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Henschke wine stories

Stephen and Prue Henschke (Photo: Henschke Wines)

Together with the release of Henschke’s 2012 Hill of Grace and 2010 Hill of Roses, two other new wines were released: The Bootmaker Mataro 2015 (AUD $75) and Five Shillings Shiraz Mataro 2016 (AUD $33). Every Henschke wine has a story behind it.

The Bootmaker Mataro:

“This is named after the man who used to be the bootmaker in Moculta, in the hills east of the Barossa Valley. His name was Carl Pfeiffer. The old cottage is still there, and has recently been turned into a bed-and-breakfast. So you can stay in the bootmaker’s house. He was a Silesian Lutheran, a pioneer settler. Subsequent generations of Carl Pfeiffer’s family re-settled on the deep sands of the river flats of the North Para, farming an eclectic array of grape varieties and stone fruits.”

This is the locality where this mataro fruit is sourced. Mataro is well-suited to the warm, dry conditions, producing the emblematic spice, elegance and svelte tannin of this variety, says Stephen. We note the pepperiness of this wine, and Stephen points out that mataro grapes have rotundone levels similar to shiraz. This is the compound that gives the wine its pepper.

“This mataro used to go into Henry’s Seven, or even Johann’s Garden if it was good enough. In the 2015 vintage, it was so outstanding that we kept some aside and bottled it separately.”

The wine is not a blockbuster Barossa mataro, but a more elegant, fruit-driven style.

“It’s aged only in older French oak barrels, three and four years old, because it’s all about the grape variety.

“It’s a tiny production – for sale on-premise and some direct sales, and maybe a handful of retail shops.”

Five Shillings is a 2016 shiraz mataro blend, so named because Paul Gotthard Henschke, the son of founder Johann Christian Henschke, paid five shillings to his father to buy the family business in 1873.

“Five shillings doesn’t sound like much today, but back then it would have been the equivalent of several thousand dollars,” says Stephen.

The wine is something of a departure for Henschke: it’s a young, bold, fruit-driven red which is aimed at the hipster market, the wine bars where young sommeliers serve bright, fruity, low-tannin young reds to their young clients.

“Paul Gotthard continued the winemaking tradition from his father and began to build a reputation for quality wines,” says Stephen.

“Among the first wines they produced in the 1860s were ‘dry white’ (likely made from riesling) and ‘dry red’ (likely made from shiraz and mataro). This wine replicates the blend of Paul Gotthard’s early ‘dry reds’ and is produced from low yielding, ungrafted, biodynamically grown Eden Valley shiraz planted on 540 million-year-old red-brown earths, and blended with mataro growing on the sandy soils of the Barossa Valley.”

Because the 2016 produced exceptional quality fruit, the family decided to bottle a special limited release wine.

Hill of Roses, the young-vine shiraz from the Hill of Grace vineyard, is named in memory of Johann Gottlieb Rosenzweig, one of the early Barossa Lutheran pioneers who settled at Parrot Hill, which is the old settlement beside the Hill of Grace vineyard that is today just ruins.

“Their toil, perseverance and conservatism in hardship meant the generations that followed have rejoiced in the riches of those efforts,” says Stephen. “The Post Office ruins are on the land that was previously Rosenzweig property. Rosenzweig is German for ‘rose twig’.”

This shiraz was grown on a section of the Hill of Grace vineyard known as the Post Office Block. It was planted from cuttings taken from the Grandfathers, the oldest vines on Hill of Grace. These vines were almost 100 years old when Stephen’s father Cyril bottled the first single-vineyard Hill of Grace shiraz, the 1958 vintage.

The 2010 wine came from 21-year-old vines that were thought too young for inclusion in the ‘grand vin’. But it was too good to be declassified into something lesser, hence it was decided to make a separate bottling for a limited release.

“These vines are gradually building towards Hill of Grace character,” says Stephen. “The nose is authentic Hill of Grace: close your eyes and you can think you’re standing in the vineyard, but the palate is where it lacks the structure of real Hill of Grace.”

More rose themes, with the Rose Grower Nebbiolo 2013 (AUD $60). This is just the third vintage of this wine, the others having been 2010 and ’12.

The vineyard is on land that was previously owned by a Roesler, which means ‘rose grower’. It’s a neat link to the aroma of the nebbiolo wine, which is often described as rose-like. As well, says Stephen, the so-called rosé clone is one of the two nebbiolo clones planted in the vineyard.

“Nebbiolo is a very late ripener, and it can be tricky getting the grapes to full ripeness.”

It was a non-starter in the cool, wet 2011 season. Even the 2013, from a good, ripe vintage, weighs in at just 12.5% alcohol. The wine is pale coloured and on no account should it be approached as a full-bodied red. It has more in common with pinot noir: light colour and body weight, aromatic and sweetly fruited, with a lot of subtle complexity and, surprisingly for nebbiolo, very mild tannins.

What can be said about the Hill of Grace vineyard that hasn’t been said a thousand times before?

“Prue has done a lot of work in the vineyard,” says Stephen. “The trellising in the Grandfathers and Post Office Block 1 has been changed over to VSP this year in transition to Scott Henry. It lifts the canopy and tends to rejuvenate the old vines. She’s planted native grasses in the rows, put straw mulch under the vines, and she’s planted an insectarium. This means encouraging useful insects by planting the right flower species, such as Bursaria Spinosa, which we have at the ends of the rows instead of rose-bushes. These flower at the same time as the vines, providing nectar for the native wasp, which uses native flower nectar as its energy source. The wasp lays its eggs inside the caterpillars of the two worst grapevine enemies – the light-brown apple moth and the grapevine moth.”

Hopefully, that means more shiraz grapes to harvest.

To that end, the 2012 Hill of Grace is from a vintage of slightly below-normal grape yields. Says Stephen:

“2010 was a reasonable vintage, 2011 nothing, 2012 was 70 to 80% of 2010, the next two vintages are small, and the 2015 will be the next reasonable quantity. But still only one tonne per acre.”

One thought on “Henschke wine stories”

  1. stuart.thompson@metcash.com says:

    Its mainly bullshit. Ive got a story to tell of 100 years ago, not related to wine but i’ll twist it around into some sort of honour….. Come on, if the wine is good back it. If not, ignore it. No comment from you Huon, as a critic, clearly their (Henschke) pr release.

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