The Henschke Line of Descent

Johann Christian and Dorothea Elisabeth
Johann Christian with Dorothea

Johann Christian Henschke

Johann Christian Henschke, born on December 24, 1803, departed from Kutschlau in the province of Brandenburg in the summer of 1841, and after an ill-fated 98-day voyage aboard the Skjold, arrived in South Australia on October 27. His wife Appolonia Wilhelmine, and six-year-old son Johann Friedrich Wilhelm died during the voyage and were buried at sea; nine-month-old daughter Johanne Luise died while they were awaiting departure from Hamburg. Johann Christian's brother, Johann Martin, and his family also made the journey aboard the Skjold, while their other brother, Johann Georg, and his family followed on the August in 1856.

Upon arrival, with his two surviving children (Johann Gottlieb and Johann August), Johann Christian stayed briefly at Klemzig and Hahndorf, before settling for a time at Lobethal in the Adelaide Hills, where in 1843 he married Dorothea Elisabeth Schmidt, with whom he was to have eight more children. In 1847, after Johann Christian and many of the other Lobethal founders became naturalised and eligible to purchase land, he and his family settled at Krondorf village near Bethany in the Barossa Valley, where the house and outbuildings still stand today.

In 1862 he purchased land in the North Rhine district (later renamed Keyneton) of the Barossa Range, so named because it was thought the area was capable of producing good quality wine. Initially travelling by foot from Krondorf to North Rhine, he started to develop his property by adopting the traditional self-sufficient farming methods of his homeland, and with the help of his son Paul Gotthard, planted a small vineyard. A farmer and mason by trade, Johann Christian built a small two-storey cellar into the side of the hill for the first vintages of riesling and shiraz, with the first sales in 1868.

Paul Gotthard and Johanne Mathilde
Paul Gotthard with Johanne

Paul Gotthard Henschke

Paul Gotthard Henschke was born in Bethany on August 9, 1847, the third child of Johann Christian’s second marriage. He married Johanne Mathilde Schulz in 1871 and together they had seven children; their fourth-born, Paul Alfred, would become the next custodian of the family property, and sixth-born, Albert Julius, would later have a wine named after him.

Following his father’s death in 1873, Paul Gotthard took over the running of the North Rhine property at Keyneton, which had the previous year been transferred from father to son for the sum of five schillings, the cost of the transfer fee. Paul Gotthard continued the farming and winemaking tradition of his father, and when more vineyards were planted wine production gradually increased. Later, in 1891, he purchased land with a small planting of vines near the Gnadenberg Church, which was to become known as the Hill of Grace vineyard.

Like his father before him Paul Gotthard was actively involved in the local community, and in 1874 he became one of the first constables of the District Council of North Rhine. He was the organist for Gnadenberg Church for many years, and in 1888 he formed the first known brass band in the district, which was called the Henschke Family Brass Band. Instruments were mostly brought from Germany and three of them, a euphonium, a clarinet and a cornet, have been lovingly restored and are still in the family’s possession today.

Paul Alfred and Johanne Ida
Paul Alfred with Johanne

Paul Alfred Henschke

Paul Alfred Henschke was born on February 26, 1878, and educated at North Rhine Lutheran School. On leaving school he helped tend the family property, and for a time worked as a shearer, somewhere up north. In 1907 he married Johanne Ida Selma Stanitzki, whose grandfather Nicolaus Stanitzki planted the first block of shiraz vines on the Hill of Grace vineyard around 1860. They had eleven children, and it was their youngest child, Cyril, who would follow in his father’s footsteps.

After Paul Gotthard's death in 1914, Paul Alfred took over the winery, farm and homestead. He extended the original cellars northwards, and had brick and cement fermentation vats and underground storage tanks installed. Until this time farming had been the main pursuit, but as the demand for fortified wine increased, more effort was given to increasing production and he expanded the vineyard acreage. He had also purchased considerable areas of farming land at Moculta, Angaston and Loxton so that his sons could be independent. Fortified wines were the popular choice at the time, but Paul Alfred continued to make dry red and dry white hock, and orders of barrels and stone jars called krugs were left on the steps of the Keyneton general store for customers to collect.

A healthy and physically fit man, Paul Alfred enjoyed brisk walking. He also enjoyed horse-riding, accompanied by the sheepdogs that he had trained so well. Mindful that they were working dogs, he would not allow them to become family pets. He rode his horse and held a driver's licence until his 84th year. Like his father he continued the Henschke Family Brass Band and was organist at the Gnadenberg Lutheran Church for over 50 years.

Cyril Alfred Henschke

Cyril Alfred Henschke

Cyril Alfred Henschke, born in 1924, was Paul Alfred's youngest son. Even as a child it was evident that with his inquisitive mind and awareness of his surroundings he had the talent to become a winemaker, and on leaving Nuriootpa High School at 15 he worked for a year or two at Hardy’s Siegersdorf Winery to gain winemaking experience. This was at a time when winemaking had taken a back seat to farming due to the Great Depression of the 1930s, but Cyril's interest in this area was absolute and the training he received help consolidate the finer points of winemaking he’d taught himself at the family winery. He married Doris Elvira Klemm in 1947 and they had three children - Paul, Stephen and Christine.

His father’s wine market had been largely fortifieds, but at home they drank unfortified wine. Cyril believed the region could produce fruit of suitable quality for dry table wines and he was keen to prove this was so. In 1949 with the help of his brother Louis, he added what are now the fermentation cellars, incorporating the old stable area into the winery. In about 1950 when Paul Alfred was into his 70s, Cyril took charge of the winery and began to experiment with the production of fine dry table wines, and began phasing out fortifieds in 1952. Although initially he experienced some difficulty in finding a market for his new wines, history vindicates his decision and acknowledges him as pioneering varietal table wines. He was the first person to make a dry white frontignac, for example, and he made dry semillon and riesling as separate wines when 'varietals' didn't exist. He also experimented with ugni blanc and sercial.

By the mid-1950s Cyril was also recognised within the Australian wine industry as one who had identified that the quality of certain Eden Valley fruit, such as riesling and shiraz, was superior to that of the better known Barossa Valley. This decade of change from fortifieds also saw Cyril become one of the first to produce single-vineyard wines, and bring to the world those much-loved Henschke shiraz wines from Eden Valley - Hill of Grace and Mount Edelstone.

Cyril was the first Australian winemaker to be awarded a Churchill Fellowship and in 1970 undertook his study tour through many winemaking regions in Germany, California and South Africa. Another first was being a founding member of the Barons of Barossa, a wine fraternity that promotes the Barossa region.

Stephen Henschke

Stephen Carl Henschke

Fifth-generation Stephen Carl Henschke took over running the winery in 1979. Born in 1950, he was Cyril’s younger son and showed an interest in science and winemaking from an early age.

Stephen completed a Bachelor of Science Degree at Adelaide University in 1973, gained winemaking experience in the Hunter Valley, and in 1975 with his wife Prue, spent two years at the Geisenheim Institute of Viticulture and Wine Technology in West Germany. During their stay in Germany he undertook work experience in two wineries, Winzerverein Oberrotweil in Baden and the Institut für Rebenzüchtung und Rebenveredlung in Geisenheim.

On their return to Australia they enrolled in Wine Science at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, in order to catch up with the changes in the Australian wine industry. During this time Stephen worked with his father at the winery in Keyneton while Prue embarked on a career as a technical research officer at the nearby Roseworthy College.

In the early 1980s, Stephen introduced winemaking techniques learned in Germany and upgraded to more flexible refrigeration in the winery in order to improve the quality of the white wines. He maintained his ancestors’ traditional methods with his red wines, which focused on fruit quality and tannin maturity in the vineyard, submerged cap open fermentation, minimal racking, no fining and minimal filtration. He also began incorporating barrel fermentation as a component of his red fermentation techniques. Because of the poorly seasoned oak at the time he introduced an oak timber purchase program, seasoning it in the Barossa in order to obtain better quality mature oak flavours.

In the early 1980s, Stephen and Prue purchased an apple orchard at Lenswood in the cool-climate Adelaide Hills in order to pioneer viticultural and soil management techniques from Germany. This led to using Vertical Shoot Positioned canopies to improve fruit exposure and the old-vine selection programs in the 100-year-old shiraz vineyards.

In 1988 and 1989 they worked vintages in Burgundy and Bordeaux respectively, in order to research the grass roots level of viticulture and winemaking in those regions. With widened perspectives they have forged their own styles, with much of the success of Henschke wines attributed to the vine age and fruit quality in the vineyards. In 1994/95 the UK International Wine and Spirit Competition named them International Red Winemaker of the Year.

Stephen and Prue, with their three children Johann, Justine and Andreas, quietly continue a proud heritage and the philosophy for outstanding quality. They are mindful of the fact that more than 145 years of grapegrowing and winemaking, spanning six generations, has been an integral part of Australian quality wine history.

Johann Henschke

Johann Stephen

Johann Henschke, born in 1983, is a sixth-generation member of the Henschke family, the eldest of Stephen and Prue’s three children. Johann has known wine since birth; he, his younger sister and brother all grew up at the family winery in Keyneton, where much time was spent surrounded by fermenting grapes and wine. Johann went on to graduate from his winemaking course at the University of Adelaide in 2005, and began gaining experience in his field throughout the winemaking world. His travels have taken him to Leeuwin Estate in Margaret River, Australia (2005), Felton Road in Central Otago, New Zealand (2006), Isole e Olena in Tuscany, Italy (2006), and Arietta in the Napa Valley, USA (2007).

After several years working within various parts of the family business, Johann graduated from a two-year European Masters in Viticulture and Oenology (Vinifera EuroMaster) with the final six months spent in Geisenheim, Germany. The Master, which he completed in 2012, also took him to study in Montpellier, France and Madrid, Spain, which allowed him to gain a great diversity of research and opinions from what many would argue is the historic home of wine.

In 2013, Johann returned to Australia to join his family in the business, focusing his attention and newly-honed knowledge on their cool and steep-sloped vineyard at Lenswood in the Adelaide Hills. In the future Johann will work alongside his parents, under their guidance and support to improve his understanding of the business and its many complexities.

With many of the challenges for the next generation already well-documented, Johann expects that innovation and careful management with a long-term vision will be crucial tools for him and his contemporaries to utilise. These tools will be important in ensuring that Henschke continues to be nurtured and maintained in the same prudent way it has always been, to be passed on to successive generations, and be held in the same high regard as it is today.

Further information (PDF Documents - click to download):  The Henschke Name | Reasons for Migration | Henschke Heritage Contacts | Evans Family Letter