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New Hill of Grace unleashed

Stephen Henschke surrounded by Hill of Grace (Photo: Huon Hooke)

The new vintage of Henschke Hill of Grace, 2012, has been released, and I have never tasted a more impressive new release from this vineyard. It is a sublime wine, and so it should be for AUD $825. Still, of all of the Aussie wines priced in this rarefied space, it’s the one that can best justify the money. It is quite simply a very beautiful wine and a very distinctive wine: it has a character that is quite individual and specific to this vineyard.

The ‘terroir’, if you like to call it that, is shared by its little brother, Hill of Roses Shiraz 2010 (AUD $380). Hill of Roses is also straight shiraz, from the Hill of Grace vineyard, but younger vines. These vines were planted in 1989 as cuttings that Prue Henschke took from the oldest Hill of Grace shiraz vines, the ‘Grandfathers’, which were planted in 1860.

Wine has been made from the young vines since 2001, and winemaker Stephen Henschke believes the wine will eventually be part of the Hill of Grace wine, but at present, it lacks the structure of the ‘real’ Hill of Grace. I agree with him: the Hill of Roses has many similarities especially in its bouquet, but the palate is softer and a little lighter and just lacks the same muscularity. It is a beautiful wine in its own right, however.

Stephen points out that the ‘young’ vines were 21 years old in 2010, and according to the Barossa Old Vine Charter, which he was involved in drafting, vines are still deemed young until they reach 35 years.

There was no 2011 Hill of Grace because of the very wet season. As a single-vineyard wine, it’s vulnerable to the seasonal vagaries. This reluctance to release a wine every year no matter what, coupled with the extraordinary history of the family and the vineyard, all contributed to the fame, collectability and ultimately price of this rare wine. Penfolds Grange, a blend of vineyards, has been released from every vintage since the 1951; by contrast, Hill of Grace has missed four vintages since the inaugural 1958: the 1960, 1974, 2000 and 2011.

To celebrate the new Hill of Grace release, the Henschke family has produced a video which uses time-lapse photography to show the seasons in the vineyard. It’s an outstanding piece of work. Even the music is original and very personal. It was created by Adelaide composer Christopher Larkin and based on a favourite hymn of Paul Gotthard Henschke (Stephen’s great-grandfather). It’s a tune Stephen has been hearing since he was a child.

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