Henschke’s Amazing (Hill of) Grace

Close neighbour of the almost-sacred Hill of Grace vineyard, wine writer Dave Brookes is a tad enamoured with the site and the wines of Hill of Grace including the new 2012 release.

His voice cracking with emotion, Stephen Henschke talks of the deep connection his family has with the Hill of Grace vineyard at the Melbourne launch of the 2012 Hill of Grace. He recalls an interview he heard with an Indigenous woman. She talked of the afterlife, where the spirits of the deceased don’t rise to the heavens, but take up residence in the landscape, in the trees, the rocks, on the wind.

Henschke says that if he stands in the vineyard and closes his eyes he can feel the presence of the generations of his family who toiled over the gnarled vines of the Hill of Grace vineyard. It is powerful stuff.

This modest patch of Shiraz tucked away in the Eden Valley enclave of Parrot Hill is a special place. The vineyard’s much-photographed location next to the Gnadenberg Lutheran Church conjures up the thought that perhaps it is situated here by divine intervention. It is certainly a pilgrimage for anyone bitten by the winegeek bug.

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I’m lucky enough to live close by. In fact, I could drive my ute to the top of a nearby hill in about a minute to view the Hill of Grace vineyard with the famous church in the near distance – all picture perfect. Better still, as I do with many out-of-town or overseas visitors, we could take a spin over to Parrot Hill and park next to the vineyard: get out and lean on the fence for a while and marvel at the wizened 150-year-old vines. I know if we were to sneak through the fence, Prue (wife of Stephen) would have my guts for garters for not cleaning my boots in a foot-bath to protect the vineyard from the scourge of phylloxera. You don’t get to be 150 years old and still working without taking care of yourself, so it’s best to pay your respects from the right side of the fence.

The Gnardenberg church was built by local residents and Nicolaus Stanitzki in 1860 after Stanitzki purchased land from George Fife-Angas, who planted the first 0.6 hectares of vines at the Hill of Grace vineyard. These original vines are today referred to as the Grandfather Block.

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The Henschke family’s history with this special site came through the marriage of third-generation Paul Alfred Henschke and Johanne Ida Selma Stanitzki, the granddaughter of the vineyard’s founder, and, since 1891, the Hill of Grace vineyard has been passed down through the generations of the Henschke family. Stephen and Prue Henschke are the current custodians with the sixth generation, daughter Justine and sons Johann and Andreas, all involved in the business in marketing and winemaking roles.

In 1958, Cyril Henschke was the first to make a wine from the Hill of Grace vineyard from the old Shiraz wines. At this stage the original 1860 vines had been bolstered by further plantings — the adjacent Post Office Block One (planted in 1910) is 0.3 hectares, the House Block (1.1 hectares) was planted in 1951, the Church Block (0.7 hectares) in 1952 and the Windmill Block (0.7 hectares) in 1956. The Post Office Block Two (one-hectare) was added in 1965 and the baby of the site, Post Office Block Young, is one-hectare of vines planted in 1989.

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The much-anticipated release of the 2012 Hill of Grace is, as you would expect, an absolute stunner. Graceful and poised it is a pure expression of old vine Shiraz from a very special place. Redolent in black-fruits, violets, mixed spice, olive tapenade and beautifully judged oak. Weightless yet voluptuous with all the detail, purity and clarity you’d expect from a wine of this lineage.

At $850, it isn’t exactly an everyday quaffer, but man is it good. And if you find yourself driving in the Eden Valley, perhaps make that pilgrimage to this most sacred of Australian wine sites. You may even see me leaning on the fence.

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