Two hundred years ago, on the other side of the world, a fire had been lit that would soon provide a vital spark to Australia’s embryonic wine history. Few could have imagined that fifteen thousand kilometres away deep in the Southern Hemisphere the rumblings and rebellion in the churches of Germany would be heard in Adelaide and beyond for many decades to come. The repression of the Lutheran church and in some cases the jailing of its clergy would see thousands of devout parishioners pack up all they could carry with them, leaving the world they knew behind and embarking on long journeys in search of religious freedom, even to the farthest reaches of the globe.
They travelled throughout the world seeking out places of refuge. And with the well regarded Lutheran work ethic there were plenty keen to welcome them. So much so that prominent English businessman George Fife Angas, whom went on to be widely considered as one of Adelaide’s founding fathers, advanced 8000 pounds to bring 250 Lutherans to colonial Adelaide.
Where they did land, the Lutherans soon took up where they had left off in Germany – more often than not in agriculture. First in Klemzig, then in Hahndorf tending market gardens, before reaching further afield into the sparsely inhabited Barossa Valley. One such man who arrived in 1841 was Johann Henschke
In his journey from Brandenberg Johann paid an almost unbearable price, first the loss of his only daughter, then wife and one of three sons, all before landing in Adelaide. Thirty years later in 1868, Johann had remarried, bought and developed a property in the Eden Valley town of Keyneton raising livestock and crops and was selling his inaugural vintage, no doubt completely unaware of what he had put in motion. But it was not on this Keyneton property that the Henshcke name would hit its greatest heights.
In the Northern reaches of the Eden Valley, and East of Angaston sits an ancient, isolated, Shiraz vineyard – the Hill of Grace. It sits on low rolling hills, on an exposed, wind-blown site and is overlooked by an old stone church with only occasional ruins scattered around that hint to its past. 150 years ago the vineyard was a part of Parrott Hill, a small Lutheran town with its own Post Office, school and general store, all named after the abundance of local birdlife, and located a significant distance from the nearest settlement.
The Henschke name was never far from Parrott Hill. Johann Henschke’s son August was one of its early settlers and the family donated a small parcel of land on which an exquisite, hand-hewn stone church, was built in 1864, which still overlooks the Hill of Grace vineyard. Its name, Gnadenberg, is drawn from the home of its Lutheran founders, and literally translates to Hill of Grace. Another of Johann’s son, Paul Gotthard, was a long time organist at the Gnadenberg church before purchasing the Hill of Grace vineyard in 1891, thirty years after it had been originally planted – it appears that church and wine were always deeply intertwined.
The life of the Hill of Grace vineyard though has not always been certain. Built next to Parrot Hill, there was always a chance that the town would thrive and what has become one of Australia’s holy wine grails would be lost forever. Numerous vineyards in South Australia have suffered the same fate but that was not the case here as the nearby town of Moculta became the local centre and slowly drew Parrott Hill’s residents away. First the Post Office shut in 1880 and then, with the closing of the school as its last teacher left seven years later, Parrott Hill was no more, and the Hill of Grace vineyard was finally safe.
Today, three generations later the Hill of Grace vineyard has never been in better hands nor form. Many of its original vines remain intact and new vineyards, planted from cuttings of the finest original vines, are now flourishing, thanks to Prue Henschke’s tireless work in the vineyard. Sixth-generation winemaker Johann Henschke sits in the wings, gently guided by Stephen and Prue Henschke. Since the first vintage 150 years ago Henschke has grown past the Eden Valley and now has a home away from the Adelaide Hills. But whatever the future brings Henschke’s spiritual home, and the altar of great Eden Valley Shiraz, will always be in the church and among old vines of Parrott Hill and the vineyard that is aptly named “Hill of Grace”.