A Happy Hippy Hoedown in the Hills with Henschke

By Jane Thomson

When one of Australia’s most eminent and respected wine labels is openly using biodynamics across all their vineyards, it’s hard to continue to think of it as “fringe” agriculture.

Henschke Wines, has been practicing biodynamics since 2006, and was keen to display their techniques to  an invited motley crew of wine writers and sommeliers at their Lenswood Vineyard in the Adelaide Hills at the end of February.

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Biodynamism is a complex method of farming that involves natural homeopathic treatments and the use of the lunar calendar to determine the best moment to treat the vines and to harvest the grapes. And while it’s been making big inroads in viticulture in recent years (think about the recent boom in biodynamic, natural and orange wines), I was curious to know why Henschke had decided to embrace it.

So I sidled up to viticulturist Prue Henschke to get the lowdown. Why biodynamics?

“It’s economically the best model to satisfy all our composting requirements,” replied Prue matter-of-factly.

Not what you were expecting, huh? Me neither. I was anticipating (almost hoping for) a grand story about preserving the intensity of flavour, nurturing nature, saving the soils, or protecting the land for their progeny (the next generation of Henschkes is already actively involved in the business).

What I got instead was what could possibly be the best argument for biodynamics I have ever heard. Economics. The other benefits that biodynamics provides are merely a bonus. The reason for it’s introduction is the positive impact it has on the bottom line of the business. And THAT should get more wineries pulling their head out of the sand and looking afresh at biodynamics.

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Prue has been trialling a wide range of different practises in the vineyards since 2000; composts, mulches, permanent grass swards between rows, planting natives to attract beneficial insects and the use of biodynamic preparations. She is a great proponent of biodynamics and is in transition to become certified organic. Following challenges in 2011 she expects to have full organic certification by 2016. (She is not seeking biodynamic certification as there are a few areas she doesn’t fully adhere too.)

On that day I witnessed a deer bladder filled with compost hanging from a tree branch right next to where we sipped herbal teas and bit into dainty lemon and blackberry shortcakes. I saw Prue Henschke bent over a steaming cauldron of leaf teas and unctuous brews, rain pouring down around us and a chilled wind blowing, while we looked on in our corporate attire with notepads and pens in hand.

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The stark juxtaposition of the kooky with the high-brow made the day truly delightful.

The morning started with a high tea while Prue demonstrated some of her biodynamic brews and chatted openly about when and how they’re used. Mulberry tea when it’s hot, Casuarina tea when it’s not.

We were then bussed down to a gorgeous, white marquee set up in the middle of the vineyard, where a beautifully laden table beckoned. But first, a walk up a steep hill through the vines, followed by a spot of grape identification.

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Attempts to pick the Pinot from the Cabernet or the Chardonnay from the Riesling saw many of the (mostly male) sommeliers present break into a cold sweat. There’s nothing like a little blokey competition to see the pressure levels rise!

Not having done anything quite like this before, I just hovered towards the rear, smiling and feigning confidence as I rolled my tongue around each juicy berry and hoped that I didn’t squirt it all over my cream blouse. It was amazing though just how many flavours came through in the fresh grape and I lapped up Prue’s commentary on how to identify the relevant flavours and textures.

Then from the grape to the finished product. The tasting! Steven Henschke pulled out the bottles for tasting, which included;

  • NV Lenswood Blanc de Noir – 100% Pinot Noir, crisp and delicious
  • 2012 Lenswood Coralinga Sauvignon Blanc – a food friendly SB with naturally high acidity & minerality
  • 2012 LenswoodGreen’s Hill Riesling – tight, lime intensity, crunchy granny smith apples
  • 2012 Innes Vineyard Pinot Gris – perfumed with butterscotch and honeysuckle
  • 2010 Lenswood Croft Vineyard Chardonnay – melon, lemon and big Chardy mouth feel
  • 2010 Lenswood Giles Pinot Noir – red cherries fresh from the orchard
  • 2009 Abbott’s Prayer (60% merlot, 40% cabernet sauvignon) – smooth and full of dark red fruit
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Steven Henschke talks passionately about his wines during the tasting

And when we thought we couldn’t possibly fit in another drop, the museum releases came out too (*hic*):

  • 2001 Green’s Hill Riesling – toast and marmalade with a savoury bite
  • 2006 Croft Chardonnay – soft, nutty, with good palate length
  • 1996 Giles Pinot Noir – tomatoes and rich earth, velvety tannins
  • 1990 Abbott’s Prayer – big hit of black currants but soft and smooth in the mouth

A lunch followed of roasted quail, slow cooked lamb, sumptuous salads, and a huge platter of Woodside Cheese and locally picked figs and apples.

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While the focus of the day was on the biodynamic practices and how these shine through in the quality of the wines, it was the passion and friendliness of Steven and Prue Henschke and their devotion to their craft that was the most memorable part of the entire experience.

The fact that they have embraced biodynamics and organics over the last few years demonstrates that, despite already having several decades of experience in the business, Steven and Prue and their family continue to be open to innovation and are constantly striving for improved quality and best practice methods.

Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re out in the black of night donning big black hats or reciting incantations. But I love that they’ve opened themselves up to incorporating practices that do take better care of the soil and the environment (even if it’s the bottom line benefits that lured them there) to produce full flavoured and elegant wines made with passion and sensitivity.

For more information about Henschke wines and their Lenswood Adelaide Hills Vineyard, visit www.henschke.com.au

<DISCLOSURE: Jane travelled to the Adelaide Hills and attended the day as a guest of Henschke.>

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