Henschke – Australian Winemaking At Its Best

This is the fourth and final post of a series of four, in which we share our experience after having visited Tasmania and Barossa Valley.

A couple of weeks after the 2019 vintage was harvested, we visited the Henschke winery in Eden Valley.

The Henschke family plays a huge role in the history of Australian winemaking. It all started in 1862 when Johann Christian Henschke, a German religious refugee, planted vines in the Barossa Range. Fast forward 150 years, the sixth generation Henschkes are determined to continue the legacy that the generations before them built up.

Johann and Stephen at fermenters

Stephen (left) and his son Johann at the open top fermenter

The winery

If you’re in the Adelaide region, visiting the winery is well worth a trip. They recently completed renovating the cellar door, preserving many of its original parts such as the façade, beams and more. It now offers a modern tasting room, comfortable bar and seating area and a spectacular wine room displaying many of its legendary wines.

Visitors are invited to do tastings, but they also sell some unique back vintage wines, an excellent opportunity to buy aged wine ready to drink today. The winery does cellar many of its wines with great ageing potential and then sells vintage wines once they are at their best.

The Wine Junkies were given the opportunity to see the winery, as well as the legendary Hill of Grace vineyard. It was only after visiting that we understood what an enormous impact the Henschke family has had in Australian winemaking history in general and in the Barossa in particular.

Each of the Henschke wines are paying tribute to people that played an important role in the winery’s history. Therefore, the best way to learn more about Henschke is to taste some of their iconic wines and let their wines explain the story.

2018 Julius Riesling – Eden Valley Vineyard

The wine is named after Julius Henschke who was a highly acclaimed artist and sculptor. Riesling was the signature variety of the high-altitude Eden Valley region and Julius has been important in establishing Henschke’s reputation in making excellent white wines as well.

Some of its vines are as old as 50 years and grown at an altitude of around 400-500 meters.

The fruit produces a dry style Riesling with white floral characters, green peppercorn and fresh lime juice. As is the case with many of Henschke’s wines, it has good cellaring potential (20+ years).

Another unique feature of this wine is that it is the first regional bottle in Australia (Eden Valley mentioned on the bottle).

2018 Joseph Hill Gewürztraminer

Joseph Hill Thyer planted the first vines on the Henschke Eden Valley vineyard in the early 1900s, hence this wine is a tribute to him.

The wine is not overly sweet on the palate, but you know you are dealing with a Gewürztraminer when you pick up the unique aromas of lychee. It has a nice, long finish and a very pleasant acidity.

2016 Louis Semillon

A tribute to Louis Edmund Henschke, the fourth-generation grower of the Hill of Grace vineyard. He was responsible for adding a small parcel of Semillon back in 1952.

The vines were planted just next to many of the old-vine Shiraz blocks at the vineyard and is now called Hill of Peace.

The 50 year Eden Valley vines are managed using organic and biodynamic practices. It results in an  aromatic wine, with hints of  clover blossom, but also lemongrass, and lemony notes on the palate. Its beautiful balanced with a lovely mouthfeel, texture and acidity. 5% is barrel-aged while the remaining 95% was aged on lees in tank. This helps to build complexity in the wine.

2016 Giles Pinot Noir

Charles Giles was an early pioneer whose descendants managed the Lenswood property as an apple orchard. The orchard was destroyed by bushfires in the early 1980s and it was at the Lenswood vineyard in Adelaide Hills where Henschke first planted Pinot Noir in the mid-1980s. Henschke was one of the first to do this in Adelaide Hills, and has proven over the years that Pinot Noir can grow very well in this area.

Stephen Henschke himself refers to it as their 25-year overnight success.

Grown at 500 meters altitude and with double the rainfall compared to Eden Valley, it results in a wine with dark cherry characters, good structure on the palate.

To add complexity, a bit of whole bunch (20%) is used.

A very versatile Pinot Noir, you can drink it from appetizer to main.

2014 Keyneton Euphonium

The Henschke winery is located in the township Keyneton and founded a family band in 1888. This wine pays tribute to the nearby town of Keyneton as well as the musical heritage of the family.

A Shiraz dominant blend (57%) with Cabernet Sauvignon (36%), Merlot (12%) and Cabernet Franc (5%), this is often referred to as the Super Barossan blend (like the Super Tuscans in Italy). Fruit comes from the Barossa- and Eden Valley and is low-yield. The fruit from Barossa Valley provides darker, richer flavours, the fruit from Eden Valley is more aromatic, savoury and elegant.

2013 Cyril Henschke

Cyril Henschke was the fourth-generation winemaker at Henschke and is responsible for introducing some of Australia’s legendary single-vineyards wines. He planted Cabernet Sauvignon at the Eden Valley vineyard in the 1960s. The wine is a demonstration of how well Cabernet Sauvignon is doing in the Eden Valley. Small amounts of Cabernet Franc (7%) and Merlot (5%) are blended in.

We picked up an aroma of black jammy fruit, with hints of cinnamon. This is a full-bodied wine with plenty of power, yet remains elegant and well-balanced.

2015 The Wheelwright

This wine is a tribute to Johann Christian Henschke who, besides being the first-generation Henschke winemaker, was also a skilled stonemason and wheelwright. Cyril Henschke planted these vines in the ‘60s in Eden Valley, 100 years after the Henschke winery was founded.

Only biodynamically-grown Shiraz grapes were used from old vines, dating back to 1968.

The wine has a dark purple colour, with lovely aromas of dark fruit and berries. Slightly herbal; think of rosemary and bay leaf, soft tannins and a long finish.

Centenarian Vines

Henschke owns some of the oldest vines in the world, and those wines made of vines older than 100 years are grouped as “Centenarians”. Those over 125 years of age are classified as “Ancestors”. The wines described below all belong to the Centenarians.

IMG-20190511-WA0015

Stephen Henschke, Emalee Guerra and Willem Hagedoorn posing in the original cellar tasting room.

2015 Mount Edelstone

The vineyard was named Edelstone after the German word Edelstein, meaning gem stone. Small, yellow opals were once found in this very area where the first Shiraz vines were planted in 1912.

This 100% Shiraz is grown on one of the Centenarian vineyards, the cuttings of which originated from Hermitage, France, from James Busby’s 1830s selection. The wine has a great reputation since it was first released as a single-vineyard wine in 1952.

By many people referred to as a Baby Hill of Grace. Like Hill of Grace, Mount Edelstone is made of Shiraz from exceptionally old vines. The result is a concentrated, medium-bodied wine, deep purple colour and exceptionally balanced with a long finish. Besides the black fruit aromas, we also picked up hints of chocolate and spices.

The good news that the wine is available at a much lower price point than its bigger brother. An excellent choice and likely one of the better wines from the Eden Valley.

2013 Hill of Roses

Right beside the Hill of Grace vineyard and opposite of the ruins of what once served as a Post Office, are the 25 year old low-yielding and dry-grown Shiraz vines that were selected by Prue Henschke from the Ancestor Hill of Grace vines and are used to produce Henschke’s Hill of Roses. The grapes are of exceptional quality and therefore justify a separate bottling.

Again, a dark ruby colour typical for a Shiraz of this quality. Ripe black fruit, black pepper, long finish. Full-bodied yet not overpowering it remains elegant, this is a great wine to keep away, and keep for that one special moment, even if that moment is decades away.

2014 Hill of Grace

The Hill of Grace vineyard is right opposite a beautiful old Lutheran church. The church was named after Gnadenberg (Hill of Grace in English), a picturesque region in Silesia, where most of the first settlers in Barossa came from. Cyril Henschke started releasing this wine as a single vintage first in 1958. Ever since, it has delighted the selected few that had a chance to drink this wine.

This is one the great Australian wines, and famous all around the world.

This wine is unique in many ways.

Firstly, the oldest vines are from 1860 and are among the oldest in the world. Australian vines never suffered from the phylloxera epidemic, hence these vines, that were once brought in from Europe, are older than the oldest vines found in the great regions in Europe.

Secondly, as the vines are so old, the yield is extremely low, hence the production of this wine is very limited.

This wine has everything that’s great about Shiraz and to date, it has been the best Shiraz we have ever tried and likely the best we will ever have. It’s probably best described as Henschke’s Masterpiece.

It has everything you’d expect from Shiraz but then better, more intense. It has a deep ruby red colour, an aroma of black fruit, cherry, chocolate, and liquorice. Full-bodied with smooth, silky tannins and layers and layers of fruit. A super long, elegant finish, you’d wish the bottle never would never run out.

Simply said, this wine is from another planet.

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Vines dating back to 1860

Some of the wines produced by Henschke are so limited (particularly the Ancestors) that you will find difficulty getting your hands on one. They hardly leave the continent, so should you be in the area, then make sure to take your chance and try some of their unique wines.

We were delighted to have seen with our own eyes how the Henschke family has been responsible for playing an important role in the history of Australian winemaking. The sixth generation of Henschke’s has now stepped up to continue what their ancestors have been successfully doing for many years and it was reassuring to see that this legendary winery is in good hands to continue to lead Australian winemaking to new pinnacles in the future.

What’s the best Australian wine you’ve ever had? Share it with us in the comments below.

Santé!

Albert & Willem


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