Wine Star: Stephen Henschke

A tasting of Australia's legendary Hill of Grace Shiraz demonstrates the power of place and family
Wine Star: Stephen Henschke
Stephen Henschke carries his family's legacy with Hill of Grace. (Deepix Studio)
Oct 24, 2017

When Wine Spectator editors MaryAnn Worobiec and Harvey Steiman toured Henschke's vineyards in 2016, Australian winemaker Stephen Henschke picked two dark blue Shiraz grapes from one site and quipped, “That’s the U.S. allocation for this vintage.”

Henschke was referring to the rarity of Hill of Grace, a sought-after, 100 percent Shiraz bottling that comes entirely from a nearly 10-acre vineyard plot planted in the 1860s, around the same time that a church was built nearby. On Friday afternoon, Wine Experience guests went through 6 cases of the powerful, complex Henschke Hill of Grace Eden Valley 2012 (98 points, $817).

The old age of the dry-farmed vines—the youngest were planted a few decades ago; many are more than 150 years old—is significant in imparting concentration to the wine, explained Henschke, while the "deep, silky" alluvial soil contributes rich spice flavors. Describing the 2012, the fifth-generation winemaker said it "has spice, crushed herbs, black and blueberry fruits on the nose—plush and elegant, with fine acid minerality running right through the palate."

Stephen’s wife, viticulturist and ardent environmentalist Prue Henschke, takes a holistic approach to managing the property; she instituted organic, and later, biodynamic practices in the vineyards, incorporating the native grasses of Eden Valley and the Adelaide Hills to improve soil health and create more robust ecosystems. "Her mantra is 'living within the landscape, not on top of it,'" explained Henschke. As another example of the couple's progressive outlook, the winery uses twist-off or glass closures for all bottlings to preserve the wines' integrity.

The Henschke family is as deeply rooted as their vines, having emigrated from the Central European region of Silesia to South Australia in the mid-1800s. Stephen's father, Cyril, made the first single-vineyard Hill of Grace bottling in 1958. Across the road from that vineyard, four generations of his ancestors are buried in the cemetery of the church that gives the site its name, after an area of their homeland called Gnadenberg, which translates as Hill of Grace. As Henschke put it, this connectivity gives “a true sense of place” to these family wines.

Watch Henschke's video presentation

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