Historic Henschke highlights

The Hill of Grace vineyard. (Photo: Henschke Wines)

Stephen Henschke has become a good talker, as well as one of Australia’s greatest winemakers. This year gave him more practice than usual: he presented the company’s new top-end releases, capped by Hill of Grace and Mount Edelstone, to the Sydney wine trade a fortnight after hosting the 150th-anniversary bash at the Eden Valley winery.

The improvements they have made and the number of excellent new wines they’ve added to the portfolio is truly astounding.

Stephen calmly talked about the family, the region, its people, vineyards and wines, with anecdotes and information about each, neatly linking their histories.

The Stone Jar, for example, is named after the stone jars or ‘krugs’ locals used to hide along the road to the winery so that their spouses didn’t know how much wine they were drinking (those were the days when it was normal to bring your own container for refilling). Henry’s Seven is named after Eden Valley pioneer Henry Evans whose temperance wife pulled out his vines after he died. Euphonium honours the once-famous Henschke family band. The sparkling wine, Johanne Ida Selma Blanc de Noir, is

“Named after my grandmother, who was born a Stanitski and married a Henschke, my grandfather, and they had 12 children including my father. Happily, there was no TV then, otherwise I might not be here!”

There’s always something new to talk about and impress Henschke acolytes. This year it was The Wheelwright (AUD $139), a 2015 shiraz from two blocks of the Henschke Eden Valley vineyard. It is like a little brother to Hill of Grace and Mount Edelstone, showing a distinct family resemblance. Stephen Henschke said the two source patches, Blocks 6 and 8, would become known as the Wheelwright Vineyard. At Henschke, there are stories within stories: the Eden Valley vineyard was planted by Cyril Henschke in 1968, to commemorate the centenary.

Stephen and Prue have been astutely positioning the company for the future. The next generation is already involved, and in recent years they’ve added impressive new wines to an already astonishing portfolio.

It is remarkable that this 150-year-old company has been family owned all that time, but also that – as Stephen said – it was his father Cyril who began the ‘premiumisation’ of the company. Cyril resisted the fashion for fortified wines as his region, Eden Valley, was not especially good at those. Instead, he far-sightedly championed single-vineyard table wines, producing the first Hill of Grace Shiraz in 1958.

Stephen and his viticulturist wife Prue took over in 1979, the year of Cyril’s untimely death. The improvements they have made and the number of excellent new wines they’ve added to the portfolio is truly astounding. The achievements would be impressive if this was a public company with greater access to funding and markets but, for a family business, the achievements have been all the more stunning. And the wonderful thing is that the Henschkes do it with humility: there is no room for rock-star egos.

Last year they added Hill of Roses 2010, an AUD $380 wine from young Hill of Grace vineyard shiraz vines; this year the debut wines are 2017 Percival’s Mill Grüner Veltliner and The Wheelwright Shiraz.

There’s also a re-appearance of Stone Jar Tempranillo, a 2016 vintage which is among the best Australian tempranillos I’ve tasted lately. Other wines added in recent years are Archer’s Vineyard Chardonnay, Five Shillings Shiraz Mataro, The Rose Grower Nebbiolo and The Boot Maker Mataro. These join such well established classics as Julius and Green’s Hill rieslings, Cyril Henschke Cabernet Sauvignon, Abbott’s Prayer Cabernet Merlot (AUD $109; the 2015 is the best I can recall under this label), Giles Pinot Noir (which has risen impressively in quality in recent years), the Rhône-style blends Johann’s Garden and Henry’s Seven, and of course Hill of Grace and Mount Edelstone.

All 13 tasting notes from the Henschke tasting are on The Real Review now, including 2013 Hill of Grace and 2013 Mount Edelstone.

*Hill Of Grace, by Fiona McDonald, is a history of 150 years of Henschke family winemaking, published by Hardie Grant. It’s AUD $59.95 from the winery, or House of Fine Wine.

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