By Nick Adams
As part of the series of looking at the people behind the wines I come to an example which could be argued to be the one of the most enduring and profound of all – Henschke, based in the Barossa South Australia. I also had the privilege to work with Henschke for four years and came to realise first hand just what a remarkable couple Stephen and Prue are. We so often think first – and maybe sometimes obsessively so – about the winemaker when in nearly every case regarding top and individual estate wines there must be a talented vineyard manager and viticulturist behind the wines too.
So often winemakers themselves will be the first to say that they cannot achieve anything of note without high quality grapes in the first place. What makes Henschke so special is not only that they own some spectacularly good vineyards but have a husband and wife team who are completely on top of their game with regard to winemaking and viticulture – a perfect combination.
This is proven by the fact they produce an extensive range of wines across nearly all mainstream grape varieties and styles and every wine they make is just spot on within its category and style – a remarkable feat.
Johann Christian Henschke emigrated from Silesia and settled in South Australia in 1841 – sadly his wife and two of his children died on that journey. He settled and gained citizenship, remarried, and in 1847 he purchased 70 acres of vineyard land in the Barossa and the foundation was established for the Henschke dynasty. In 1858 August Henschke – hid son – established what was to become the world-renowned single vineyard of Hill of Grace (just 8 hectares in size) and by 1868 Henschke wines were being sold for the first time, but remarkably the first release of Hill of Grace itself was not until 1958! In this period the equally famous vineyard of Mount Edelstone (16 hectares) was first planted in 1912 – and with 100% Shiraz which was unheard of at the time (now commonplace in Australia).
Overseeing the next development in the Henschke story was Stephen’s father Cyril (1924-1979) whose pioneering work and attention to detail in both the vineyard and winery took Henschke wines to new heights and reputation. Stephen (b 1950) joined the firm after graduating with a BSc at Adelaide University in 1973, where he also met Prue who was studying Botany and Zoology. They then both studied in Germany at Geisenheim Institute of Viticulture and Wine Technology – by then as husband and wife.
From 1979 onwards they embarked on a programme of vineyard expansion and detailed viticultural analysis of established vineyards – most specifically in Hill of Grace and Mount Edelstone. Between 1986-89 Prue undertook a mass selection programme in both vineyards to establish the best genetic material of vines. Her relentless vineyard work and expertise over the decades has contributed as much as any aspect to the elevation of Henschke onto the world stage. In 2020 Prue received the award as the “Outstanding Viticulturist”.
Today Henschke own extensive vineyards across South Australia from the Barossa, Lenswood, Eden Valley and Keyneton and from these areas produce a large range of wines which are crafted to combine the best expression of the variety and its vineyard origin. They also buy in some contract fruit from growers they have worked with for generations.
What makes their wines so distinctive is the precision and purity with which Stephen makes them – always highly expressive of the grape variety source but also the vineyard origins. The tannin management with the reds is a real hallmark – always silky and refined showcasing an intensity of fruit, and always (white or red) with measured amounts and influence of oak.
In 2021 Henschke was named as the prestigious Halliday Wine Companion “Winery of The Year”.
Multiple awards and trophies have flowed in over the decades and Hill of Grace is now universally regarded as the single greatest vineyard Shiraz in the whole of Australia. And the future is in good hands too… Johann (b 1983) is the sixth generation of the Henschke family and is gradually taking over as senior winemaker from Stephen, whilst siblings Andreas and Justine are also jointly involved in the running of the business.
Wine Trust have selected 5 wines from the Henschke portfolio, including the multi-Rhône varietal blends of Henry’s Seven and Johann’s Garden; the elegant Burgundian styled Croft Adelaide Hills Chardonnay; the refined, silky Shiraz Cabernet Euphonium blend and finally (for a special occasion) the iconic Mount Edelstone from 100 year old dry farmed Shiraz vines.