Stephen Henschke, Winemaker
Stephen Henschke has a wonderful family heritage of more than 140 years of grapegrowing and winemaking spanning five generations. He is proud that the Henschke name and reputation is inexorably linked with red wines in general and Hill of Grace in particular, but with winemaking his lifeblood he approaches all wine styles with the same depth of passion and commitment to quality. He is also mindful of his European roots and is a proud supporter of the historical language, food, religion and wine culture of his Silesian forebears still alive in pockets in the Barossa. Stephen’s support and contribution to the Barossa was acknowledged in 1984 when he was inducted into the Barons of Barossa wine fraternity, of which his father Cyril was a founding member.
Stephen has retained the traditional approach to red winemaking used by his forebears. You can imagine their surprise at finding how ripe the grapes became in their newly adopted sunny country. Their table wines would have become high in alcohol and fermented dry, due to the warmer conditions. Wine exports towards the turn of the century required fortifying the wines due to microbiological spoilage problems. This technology lasted throughout the war years, until the demand for table wine flourished due to the contribution to our wine and food culture by the newer immigrants from southern Europe, predominantly from Italy and Greece.
The shift from fortified wines meant they picked the grapes ripe to achieve full maturity and to gain intensity of colour, flavour and mature tannins - something that is not out of place for rich, full-bodied reds - while the winemaking itself took a minimalist approach. They handled the wines gently, used minimal racking, low sulphur, gentle fining and filtration and like what is so often done today for cosmetic reasons. Stephen's forebears took a puristic, holistic approach that had been passed down from generation to generation so it was almost intuitive. At the '40 Years of Hill of Grace' celebration in 1998 when Stephen tasted every vintage - some for the first time - he was struck by how closely he was emulating his father's winemaking of the late 1950s and the 60s with his minimal intervention.
With today's advanced viticultural practices, of course, the greatest focus is given to the quality of fruit in the vineyard. And just as success of the reds is largely attributed to fruit quality, so too is the quality of the whites. As the Australian wine industry has advanced, Stephen has adopted recognised technology such as the use of inert gas to minimise oxidation and more flexible refrigeration in the winery. The increase in the understanding of the chemistry of winemaking has also contributed to the success of the white wines - a raft of chemical analyses gives greater control than just a few.
If Stephen shows a traditional influence with red winemaking, then it is true to say he has been influenced by German technology for whites. In a way he is using the best of Old World tradition coupled with New World technology. He retains a purity of fruit through careful handling of the juice and wine, which brings out the intense, varietally pure perfumes of the natural grape flavours. Combine this with the today's technology - and taste the resulting whites - and it is clear that Stephen has embarked on a new direction for Henschke that his forebears could never have imagined.
In keeping with world's best practice, Stephen and company secretary Mark Graetz embarked upon a project to develop a Quality Management System. Henschke was one of the first wineries in 1998 to achieve ISO 9002 Certification.
The highlights of Stephen's career include the following awards and nominations:
- Induction into Family Business Australia (SA) Hall of Fame 2011 (with Prue)
- The Age/Sydney Morning Herald Good Wine Guide 2011 Winery of the Year (with Prue)
- 2006 Gourmet Traveller WINE Magazine Winemaker of the Year (with Prue)
- Induction into the 2005 USA Wine & Spirit Magazine Hall of Fame
- 1998 Volvo/WINEMagazine Winemaker of the Year nominee (with Prue)
- Advance Australia Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Wine Industry in 1995 (with Prue)
- Joint International Red WInemaker of the Year 1994/95 (with Prue)