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Henschke, Cyril Alfred (1924–1979)

by Valmai A. Hankel

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Cyril Alfred Henschke (1924-1979), winemaker, was born on 11 September 1924 at Angaston, South Australia, youngest of twelve children of native-born parents Paul Alfred Henschke, winemaker and farmer, and his wife Johanne Ida Selma, née Stanitzki. His great-grandfather Johann Christian Henschke had emigrated from Silesia in 1841 and settled at Bethany in the Barossa Valley. Nine years later he took up land at Keyneton where he and his son Paul Gotthard began selling their wine in 1868. After the turn of the century Paul Alfred produced fortified wines, sold mainly in bulk.

Cyril was educated at Keyneton Public and Nuriootpa High schools; he often rode his bicycle from Keyneton to Nuriootpa and back, a total distance of 25 miles (40 km). On leaving school, he worked in the district's vineyards and wine cellars, including the Thomas Hardy & Sons Ltd winery at Dorrien, where his interest in bottled table wines originated. At the Lutheran Church, Grünberg, on 10 September 1947 he married Doris Elvera Klemm, a nurse.

One of Cyril Henschke's early tasks when he started working on the family's Keyneton property about 1949 was to build more cellar accommodation. Unlike his father, who combined winemaking with farming, he concentrated on the former and left the latter to his brother Louis. Cyril took charge of winemaking in 1955 and set out to produce fine table wines—dry whites and dry reds—but initially had difficulty selling them. Sales improved after he entered a national wine show in Sydney in 1956, where his 1952 Mount Edelstone shiraz won the first of several awards. Further success greeted his 1954 Rhine Riesling, ensuring his position as a leading producer of varietal table wines. His most highly acclaimed wine, Hill of Grace, produced from shiraz grapes planted in the 1860s near the Keyneton cellars, was never shown. During the 1960s he planted grape varieties—until then rarely grown in South Australia—such as semillon, traminer and sylvaner, and made distinctive wines from them. His winemaking techniques were characterized by a willingness to experiment.

In 1970 Henschke became the first Australian vigneron to be awarded a Churchill fellowship, which enabled him to study at small wineries in Germany, California, South Africa and Britain. Back in South Australia, he became one of the founding 'Barons of the Barossa', a wine fraternity that promoted the region, and was active in the Barossa Winemakers Association. He sought neither fame nor public office, preferring to work quietly in his old stone cellars.

Of lean build and middle height, Henschke was lively, witty and enthusiastic, a generous host and a man of many interests, among them the arts (particularly classical and baroque music), astronomy and geology. Forthright, but courteous and controlled, he read avidly and loved talking to people. He was a member of the local council, an elder of his church, a Jaycee and a Rotarian. Henschke was shot by his wife at their home in the early hours of 13 December 1979; survived by her, their daughter and two sons, he was buried in the graveyard of the Gnadenberg Zion Lutheran Church, Moculta. Doris was charged with his murder, but acquitted in February 1980. Their son Stephen continued the family's winemaking tradition.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Farwell, 100 Years of Winemaking (Adel, 1968)
  • Wine and Spirit Buying Guide, Feb 1980, p 23
  • Age (Melbourne), 11 Feb 1967
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 15, 20 Dec 1979
  • private information.

Citation details

Valmai A. Hankel, 'Henschke, Cyril Alfred (1924–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/henschke-cyril-alfred-10486/text18603, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 23 April 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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