The Penfolds California Collection Virtual Launch Showed Us How It Should Be Done

by Eddie Roche

Not every brand has mastered the virtual thing in the past year, but the recent virtual launch of The Penfolds California Collection could be a master class in how to do it right! The brand sent members of the media a mind-blowingly decadent duck dinner from Short Stories, which included caviar, fresh flowers, Riedel wine glasses, a Paravel tote, a custom one of a kind drawing from Donald Robertson, and—naturally!—four bottles of their new collection to enjoy while tuning in to their virtual launch. The launch included the skinny on the new collection and an exclusive concert by Hamilton star and Oscar nominee Leslie Odom Jr. Color us impressed! Timothy Irwin, general manager for Penfolds in the Americas, fills us in on how it all came together! 

The wines are so good! Tell us about the launch in the US and how long this has been in the works?
Thank you—the wines themselves have been 20+ years in the making through vine cuttings, experimentation and thousands of blends and tastings. We have been working on the launch for the past 18 months and we were very happy with the end results. The Penfolds California Collection are a unique blend of wines, two of which Penfolds has coined ‘Wines of the World,’ that needed something extraordinary as an introduction to our collectors and loyalists. When we pivoted to a virtual event, we really wanted to bring it to life in unexpected ways that captured the essence of “Two Hemispheres, One Story,” through entertainment, movement and dance. And, of course, through tasting the wines themselves.


What was your role in the launch?
Being the general manager for Penfolds in the Americas, I was involved in every aspect, including hosting! The Penfolds team ideated on the look and feel and it was supremely important that it wasn’t another tasting or wine event. We incorporated different forms of entertainment, amongst talking wine with Penfolds chief winemaker, Peter Gago, and Penfolds senior red winemaker, Steph Dutton. And we were beyond excited to welcome Leslie Odom Jr., who absolutely brought it on the night, as the entertainment.

Let’s start with a menu paired with [restaurant] Short Stories in NYC.  
Short Stories is such a staple in the U.S. and chef Daniel Bagnall’s genius approach to California cuisine was something that was very appealing to us, and they were engaged from the very beginning. Their enthusiasm for the project, and for partnering with us, was unparalleled, so it was an easy decision. We hosted a tasting with chef Daniel and his team, and the ideas that were bouncing around were exciting, as we wanted our food partner to share our vision of providing an extraordinary experience for our media guests.

You also sent over a Paravel tote, which was so chic. How did you partner with them?
Paravel is a leader in merging sustainability with luxury: using upcycled plastics to create its sought-after items without compromising on design or quality. They are certainly at the forefront of sustainable luxury, and Penfolds wanted to align with such a forward-thinking and elevated brand.

Everyone also received Riedel wine glasses for their wine. Another super chic detail… 
Riedel have been a long standing partner of ours, going back to when Georg [Riedel] and Penfolds created the Grange glass decades ago. When wine is the focus of the event, we want the glass, and the company behind the glass, to be as passionate about their craft as we are with our wine, and Riedel fit the bill.

How do you think you would have launched if there wasn’t a pandemic? 
Originally, we envisioned exclusive, highly curated events for our collectors and media guests; weaving in creative ways to bring the California Collection to life. The ultimate event would have taken place in the heart of Napa Valley, the birthplace of the Penfolds California Collection. The virtual event, however, allowed for us to expand our audience, bringing old and new friends of Penfolds together to celebrate this historic launch, allowing us a far wider reach than we could have imagined.

Leslie Odom Jr. was also a great choice for virtual entertainment. How did that come about?
As a brand, we want our partnerships to be authentic and genuine. We are big fans of Leslie’s and the fact that he’s Oscar nominated, part of the cast of one of the most memorable ensembles in the 21st century in Hamilton, and a passionate wine drinker, made him the perfect fit. He brings extraordinary to life and completely amplified the experience. He was excited to perform for this moment in Penfolds’ history, and we loved his choice of song selections that was a mix of old and new.

What’s next for Penfolds?
We release our Australian Penfolds Collection in August 2021, which will see the highly anticipated 2018 Penfolds Grange announced. And there are other launches of special Bin, one off wines that we are extremely excited about. And of course to explore more information on Penfolds visit –

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