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Published:  23 July, 2008

By Max Allen

John Duval is stepping down as Penfolds' chief winemaker, after 16 years as The Man Who Makes Grange'. His successor is Peter Gago, who will move into Duval's shoes from his current position as Penfolds' oenologist. The move has surprised many in the industry, as Duval has been at Penfolds for 28 years and is one of Australia's most decorated winemakers. He is only the third winemaker to act as custodian of Penfolds' Grange - acknowledged by the South Australian Government as a cultural icon' - and has been instrumental in the development of successful new Penfolds' brands, such as Rawson's Retreat and Yattarna Chardonnay. He is - was - the face of Australia's best-known wine company. On the other hand, some observers are surprised that Duval has remained with Southcorp for so long. Since the company merged with Rosemount in February 2001 there have been rumours of tension between him and winemaker Philip Shaw, who was installed as Duval's boss after the merger. Duval is adamant, however, that his departure from the company is amicable: There hasn't been a personal clash between Philip and myself,' he told Harpers. I'm not out the door tomorrow, after all; I'm staying until the end of the year and then consulting for two years. It'll be a weaning.' Duval continued, Now, having made the decision, the stressful time is over. Now I can get on with family life in Tanunda [in the Barossa Valley]. I have plans to establish a brand with my name on the label. People have been saying for years that I should.' For his part, Gago told Harpers that upholding the tradition and style of wines such as Grange was very much part of his new role. But don't forget that Penfolds has always had a strong tradition of experimentation, too - with the one-off Bin wines such as 2000A [the little sister wine to Yattarna] and the new Eden Valley Reserve Rieslings, for example. So I'm looking forward to testing new limits.' Gago is already well-known for his gift for wine education, promotion and public speaking (he is the co-author of a number of textbooks on Australian wine) - a part of the job with which Duval was never entirely comfortable - and he will continue to pursue this as chief winemaker. He said: It's up to me to make sure our winemakers are wine lovers enthused with passion, not just technicians.'