During a recent trip to Australia I had a chance to visit one of the most iconic vineyards in the world. Hill of Grace Vineyard produces legendary Shiraz from 140-year old vines. The curators of the vineyard are Steve and Prue Henschke. I call them ‘curators’ because when you step in the vineyard, you feel like you’re stepping into a museum, including the part where you have to step on sponges full of anti-Phylloxera agent at the entrance. It was a highlight for me because after we shot this video, the sun went down and I saw the Southern Cross for the first time. Not a bad place to see it
Steve and Prue are two of the world’s foremost experts in each of their respective fields, and they just happened to be married to each other. The Henschke-owned land surrounding the Hill of Grace Vineyard is where Prue’s true talent can be realized. She’s planted entire forests and maintained complete ecosystems in an effort to give Hill of Grace the ideal conditions to grow world class grapes. If you ever get a chance to see all the plant life Prue has planted over the years, you’ll see how dedicated she is to viticulture on their entire property.
And then there’s Steve Henschke, who carries the weight of five generations of wine making at Henschke. His family has farmed the land, and produced wines since the mid 1800’s. Steve is the current head of winemaking, and steward of the Henschke standard of quality. Steve and Prue have two children who are studying abroad in Germany and New York, but will eventually get involved with the family business. Although they make an iconic wine, they are two of the must hospitable and friendly people you could ever hope to meet. They were very generous with their time (and wine).
WINES TASTED IN THIS EPISODE
1997 Julius Riesling - Didn’t see this one coming! I thought I’d show up and taste some Hill of Grace and be impressed. When they busted out the Julius Riesling, it was like being in the boxing ring with a boxer who throws a punch you don’t expect. This one blew me away, in part because I’m a slut for good Riesling, but also because the age gave the Julius that exotic petrol, flint, steel character you find in upper echelon German Rieslings. I haven’t found those notes in many Australian Rieslings…..none, in fact.
Julius could be the winery’s flagship wine if it weren’t for Hill of Grace. Absolutely drop dead gorgeous on the nose full of all things naughty: Kerosene, matchstick, golden delicious apple, dried apricot and orange peel unfold in the glass. The mouthfeel was rich and showed exceptional typicity, however, the one thing I was craving was more acidity. It didn’t quite have it, but that’s unfair because similar Rieslings come from Germany, which is much colder. I found the wine to represent what Riesling should be at the place where it was grown. That’s what I’m talkin’ about!
1986 Hill of Grace Shiraz - This was the main event. Prue was thinking this bottle had a little variation and wasn’t showing its full beauty. I had no problem choking it down, however. What can you say about Hill of Grace? It’s almost unfair to try to describe a wine that comes from 140-year old vines, grown by a world-class viticulturist and made by a world-class winemaker. It was elegant, youthful, balanced and showing off a cashmere-sweater silkiness. This is an OMIGOD! wine that you open for people you actually like.
More of a European style than what you’d expect from Australia. Floral notes of red raspberry, cedar and an element I can only describe as the smell you smell when you walk into a shoemaker’s shop. Lots of old beat-up leather. In the mouth it doesn’t make you think of Aussie Shiraz, maybe more like a Rhone style Syrah. Tantalize your taste buds with lush brooding red raspberry, blueberries, faint tar, spice box and vanilla. This is the kind of wine you let unfold over your palate and just go with it. So beautiful, so pure and made with a sense of history of place. Most likely peaked already so if you got ‘em, drink ‘em (and invite me and my somm buddies over) :). Cheers!