Current Issue #488

Hill of Grace gives Henschke something to celebrate in a difficult year

Dragan Radocaj
Stephen and Prue Henschke

Between drought and bushfires, it’s been a trying time to be in the wine business. After significant losses over the summer, Stephen and Prue Henschke are focussing on the good.

Many wineries were affected by the terrifying bushfires that raged through the Adelaide Hills region earlier this year. In the Lenswood sub-region of the Hills, the vineyards of the world renowned Henschke Wines were hit hard.

The 13-hectare property, purchased in 1981, is planted to a number of grape varieties suited to to the Hills – chardonnay, riesling, pinot noir, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc, gewürztraminer, semillon, pinot gris and grüner veltliner.

Unfortunately, its steep slopes lay in the direct path of the bushfire and it decimated the vineyard. “It seemed to stick to our valley,” Prue Henschke says. “The fire destroyed both of our sheds, all of our machinery and equipment and also damaged our vineyards, trellis and irrigation. In total it impacted around 90 per cent of our Lenswood vines, sadly some of the oldest Pinot Noir in the Adelaide Hills, planted by Tim Knappstein in 1983.

“We had to drag magnets through the vineyard to collect the staples and metal from the trellis that burned during the fires and we received help in the clean-up process from the Australian Army Reserve. The offers of help and the Hills community spirit has been incredible in the fire’s aftermath. Fingers crossed, we hope to have this vineyard back in production in two years’ time.”

It appears that the Adelaide Hills lost around 1100 hectares of vines during the bushfire, which accounts for a third of its production.

We know that in the quest to capture a snapshot of a particular growing season within a bottle, the vigneron is at the mercy of the elements. Of course, it can be said that these challenges and triumphs manifesting themselves within a bottle is part of wine’s charm and that is all that a winemaker can hope for. An accurate portrait of a particular year, gently coaxed into glass to reflect the land upon which it was grown and the prevailing growing conditions throughout that year. Transparency and truth.

With all the hardships suffered in recent times, 2020 does offer some reward. The recently released Henschke wines are a stunning collection. In particular, the 2015 Henschke Hill of Grace which has drawn gushing praise from wine critics across the globe. It is monumental and undoubtedly Australia’s finest single-vineyard wine.

The Hill of Grace vineyard, planted in the 1860s, is instantly recognisable to any wine lover. The gnarled ancestor vines of the Grandfather block are framed by the beautiful Gnadenberg church in the hamlet of Parrot Hill, some four kilometres away from the Henschke winery.

Dragan Radocaj
Hill of Grace

For eight years, I was lucky enough to live on the property that lay in between the Hill of Grace and Mount Edelstone vineyards and have taken many overseas guests to see the most sacred of vinous sites. It’s a very special place and it appeared at the pointy end of the recently released “Top 50 – World’s Best Vineyards” list.

When quizzed about the 2015 vintage, winemaker Stephen Henschke replies: “All the 2015 reds are amazing. Obviously the Hill of Grace, the Tappa’s Pass, Keyneton Euphonium, Mount Edelstone, Cyril Henschke… it was a picture book season.

“2015 for me, it is all about depth of flavour and balance. They are pristine and dynamic wines that show a very strong sense of place.

“The Hill of Grace in particular is a very special wine. I think it lines up very strongly with the other great vintages of the wine – 1959, 1972, 1986, 1990, 1996, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2012 were all outstanding vintages for the vineyard and the 2015 stands tall amongst that lineup. It was a strong year and the wine essentially made itself; it was a perfect season and the wine shows well in its youth and will repay careful cellaring for decades.”

If you haven’t seen the stunning video A Vintage Graced By The Luminous Moon produced for the release of the 2015 Henschke Hill of Grace by local agency Campfire, do yourself a favour and have a look.

You might recognise the voice of the video’s narrator. When quizzed as to how they procured Australian actor Russell Crowe to narrate their release video Stephen says, “Russell enjoys our wines…. It wasn’t too hard to convince him”.

Finally, our Zoom call coming to an end, I asked Stephen and Prue for a ‘dark horse’ from their new release wines. What wine will surprise and delight us. Stephen was quick in his reply, “I think the 2015 Henschke Marble Angel Cabernet Sauvignon will make a lot of people happy, from the red clay over limestone in Light Pass. A great year for Cabernet Sauvignon with amazing purity of fruit and line”.

Dave Brookes

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