Cultivating Eden: 150 Years of Henschke Winemaking

There’s a lot of talk these days among the wine cognoscenti about the waning significance of the distinctions “Old World” and “New World” when it comes to describing wine. Blind tastings among experts (most recently one held at the London Wine Fair) make it clear that even the most knowledgeable palates can’t reliably identify into which of the two categories any given wine falls, and that neither category is clearly ahead on quality.

The wines aside, one distinction that can often be made between producers in these two categories has to do with their history. Multi-generational family legacies of wine production are quite common in Europe, but much less common in the Americas, for instance, thanks in part to the damaging interruption of Prohibition. But they are not unheard of.

In Australia, too, you can find unbroken histories of family winemaking stretching back 5 or more generations.

Johann Henschke. Photo by Duy Dash.

“We’re lucky to have this tradition and lucky to have been able to sustain it for 150 years,” said Johann Henschke on a recent visit to San Francisco to celebrate the release of his family’s 150th vintage of wines, in the form of their iconic Shiraz, the Hill of Grace.

“I definitely wouldn’t be standing here today if my ancestor had decided to get on a boat going somewhere different,” said Henschke.

Johann Christian Henschke was one of the many Silesian immigrants who fled religious persecution in Europe, eventually arriving in Australia in 1841.

“They left in the dark of the night, joining a community to follow a pastor who told them that they should go to South Australia,’ said the young Henschke. ‘They’d never have seen it. They would have no idea what it would be like to live there. It would have been like going to the moon.”

Henschke’s Mt. Edelstone Vineyard. Photo by Dragan Radocaj.

Henschke’s ancestor eventually settled in the township of Bethany in the Barossa Valley, and saved up enough money to purchase property for his son in the nearby Eden Valley, where the Henschke family has made their home ever since. In 1860, the family built a small stone winery which they used to make small quantities of wine for their own consumption, but in 1868 they made and bottled their first commercial wines under the family name.

Like most wines being produced in Australia at the time, the wines were sweet and/or fortified. That’s what much of the world wanted to drink. But by the 1950s, interest in dry table wine had risen, and so with the then nearly 50-year-old Shiraz vineyard they owned, Cyril Henschke made a dry wine in 1952. Six years later, he made a Shiraz from a vineyard named Gnadenberg, which means Hill of Grace.

The Hill of Grace Vineyard. Photo by Dragan Radocaj.

Cyril Henschke would become one of the pioneers of dry red wine in the Barossa region of Australia, and his Mount Edelstone and Hill of Grace wines from Eden Valley have become global benchmarks both for Australian Shiraz specifically, and for fine wine made with ancient vines generally.

The family winemaking tradition has been carried on by Cyril’s son Stephen and his wife Prue, and is now in the hands of his son Johann, the sixth unbroken generation that miraculously still cultivated some of the same (now ancient) vines as each of the previous five generations.

The fifth, sixth, and seventh generation of Henschkes. Photo by Dragan Radocaj.

Winemaking at Henschke has long been a collaboration between Prue Henschke’s work in the vineyards and Stephen Henschke’s work in the cellar. Organically certified vineyards, many of which are own-rooted, are managed with a combination of organic and biodynamic methods, including the liberal use of straw mulch to preserve soil moisture and mitigate the heat of summer.

In the cellar, wines ferment using the submerged cap technique in open-top fermenters and concrete vats with ambient yeasts, occasional…

Source : https://www.vinography.com/2024/05/cultivating-eden-150-years-of-henschke-winemaking