In a recent article on the Henschke Hill of Grace Shiraz, the Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown gives a great deal of thought to the definition of a ‘single vineyard’. She asks “Is there a limit on how big it can be? Is there an implied uniformity of terroir and vine in these words, and to what extent is that even possible?” She argues that “when taken to its ultimate extreme, the words ‘single vineyard’ should conjure images of miniscule parcels of near mono-geological turfs that have long been married to a single varietal soul-mate, perhaps Romanee-Conti (1.8 ha), Le Montrachet (8 ha) or Clos Sainte Hune (1.67 ha).” (Henschke Hill of Grace: Australia’s Greatest Single Vineyard Wine? by Lisa Perrotti-Brown, eRobertParker.com, 6 February 2012)
But whatever the size of the vineyard or the number of distinct blocks of varying soils, vine ages and varieties (the Hill of Grace Vineyard consists of 8 blocks between a half and one hectare in size), Perrotti-Brown argues that a wine should only be classified as a ‘single vineyard’ wine if it represents a “thoughtfully delineated example of elevated quality that stands apart from that which surrounding vineyards can achieve and expresses something, well, singular.”
The custodians of world’s greatest single vineyard wines certainly devote a great deal of time and attention to yielding the best results from their single vineyards no matter their size. Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC), for example, converted his vineyards to organic in 1986 and more recently biodynamic, because he believes that making wine as naturally as possible is the best way to express the nuances of his fabled terroir. (see Domaine de la Romanée-Conti: The Quintessential Expression of Terroir by Merrill Witt, Cellarit Wine Blog, 12 May 2011)
Perrotti-Brown notes that fifth generation winemaker Stephen Henschke and his wife, viticulturist Prue Henschke, have done an astounding amount of research and experimentation to improve the quality of Hill of Grace over the years. Two of the blocks that are commonly used for the Hill of Grace Shiraz, the Grandfathers and Post Office Block 1, were planted in 1860 and 1910 respectively. Like DRC, Henschke uses both organic and biodynamic principals in their vineyards.
Both DRC and Henschke also favour a traditional, non-interventionist approach to making their respective wines. In the case of Henschke’s Hill of Grace, the handpicked grapes, picked at full maturity, are vinified in traditional open fermenters and matured for 21 months in a combination of new French and American oak, with the use of racking, sulphur, fining and filtration minimised or avoided if possible. (see Wine of the Week: Henschke Hill of Grace Shiraz 2006 by Merrill Witt, Cellarit Wine Blog, 27 July 2011).
Over the next few weeks we’ll take a look at some of Australia’s best expressions of single vineyard wines. Great preparation for the upcoming masterclass “Single Vineyard Perfection” that I’m attending at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival on 11 March 2012. Tickets are still available if you’re interested!
Photo Credits: Photo Credit: Hill of Grace Vineyard, Henschke,
Tradition Triumphs in Burgundy, Aesthetic Promendades