The first identification of terroir dates back to the monks of the Middle Ages, and a thousand or so years later articulated thus by Bruno Prats, proprietor of a leading Bordeaux Chateau: ‘Terroir is the coming together of the climate, the soil, and the landscape. It is the combination of an infinite number of factors: temperatures by night and by day, rainfall distribution, hours of sunlight, slope and drainage, to name but a few.’
It gained currency in the new world with the battle cry ‘great wine is made in the vineyard’, Prue Henschke is viticulturist wife of winemaker Stephen, who own what is undeniably the most valuable terroir in Australia: Hill of Grace (4ha planted 1860 to 1965). The 2017 vintage was released on May 4, along with Mount Edelstone (16ha planted 1912) and The Wheelwright (1.6ha planted 1968), and at Prue’s behest are managed with organic and biodynamic practices, a glib statement that has a wealth of detail behind it.
The late Peter Sichel, another chateau owner in Bordeaux, added another view. ‘Character is determined by terroir, quality is largely determined by man.’ Prue has never been afraid to challenge the status quo. The introduction of permanent swards of mainly native grasses are mown low in the spring and summer months, and organic compost applied under the vines.
The most important challenge has been the progressive adoption of the Scott Henry canopy system. It requires split second timing for the canopy to be effectively split in two, one part upwards, one downwards, and it has to be done by a skilled hand. It lets more sunlight into the new growth, and results in less disease, better colour, more fruit flavour and riper tannins. It has the over-arching ability to deal with extra vigorous vines on a block-by-block, vineyard-by-vineyard, basis. Thus it has been extended to the Windmill Block on Hill of Grace; and the Eden Valley Vineyard and Shillings Vineyard have blocks under Scott Henry management.
There’s no risk of Henschke resting on its laurels.
2017 Henschke Hill of Grace
Oh my; you don’t have to do any of the work on the bouquet: it has the most immediate and complex burst of warm spices, licorice, wild flowers, purple and black fruits. But in the end, it’s the intensity and length of the palate that is the measure of its greatness.
99 points, drink to 2047, 14% alc, Screwcap, $900
2017 Henschke Mount Edelstone
A wantonly delicious, sumptuous wine dares you to waste even a drop of wine by spitting. The palate is prodigiously long, the aftertaste of blackberries and a whisper of French oak. Attention to detail can be a cliché, but it’s the real deal here.
97 points, drink to 2042, 14.5% alc, Screwcap, $235
2017 Henschke The Wheelwright
Writing this tasting note needed a three dimensional vehicle to capture the shifting aromas and flavours that fill the senses, some in high relief, some deeply contoured as the wine slips between a medium-bodied to full-bodied structure and texture. Red and black cherries, spices, licorice and plum are ultimately tethered by a gossamer savoury web.
96 points, drink to 2037, 14.5% alc, Vinolok, $140