Wines that distinguish themselves come together
The recent release of the Henschke family’s Eden Valley heritage wines hides an extraordinary twist of fate.
You might at first think this is just your usual annual lineup led by the venerable Hill of Grace. Still, vine ages are incredibly aligned between three peerless Shiraz wines and a rare moment that delivers them simultaneously, coming from the same vintage.
They represent a fascinating case study of the age of grape varieties for Stephen Henschke – three vineyards each planted five decades apart, starting with Hill of Grace in the 1860s, Mt Edelstone in 1912, and The Wheelwright of the Eden Valley village vineyard grew in 1968 on the occasion of the centenary of the Henschke winery.
They are all grown in the same way, which he fondly refers to as the “Pruedynamic” method of growing vines – a tribute to his wife and most important winegrower in the family. And each is made in much the same way in old traditional fermenters, then aged with a similar oak regime of about 25 percent new, mainly barrique hogsheads and puncheon casks at the Henschke winery in Keyneton in the Eden Valley.
“It’s so exciting for us to be now able to showcase three locations to complete the 50-year cycles,” Henschke says. “You couldn’t organize it if you tried, but it’s all been done by previous generations.”
It does not always happen that these three wines all come from the same vintage (in this case, 2017). And the opportunity to enjoy them on release while already five years into t and a rarity anywhere in the world, each incredibly fresh and vibrant and promising for decades of storage potential. And it provides an even clearer picture of each site’s distinctive characters and impressive vine ages.
The history of these wines is well documented at www.henschke.com.au – the Hill of Grace and the Mt Edelstone Shiraz are pioneers of South Australian single-vineyard expressionism now established as a key tenet of our viticulture. The Wheelwright comes from the vineyard where Stephen’s father Cyril sourced his early Claret style reds and is now only in its third vintage release, a relative newcomer to the Henschke Shiraz stable, even with its vine age making it solid falls within the sanctioned region of Barossa—old vine charter.
A fourth wine, the Hill of Roses Shiraz, connects the past with an extraordinary view of the future, the result of Prue Henschke’s selection of the best-performing vines in the ancient Hill of Grace Vineyard to continue its revered heritage for centuries to come.
The story of this reverent project is rarely told.
In early 1986, Prue embarked on a project to identify the healthiest of the original plantings, going down each row and assessing each “grandfather” vine, all 998 — maybe a few more. They make up just under a quarter of the four-acre Hill of Grace vineyard and are the first to enter its most famous wine each year.
For two years, she oversaw the selection and marking of the most even vines at different stages of their growth cycle – bud burst, bloom, veraison (beginning of ripening) – and for fertility, tying colored ribbons for each trigger, as well as a different one—Green tie for virus resistance. At the same time, Stephen’s uncle Louis, who was managing the vineyard then, chose his favorites.
The healthiest were planted in a reserved area at the Mt Edelstone vineyard, which became a nursery, research, and resource block. A mix of those plus direct cuttings from the Hill of Grace vineyard was planted in 1989 in the Hill of Roses block next door.
All of this happened as Prue devised a series of innovative viticultural practices across all Henschke vineyards aimed at preserving topsoil, improving soil health, increasing biodiversity above and below the ground, mulching under the vines to maintain soil temperature decrease and increasing water retention, and trellising methods to improve sunlight interception.
The first workshop occurred from 1989 to the early 1990s, just as the Henschkes began to see a marked drop in rainfall. They were also concerned about the shriveling of Shiraz grapes in their vineyards.
Something very dramatic happened with all the new work.
“We immediately saw a change in the fruit character,” Prue recalls. Shortly after, Stephen and Prue were named Red Winemakers of the Year in 1994 at the International Wine Challenge in London.
The Hill of Roses vines are now 33 years old, and the newly released 2017 is made from 28-year-old vines. The vineyard has been supplying Henschke wine since 2001. In that time, Prue has become aware of separate studies that younger vines planted with older “parents” lose the epigenetics and essentially begin their site adaptation and expression from scratch.
It’s early to see how that will pan out at the Hill of Roses vineyard, Prue suggests, though she’s hopeful there’s some transfer of core genetic characters. What is known is that even at a distance of a few hundred meters, the soil profile between the parent and offspring vineyards is very different, and that will certainly influence the resulting wines.
“But we’re already seeing similar aroma and flavor characters,” she says.
At the winery, Stephen can reflect on the 30-year project to date, as it provides a unique opportunity to track Shiraz’s progress from young vines to old vines.
Initially, he recalls that even with his Hill of Grace pedigree, it still looked like a humble young Shiraz.
“But now we are thinking about when this will happen.” [Hill of Roses] be good enough to enter the Hill of Grace wine – what age do they come to and when, when the clock is ticking towards midnight, does that happen?
“One day, you can imagine they will become Hill of Grace because they will be old enough. Is it 30, 50, or 70 years?” he asks.
“We’ve seen the trend of increasing complexity, and when we do our blind tastings of all Hill of Grace blocks and all individual barrels, now including from the Hill of Roses vineyard, it’s getting closer and closer.”
Henschke The Wheelwright Shiraz 2017Eden Valley / 14.5% / $140
From a vineyard just outside the village of Eden Valley, planted to mark the centenary of the Henschke winery in 1968, prepare for an explosion of exhilarating scents when you pour this wine. The flowers are like crushing a handful of flowering herbs and go way beyond what you might think mixed red berries and fruit could ever do. And then they’re all back, spiced with aniseed and fennel, lively to the whole palate, reverberating with bright acidity and a sweet core of those crimson fruits that seem to absorb the textural elements and draw the tannins in. Smooth, elegant, delicious.
Henschke Mount Edelstone Shiraz 2017Eden Valley / 14.5% / $235
Sixty-five consecutive vintages from a single vineyard tell us something about the magic of this site. This is a quintessential Eden Valley Shiraz with aromas that suggest an entire herb garden has been crushed into it – bay leaf, sage, oregano, marjoram – and then some. Then add pepper, a classic cool climate characteristic of Shiraz: here with black peppercorns and the flowers of Szechuan spices. The fruit spectrum is in the cherry and plum area, while the flavor structure is clear and assertive without being blocky and harsh. The length is very impressive—all a wine with great vitality.
Henschke Hill of Grace Shiraz 2017Eden Valley / 14% / $900
Its history precedes such a wine, although each vintage clearly shows itself as the vineyard is only four hectares and can only give what nature offers. Long, mild, and even, the 2017 season allowed for deep-rooted aromas, dark spices, and more earthy and bushy senses than the more lofty Mt Edelstone notes. The rest is all about layers and layers – don’t try to tear this wine apart; it is all about elite wholeness as flavors, and super fine integrated tannins are impeccably intertwined. My notes end with: long, long, long, long… as if there’s a vineyard memory that can’t be erased.
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Henschke Hill of Roses Shiraz 2017Eden Valley / 14.5% / $430
It is made from 28-year-old vines (in 2017) taken from cuttings and layering the best of the original Hill of Grace plantings, transferred next door to carry on the genetic glory of that most famous vineyard. The intrigue for Stephen and Prue Henschke is the continued ripeness of this next-generation fruit and the contrast of younger vine versus older in the finished wine. It’s instantly more floral than the Hill of Grace – perhaps auto-suggestive, but there are dark rose petals and spicy notes. The palate carries crimson to blackcurrant flavors, while the tannins are still structurally separated, unlike the deepest integration of its ancestor. Time is on its side as the similarities begin to show up. (The name refers to the Rosenzweig family, who once ran the Parrot Hill Post Office opposite the vineyard and has nothing to do with rose bushes.)
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