Henschke Hill Of Grace 2015 Shiraz: 99/100, A Brilliant Example Of Just How Great Australian Wines Can Be
by Ken Gargett
For the first time in several vintages, the world will see a reasonable quantity of Australia’s most famous single-vineyard wine, Henschke Hill of Grace. Released on May 6, 2020, the 2015 (AUD$865) will finally allow those keen to see this wine, and having the necessary deep pockets, the opportunity to do so.
Henschke Hill of Grace: a bit of history
Hill of Grace is a magical vineyard located in Eden Valley, South Australia, opposite the picturesque Gnadenberg Lutheran church, which sits on land donated by August Henschke around 160 years ago but has not always been in the Henschke family.
Nicolaus Stanitzki worked the vineyard, planting the Shiraz vines still providing fruit today, fruit of immense quality. That patch is known as the Grandfathers Block.
As well as Shiraz, Stanitzki planted Mataro, Semillon, Riesling, and even Sercial (which I think may have been removed long ago, though the other varieties are still producing). Many years later, he sold the vineyard to the Henschke family, but this was not the end of the Stanitzki involvement. The two families were later united by marriage (it was a small community).
Most wine lovers are surprised (I know I was when I first heard) to learn that today’s custodians, fifth-generation family members Stephen and Prue Henschke, don’t actually own the vineyard but operate there under a sharecropper’s agreement. The vineyard is owned by Audrey Henschke, who married Louis Edmond Henschke, Stephen’s uncle. Louis passed in 1990 and today, Stephen has the arrangement with his widow and her children.
Louis was one of Cyril Henschke’s three brothers (he also had eight sisters). Cyril was the youngest child in the family and the only one with any interest in continuing the family winemaking business. Indeed, it was Cyril who released the first Mount Edelstone with the 1952 vintage.
Mount Edelstone is not far from Hill of Grace and was planted by Ronald Angas in 1912, the great-grandson of George Fyfe Angas, who founded the state of South Australia. Fyfe Senior had obtained the land in 1839 by grant.
Ronald offered the grapes from that 1952 vintage to Cyril, who bottled the wine separately – remember that this was a time when fortified wine dominated everything in Australia, so to be offering single-vineyard table wine was revolutionary.
Cyril labeled it “Mount Edelstone Claret, bottled by CA Henschke & Co, North Rhine Winery, Keyneton, South Australia.” The Mount Edelstone wines were a great success, loved by show judges. In 1974, Cyril purchased the vineyard from the Angas family.
Cyril’s finest moment was in 1958 when he had the idea to bottle some of the wine produced from the Hill of Grace vineyard as a separate wine. A masterstroke.
Hill of Grace: single vineyard or not?
Having had the opportunity to taste through every Hill of Grace vintage, it is extraordinary how well these old vintages have lasted. Amazing stuff.
Perhaps even more amazing is that no one had thought to bottle grapes from this vineyard, as a discrete wine, for the first century of its existence.
Something that has grabbed my attention recently has been suggestions that Hill of Grace is not strictly a single-vineyard wine – to be honest, I suspect that this is the sort of thing that fascinates the wine obsessed and has little interest to those who are far more concerned as to whether it is a good wine or not (it is, it always is). Though I suppose that the watch obsessed can sympathize with such minutiae.
Why would anyone think it is not? It all comes from within the boundaries of the Hill of Grace vineyard.
The issue for some is that it comes from several plots within the vineyard that are not necessarily contiguous. Basically, the wine is from six plots.
Stephen refers to two of these blocks as the “heart and soul” of Hill of Grace – Grandfathers Block, which is 0.69 hectares and was planted in 1860, and Post Office Block 1, which is 0.51 hectares and was planted in 1910.
The remaining blocks that contribute are Post Office Block 2, which is 0.57 hectares and was planted in 1965; Church Block (0.74 hectares, 1952); House Block (1.08 hectares, 1951); and Windmill Block (0.88 hectares, 1956). Plantings in the Hill of Grace vineyard total around 8 hectares, seven of which are Shiraz.
As mentioned, these six blocks do not take up the entire vineyard and are not even all Shiraz. A seventh block may soon come under consideration for inclusion. This is Post Office Block 3 (or POB Young), which was planted in 1989 with vines specially selected by Prue Henschke, one of Australia’s most respected viticulturists.
They come from those vines in the Grandfathers Block that Prue deemed the best and most likely to continue to provide Hill of Grace in the future. In 2001, the family decided the grapes were good enough to be made into a wine on their own. And so was born Hill of Roses.
At this stage, Stephen is delighted with the way that wine edges ever closer to Hill of Grace, but he says that these young vines (I guess everything is relative because I am not certain that many winemakers would be speaking of their vines as “young” when they are more than 30 years of age) need to prove themselves. They need to exhibit the requisite flavor intensity and complexity.
Stephen looks at 35 years as the time when he can start to make decisions like this. But whether or not these grapes eventually make the cut, they are still within the boundary. For me, a single-vineyard wine. But does it really matter?
Henschke Hill of Grace 2015 tasting notes
As mentioned, 2015 was the first release for some time offering reasonable volume.
If we go back to 2011, there was no Hill of Grace produced due to poor vintage conditions. This had happened several times before – 1960, 1974, and 2000.
Two thousand twelve was a great Hill of Grace; 2013 was a tiny vintage thanks to drought; and 2014 no better thanks to frost. For the future, 2016, 2017, and 2018 all produced reasonable volumes (all relative, of course, as this is still a very small production compared to most wines) and were excellent vintages from a quality perspective. Two thousand nineteen will be a much-reduced volume, and 2020 even more so.
The 2015 is a wonderful wine from a very fine vintage. Glorious now, it will rival those that have already passed the test of longevity.
Stephen has spoken of it like this, “We like to visualize the grace of the harvest moon underlying the luminosity of the 2015 Hill of Grace with its purity of aromas, depth of flavor, and silky lustrous tannins – a majesty and a mystery that takes our breath away with its grandeur.”
For me, more prosaically, black fruits dominate with smoked meats, tobacco leaf, blueberries, dark chocolate, aniseed, and florals. Oak is still evident, but it is well integrated. The wine has incredible length, and the balance is impeccable. The tannins are amazingly fine and silky; the texture is supple.
A wine with decades ahead of it. A great Hill of Grace and a brilliant example of how great Australian wines can be. 99.
For more information, please visit www.henschke.com.au/vineyards/hill-of-grace.
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