Murray McHenry had a visit from Bono a while ago. A mutual friend had told McHenry that the U2 frontman loved wine, and wondered if he could bring him down to the winery. “Bono arrived and said, ‘Don’t fuck around, just give me your best wine,’” recalls McHenry. “So we opened a bottle of Rolling Stone, and he said, ‘I need a few cases: this is Mick Jagger’s Christmas present.’ I gave him six bottles.”
It’s a good story: knocking the global icon down a peg or two, and showing that McHenry Hohnen is not stuff to be handed out indiscriminately to all comers.
The rangy McHenry (pictured above) was in London earlier this year on just about the wettest, coldest, greyest day that an English March can provide. It was about three weeks before the coronavirus lockdown so we were lucky to see him – and even luckier to taste this excellent selection of his wines.
McHenry Hohnen was founded by McHenry and his brother-in-law David Hohnen in 2004. The former has deep roots in Western Australia – he had a chain of wine stores across Perth, and planted his first vines in 1984 at the Burnside Vineyard, selling the grapes to Cape Mentelle, then owned by Hohnen. A decade later he developed the Calgardup Brook vineyard, then in 1998 bought the farm on Rocky Road and planted Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Hazel’s Vineyard within Rocky Road is also home to the winery (the single vineyard Cabernets were called Rocky Road until the 2013 vintage – they’re now called Hazel’s Vineyard. Rocky Road is now a second wine, not tasted today. It’s complicated).
From the beginning, the ethos has been sustainability: 100% biodynamic vineyard management and minimal intervention in the winery. Cover crops are comprehensive, pest control is by natural predator as much as possible. In the winery – for example on the Hazel’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon – fermentation is partially via wild yeast in concrete fermenters, the wine spends around 14 days on skins with no added acid, tannin or nutrient, minimal preservatives, and it’s unfined and unfiltered.
Biodynamic viticulture works well in Margaret River, especially in cooler years, McHenry says. “2019 was a tough year with rain and cold winds. This is where the biodynamic vineyards could shine, as they don’t have the foliage [thereby allowing more sun to get to the ripening grapes].”
He describes their climate (very roughly, he’s at pains to point out) as “Mediterranean moving to cool”. Hazel’s Vineyard, which now carries five wines at single vineyard level – Chardonnay, Cabernet, Syrah, Zinfandel and a Grenache/Syrah/Mataro – was planted in 2001 on virgin land. It’s a testament to the pair’s viticultural savvy that they should have identified it as prime vineland. The wines we taste are a fascinating demonstration of the 15-year maturation of a vineyard.
Hazel’s also provides the fruit for Rolling Stone, the Bordeaux blend described by McHenry as the pinnacle of his red wine production. “Hopefully in the future this will be the grand cru of Margaret River vineyards.”
These are some of the finest and most complex red wines you will see from Margaret River. They are brilliant wines, but they aren’t smart wines – that is, they aren’t buffed to a shine in order to be acceptable on dinner tables anywhere from Seoul to St Petersburg. “The tannins can be rustic,” McHenry says. “We don’t make wines to win medals.”
The Chardonnays too are astonishingly lovely. The older wines are beautifully evolved with tropical, perfumed fruit; the younger with honeysuckle and and piercing acidity. They will repay long ageing but are delicious now, and at less than £30 a bottle they give many cru Burgundies a run for their money.
The wines aren’t that widely available in the UK. Snap them up when you see them (if Bono or Jagger don’t get there first).