Every good wine has a great story, and Henschke’s Hill of Grace is no exception.
Described as ‘flawless’ by Australia’s most respected wine critic James Halliday, the 2012 vintage was awarded Wine of the Year title at last week’s Qantas epiQure Halliday Wine Companion Awards ceremony.
It is the first time an Eden Valley or Barossa wine has been afforded the title since the awards were established five years ago.
The iconic shiraz grapes, sourced from a four hectare vineyard dating back more than 150 years, are steeped in history.
In 1847 Johann Christian Henschke migrated from Silesia and settled in Eden Valley.
The first vines were planted by pioneer Nicolaus Stanitzki in 1860, and the first single vineyard Hill of Grace was produced in 1958 by Cyril Henschke, father of fifth-generation and current winemaker Stephen, from handpicked grapes vinified in traditional open-top fermenters.
Those traditional methods are still used today.
“We still use the traditional submerged cap fermenters; the traditional way of making red wine in the Barossa,” Mr Henschke said.
These brick and stone waistline fermenters were built in the 1940-50s; the earliest one on the property was built in the 1860s.
“The grapes are handpicked, sorted and crushed into the fermenter.
“They are on skins for a week, then into barrel to settle and mature for about two years in mostly French oak.”
Under the direction of Stephen’s viticulturist wife Prue, the Henschkes use organic and biodynamic principles to produce sustainable wines – and maintain the health of their ancestor vines.
“The vines are very healthy,” she said.
“We prune to the level we want, and thin back to two to four kilograms of vine.”
The Hill of Grace old vine shiraz yield between two to four tonnes a hectare, thus, stocks are limited.
Native grasses and plants which have been propagated in and around the vineyards have improved soil health and moisture retention, and the Henschkes have noticed insect problems – such as light brown apple moth – have reduced as a result of Prue’s dedication to biodynamic principles.
“Prue has done incredible work in this vineyard, looking after such old vines with organic and biodynamic principles,” Mr Henschke said.
“Her work is already showing huge benefits for these pre-phylloxera, dry-grown sentinels.
“Hill of Grace Shiraz is a reflection of the wonderful flavours and balance this site can achieve.”
The awards are based on the reviews in the 2018 Halliday Wine Companion book.
Hill of Grace scored a near-perfect 99 points from a possible 100 and beat Australia’s most famous wine, Penfolds Grange, to the trophy – despite it also scoring 99 points.
But Halliday decided to hand victory to Henschke without revising the scores.
“It’s one of those judgment calls," he said.
"I wanted to make them both joint winners but the team said ‘no’ you have got to choose and really from that point on if I am not going to knock a point off Grange so it only gets 98 points and no one would really be wiser; that would have been a coward’s way out and inappropriate.’
“I would really like for the Henschke vineyards to be seen as Australia’s first grapes … I would like people to perceive that’s what this is about; there’s no other wine in Australia that’s made from vines that are 100 years old and then made from them for another 50 years.”
The Henschkes were thrilled with last week’s result, which also included a best shiraz gong for the 2012 Hill of Grace which was only launched in May.
“It’s really exciting from the perspective that a single vineyard wine with such history and heritage has been recognised as the best in Australia,” Mr Henschke said.
“Importantly for us, it confirms how important these old vineyards are.
“In this case they go back to the 1860s and the village (Gnadenberg) our families helped build.
“It is testament to those pioneering days and the huge amount of effort they put in.
“The wine, once it’s in a glass, really tells a story – both straight after opening, and even a few days later.”
Other local wineries to shine included Landhaus Estate, Spinifex and Teusner, which made the top 10 best value wineries.
Ballycroft Vineyard and Cellars and Schulz Vignerons were listed in the top 10 ‘dark horse’ wineries.