaking from Adelaide University, he started his own wine label and business, which had been a long cherished ambition. True to his roots he has focused on a small and exclusively Barossa range of wines. In just 18 years he has re-established another formidable reputation under his own label.

Early Penfolds days – a young John Duval (front right) with the legendary Max Shubert (front left)

The Duval family have farmed in the Barossa for five generations. In the mid 19thCentury they started farming at Morphett Vale – managing both vineyards and what was to become a world famous sheep stud! From here they started to supply high quality Shiraz grapes to Penfolds (amongst others) which was, ironically, to shape the future link when John made the transition from grape grower to winemaker. 

And, of course, post his Penfolds days he had instant access back to top growers and sourcing wonderful fruit. What John achieves in his wines is a remarkable balance between power and finesse – aptly fitting the description of “an iron fist in a velvet glove”. There is a luxuriant richness to these wines, almost hedonistic qualities, but without any clumsiness or sense of them being overworked. Bold sumptuous fruit flavours dominate and there is an attractive undercurrent of creaminess and spice. He also visited the Wine Trust offices a few years ago and everyone was struck not only by his expertise and pride in his wines but also how remarkably modest he was about all his achievements.