Henschke, Croft Chardonnay 2016 Adelaide Hills

As the Australian bushfires continue to rage, we’re trying to find ways to help. One suggestion is to buy wines from the devastated Adelaide Hills and so today our wine of the week is from the biodynamic Henschke Lenswood vineyard, shown here with Stephen H pre-fires, that has been 90% wiped out.

From £25.83 (as part of a case of six), £28.99, AU$49.99, $45, €49.50, 425 Danish kroner, 2,890 Thai baht

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On Friday 20 December 2019, a bushfire blaze swept through Cudlee Creek in the Adelaide Hills, burning 57,000 acres (23,000 ha) and with a 127-km (79-mile) perimeter, destroying 87 homes, almost 500 buildings and killing one person. More than 60 grape growers and wine producers lost vineyards, equipment, buildings and wine. Some lost everything. On Christmas Day, the fire was still burning.

One of the many vineyards lost (over 1,100 ha/2,718 acres) was the Henschke’s 25-ha (62-acre) Lenswood vineyard. Mercifully the vineyard team, who were setting up irrigation to get the vines through an intense heat spike, got out just one hour before the fire swept through. Stephen Henschke reported on Instagram that ‘Lenswood Riesling, Chardonnay, Grüner Veltliner, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer all affected. Sadly this includes some of the oldest Pinot Noir in the Adelaide Hills, planted by Tim Knappstein in 1983. Both of our sheds, machinery and equipment lost as well.’ Prue estimated about AU$1.6 million (£850,00/$1.11 million) worth of damage and noted that all the irrigation piping was melted. 

 

Henschke Lenswood vineyard before the December 2019 fire
Henschke Lenswood vineyard before the December 2019 fire
Henschke Lenswood vineyard after the fire 24 Dec 2019
Henschke Lenswood vineyard after the fire, 24 Dec 2019

Lenswood in the Adelaide Hills was the Henschke’s cool-climate property, bought by Stephen and Prue in 1981. The pair had been looking for a place to plant Chardonnay, and I recounted when I visited the Henschkes in 2018, ‘They got to the top of a rise and saw an apple orchard for sale and Prue said, “We should buy it!”.'

High, cool, wet and green, Lenswood was famous for its apples. Prue ran it as an apple orchard until the Ash Wednesday bushfire in 1983 burned everything to the ground. They planted vines.

Henschke Lenswood vineyard before the December 2019 fire - panorama
Henschke Lenswood vineyard before the December 2019 fire
Henschke Lenswood vineyard after the fire 24 Dec 2019 - far view
Henschke Lenswood vineyard after the fire 24 Dec 2019 - far view

The vineyard is 550 m (1,805 ft) above sea level and is on steeply sloping shale. The Henschkes farmed it biodynamically. They named this 100% Chardonnay (a blend of seven clones) after Frederick Croft, a pioneering orchardist who planted apple trees on a neighbouring property in 1938.

Prue in their Lenswood vineyard in Adelaide Hills
Prue Henschke in their Lenswood vineyard in Adelaide Hills, in happier times

The 2016 was picked between 4 and 15 March, at the end of a dry winter and spring, extremely hot December and then just enough rainfall at veraison in late January/early February to give the vines relief. Yields were average, quality was high. The wine was matured in 16% new and 84% used French barriques for 10 months. Alcohol is 13.5%, pH 3.29, and acidity 6.9 g/l.

My tasting note reads, ‘Savoury, clotted cream, restrained richness. It builds in the mouth, unfurling sails and gaining stature. Really fine. Tiny bit of creamy oatmeal and a sweet-sharp tang of grated green apple right at the heart. Stephen Henschke says he prefers to drink this at around 10 years old. “All our Lenswood wines, because it’s such an austere site, tend to need time in bottle.”’

There’s no hurry to drink this stunningly elegant wine. I suggested a drinking window up to 2025, but Stephen knows his wines better than I do, so it might well be at its best in 2026. It also means that if you can’t get hold of the 2016, any vintage going back to 2009, or even earlier, would probably still bring enormous pleasure.

The Croft is imported into the UK by Liberty Wines and is sold by quite a number of merchants, including (but not limited to) AG Wines, Vinvm, Ministry of Drinks, Christopher Keiller, Specialist Cellars, Vintriloquy, Great Wines Direct, Drinks&Co and Winebuyers. In the US, it can be found in Texas, California, New York State, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Florida, and the 2016 can also be found in Australia, France, Denmark and Thailand. Older vintages are available in the Philippines, Greece, Hong Kong, South Africa, Taiwan and South Korea. Quite a spread.

Henschke Croft Chardonnay 2016 Adelaide Hills bottle shot

This may be our wine of the week, but please consider buying other Adelaide Hills wines. The list of wineries who’ve been affected can be found here – buy their wine.

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Stephen Henschke in their Lenswood vineyard before the 2019 Adelaide Hills fire