henschke hail 2017 shiraz pic

Hail, Henschke, Eden Valley Shiraz 2017

Henschke 2017 Single Vineyard Shiraz releases: The Wheelwright, Mount Edelstone, Hill of Roses, Hill of Grace; photo credit Sarah Ahmed

I could just as easily have left out the commas, but there is an embargo on publishing reviews of Henschke’s four single site Eden Valley Shiraz 2017 until Monday.  My notes will appear in Decanter Premium, so watch that space [now published here].  Suffice to say that the milder 2017 vintage plays brilliantly to Eden Valley’s signature spice.  It was fun chatting with Stephen and Prue Henschke this week about how each Eden Valley Shiraz site presents spice differently.

Let’s put the commas back in and talk hail.  The kind that has nothing to do with celebration.  As Prue put it, 28 October 2021 had quite a start to the day.  Their grandson Otto was born at 4am and, at 10am, a severe hailstorm hit parts of the Barossa.   “I’ve never seen hail like it before,” said Stephen, comparing it to the weather fronts you get in Sydney and Brisbane.

It was a narrow band but, reported Stephen, “the biggest ever hail the size of ping pong balls” struck the Hill of Grace and Mount Edelstone vineyards. “Mother Nature played games as usual,” he said sanguinely.  Time, as they say is a healer.  Reflecting on the storm the winemaker reported that it was a localised narrow band.  The vineyards by the winery got off lightly, with “just a few holes in the leaves and little damage on flower heads but that’s grown over,” said Prue.  As for Hill of Grace and Mount Edelstone because, observed Prue, the storm did not hit in late spring, the damaged vines have recovered quite well.  Plus vintage 2022 is shaping up nicely.

Prue, one of Australia’s foremost viticulturists, manages Henschke’s vineyards using organic and biodynamic practices.  She found that giving the affected vines seaweed extract straight afterwards to enhance shoot growth really worked, encouraging secondary and tertiary buds to burst.  “We got another 30% of crop, otherwise we would have been wiped out – it was a nervous wait;” today, she smiled, the vineyards are “still green and lush.”

As for vintage 2022, “it could be quite extraordinary,” said Stephen.  We’ve had lots of windy weather, which resulted in a poor fruit set, then rain “but then joy across summer.” It has been “surprisingly cool,” he explained – 17 degrees. When we spoke on Tuesday, he reported that they were into the third week of vintage.  Because of the mild summer into autumn, Riesling had been around two weeks behind “with searing acidity and pHs in the twos” as they waited for the sugars and flavour to come up.  But early March marked the onset of an Indian summer “and off it went like crazy.”

Henschke expected to finish the Riesling harvest the following day (Wednesday 22nd).  As for harvest at Henschke’s Lenswood vineyard in Adelaide Hills, the family have seen “a bit of recovery” since the devastating fires of 2020.  Stephen reported that they have been picking Sauvignon Blanc, with Chardonnay imminent and reds to follow.  Similarly, in Eden Valley, the red harvest is not yet underway.  Hill of Grace ripens first and, said Stephen, next week he will start looking at the early harvest lots there.  Fingers and toes are firmly crossed in this roller coaster year!

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