News & Events

Drinking – Angus Hughson

Posted 16 June, 2020

VARIETY IS THE SPICE.

This vineyard is full of surprises.

One property, one place and such very different wines. This is the story of Hentley Farm in the Barossa Valley’s Seppeltsfield sub-region. It is the story of how, more or less, a single place has the capacity to create stunningly different wines. Also how the position of a creek, subtly different soils and the angle of a hill is enough to completely transform wines from elegant on the one had to dense and bold on the other

It is a little over 20 years since much of the Hentley Farm vineyards were planted by founder Keith Hentschke with the famed Greenock Creek meandering through the property. It sits close to the grand and recently renewed Seppeltsfield, which shares the regional DNA of this region’s wines. The Seppeltsfield sub-region has what many outsiders would think of as classic Barossan characters – generous, fleshy, heat- warming and supple wines that are packed full of fruit, and oh so easy to drink

But the character of the Barossa is not so simple, and neither is Seppeltsfield. While every region has its hallmark features, you need to dive deeper into every site to really understand what makes this region tick. The angle of the slope compared to the position of the sun is key but the humidity from an old creek line also weaves its magic, as does the soils it has washed into place over thousands of years.

Take the small Light Pass region of the Barossa. Here in the sandy soils is where grenache shines, such as in wines from Cirillo Estate. And in Greenock it is the sandy loams over deep red clays that crafted some of the most deeply flavoured Barossan shiraz, at the likes of Kalleske. But at Hentley Farm the differences in soil and climate are subtle yet create remarkably different wines, from a range of varieties. When blended well this results a range of delicious wines, as is seen in the contrast between their Beauty and Beast shirazes.

At the heart of the property is the curious Clos Otto vineyard. While the Barossa has a long and proud Germanic history, it took a new turn almost 30 years ago when an elderly ex-German border control officer, Otto Kasper, bought a prized piece of land in Seppeltsfield. Otto had zero experience of viticulture and didn’t even speak much English. He wore a grey trench-coat as he worked the vineyard, often alone, by hand. He did not irrigate and everything was organic, well before the winemaking world had pivoted toward sustainable agriculture, or organics and even biodynamic viticulture. While he had a German background, no doubt the change and moving around the globe to pursue his dream had many challenges.

Whether Otto chose his site by good management or good fortune, it turned out to be a good one. Planted on a gentle easterly slope and protected from the baking afternoon sun, which is proving to be increasingly important in warmer Barossa vintages, it makes shiraz with traditionally generous Barossan fruit but with something extra–finesse, even delicacy of fruit. Some of this is likely due to Otto’s choice of clone, which apparently was sourced from another local grape grower with German heritage. It has, again serendipitously, proven to be a good one.

Otto lasted 10 years in the Barossa and returned to Europe before vine age had quite revealed the quality of his vineyard, returning only once to see how his lone holding was now surrounded by mature grape vines.

Keith Hentschke bought the vineyard from Otto. He already owned the property next door and fancied an expansion. There are now more than 40ha under vine, broken up into more than 20 blocks planted with five grape varieties. Shiraz plantings unsurprisingly make up the bulk of the property, but there’s also cabernet, grenache, zinfandel and viognier.

The early Hentley Farm style was of its time – big, bold and jammy wines that were popular a decade ago. But with talented winemaker Andrew Quin on board, the wines have now taken a step back and manage to combine the ripeness and generosity of the Barossa with finer fruit complexity – Barossa Valley with a delicious twist.

Hentley Farm The Beauty Shiraz 2017
This is quite a beautiful and understated expression of Barossa shiraz with power, balance and subtlety. It shows fruits of baked earth, peppery spice. Licorice, olive tapenade and black cherry fruits well matched with long oak aging. It is then dry, full-bodied, taut and firm with mouthcoating tannins tightening up the palate and driving a long, highly complex finish.

Hentley Farm Clos Otto Shiraz 2017
Made from a single vineyard planted by previous owner Otto Kasper, this is a wine that superbly balances the richer and more subtle sides of the Barossa. It is ripe and sweet with kirsch and blackcurrant fruit plus impressive oak, then overlaid with Chinese Five Spice, violets and earth. It has richness and power on the palate but carries it well, with moderate tannins plus a harmonious and lingering finish.

Hentley Farm The Beast Shiraz 2017
This is a more modern take on the Barossa in a super-concentrated style. It shows bold and ripe blackberry essence, tar and chocolatey fruit supported by ample spicy oak. It is then full-bodied rich and jammy with chewy extracted tannins and excellent fruit concentration that drives a long and decadent finish.

– Wish May/June 2020