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Wendler on Wine
25 August, 2008  
Hill of Grace footnote

Famed journalist and author John Stubbs discovered that Cyril Henschke had an obsession about the Petrov affair. He offers this footnote to Gabriel Wendler’s recent column on the untimely demise of the man who made Hill of Grace

The absorbing Wendler on Wine August column on “The day Doris accidentally shot Cyril” was recently forwarded to me by your veteran correspondent Evan Whitton under his heading: “A reminder of a tragic event in your life.”

That event is perhaps worth recalling, as – apart from evoking some nostalgic memories of a past era – it offers a couple of handy hints for blind tasting sessions.

I met Cyril and Doris Henschke when I was a guest at a lunch in Adelaide very late in 1979.

It was organised by the most perfect of symbiotic organisations, the local Press and Wine Club.

It comprised the wine writer members, who were drinking excellent free wine, and the wine makers who valued favorable publicity and wider appreciation of their product.

Equal numbers of winemakers and writers, each with wives or guests, were seated at tables of about ten.

A feature of the occasion was the identification (by a combined decision of each table) of a masked wine served with the main course.

imageI was introduced to Cyril and immediately said: “I love your Hill of Grace.” As part of a group organized by Mick Young I had been enjoying it for many years at ridiculous prices.

Cyril said: “You’re not the John Stubbs that wrote the Petrov book?”

After excessive mutual embraces Cyril explained that he had been a passenger on the BOAC Constellation to which Mrs Petrov had been escorted by a couple of Russian thugs, Zharkov and Karpinsky at Mascot on April 19, 1954 (pic).

He had also witnessed the drama at Darwin airport – described in the book Nest of Traitors, which Nick Whitlam and I had written.

Mrs Petrov spent time in a toilet with hostess Joyce Bull where she made her decision to defect in Darwin (“Thirteen minutes that shook the Kremlin”).

Ms Bull had secretly passed on the information that Zharkov was armed. The dramatic airport pictures led to the return of the Menzies Government.

imageI had known Ms Bull (pic) among other central characters in the saga including the mysterious spy Michael Bialoguski and the diplomat and Evatt intimate John Burton.

Cyril was a Petrov tragic. He had a collection of memorabilia and was insistent that our family spend a weekend at his home after Christmas – autograph the book and sample his wines.

We moved on to the blind tasting. Cyril said to me: “I have what they call ‘a cellar palate – and I’ve got a slight head cold’.”

I became his nose for the day, and I remember him asking questions such as, “Can you detect any hint of fresh mown grass in that?”

Its absence, and some other tests, led him to the correct conclusion that it was a straight Shiraz.

Then (the tip for blind tasters) he mused: “Who made straight shiraz in a green bottle in about 1970?”

We just missed out on the prize.

Another memory of that lunch concerned the table that ran last in the contest.

D’Arry Osborn had been elected spokesman for his table – and was placed in the position of delivering their verdict: that it was a fairly young wine from one of the irrigated areas along the Murray.

It was, of course, a prize d’Arenberg. Cyril and I certainly enjoyed it. Doris was less enthusiastic – I suspect as much about her husband’s new best friend as the lunch.

I was genuinely shocked just a short time later when a friend on The Advertiser told me the name of the wine-maker who had been accidentally shot, and that Doris had rung her psychiatrist before calling the ambulance.