Located three hours south of Perth, Margaret River is Western Australia’s most prestigious wine-growing region. Serious vineyard development began only in the late 1960’s following the publication of a report by John Gladstones in 1965 stating that the area had a similar climate to Pomerol or St Emilion, with low frost risk, plenty of sunshine and equable temperatures within the growing season promoting even ripening. Margaret River’s climate is warm and maritime, with some cooling influence provided by southeast trade winds. The soils derive from granitic and a gneissic rock over which laterite has formed. The region can be divided in three sub-regions: the cooler south between Yallingup and Karridale with predominantly lateritic gravelly loamy sands and sandy loams; the warm and sunnier Willyabrup in the centre with predominantly gravelly loams, but some gritty sandy loams and granitic gravels; and Margaret River in the north with similar soils, but slightly cooler temperatures. This is entirely consistent with style; the wines from Willyabrup being more generous than the highly structured wines of the north and the elegant styles of the south. Margaret River is best known for high quality Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc Semillon blends and top notch Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends. Over the years, the region has established an astonishing reputation illustrating a consistency in quality and a strongly focused winemaking culture.
Leeuwin Estate was established in 1974 by Denis and Tricia Horgan with initial help from the Californian winemaker Robert Mondavi. A succession of brilliant vintages, the remarkable fine winemaking legacy of now retired winemaker/viticulturalist team Bob Cartwright and John Brocksopp, and an extraordinary consistency of style, have made Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay one of the most highly prized Australian white wines on the market.
Leeuwin Estate grows 62 acres (25 hectares) of Chardonnay divided into eight parcels. Block 20 – the backbone of the highly regarded Art Series Chardonnay – has been singled out as an exceptional vineyard on the 300 acre Leeuwin Estate. The un-irrigated vineyard planted to the “Gin-Gin” clone gently slopes towards Stevens Road on the western boundary. The soils are gravelly and well drained.
During the growing season dry cool air from the Southern Ocean funnels up through the hill system. It is largely responsible for the phenomena called ‘hen and chicken’ or ‘millerandage’ a problem associated with fertilization which leads to an erratic development of bunches comprising berries of different sizes. At harvest the normal size ‘hen’ berries are “smooth and silky like a princess,” whereas the smaller ‘chicken’ berries are quite lean and acidic. Combined, the Chardonnay fruit brings exceptional concentration and flavour with naturally high natural acids. Ripening is assisted by growing rye between the vine rows. Not only does it provide some wind protection but by February it is a bright golden colour reflecting the sun’s rays into the canopy. Yields during vintage are generally moderate at around 1.9 tons/acre. Although the ‘numbers’ are checked, the fruit is picked on flavour development, texture and weight.
Leeuwin Estate seeks to preserve the pristine fruit characters of Chardonnay throughout vinification and maturation. Everything is minimally handled or gravity fed.” The Chardonnay is 100% barrel fermented in selected new French oak and matured in the same barrel. Battonage (lees stirring) is regularly employed and partial malo-lactic fermentation is encouraged in most vintages to bring further texture and flavour complexity. The wine is usually bottled eighteen months after vintage. The overall approach to winemaking has not changed since first vintage illustrating the sheer focus in vineyard management. The investment in winemaking, however, is extraordinary.
Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay is one of Australia’s rare long-lived fine-boned Chardonnays with superb fruit definition and clarity. When youthful they are a balance between exuberant fruit and savoury complexity. The palate is creamy yet a fine bead of acid cuts a swathe across the palate giving life and incredible length. With a few years of bottle maturity, the Art Series Chardonnay seems to shed its aniseed top notes. The wine becomes a harmonious whole with beautifully defined grapefruit/melon aromas and complex lanolin nuances. The palate is richer and fleshier but remains tightly bound by acid – as if all the elements are woven together.
Showing all the hallmarks of southern Margaret River fruit, the highly perfumed, muscular and energetic Cabernet Sauvignon is evolving as one of the best from the region. The low yielding vineyard is located on deep gravel and loamy soils over sandy gravel sub-soils. Vinification takes place in closed fermenters regularly pumped over with extended skin maceration. The wine is matured in a combination of 40% new French oak and used Chardonnay barrels for 2 years. A proportion of Petit Verdot, Malbec and Merlot are also added to the blend for complexity.
Leeuwin Estate Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon is a classic Margaret River wine with pronounced blackcurrant/cassis, earthy, leafy characters. It has a highly concentrated palate with fine, but muscular tannins, underlying new oak and tremendous buoyancy of fruit. These wines have reached a new level of quality over the last few years and worth seeking out.
Through the Art series labels Leeuwin Estate has built up an impressive collection of contemporary Australian art which hangs at the winery in Margaret River. The Siblings and Prelude ranges are highly reliable wines and in tip-top vintages can completely over deliver in the quality stakes.
Leeuwin Estate is one of Australia’s greatest family owned wineries. Dennis and Trish Horgan have contributed enormously to the local and national wine community and the international agenda of Australian wine. Their extraordinary generosity of spirit seeps through into their wines.Andrew Caillard MW, Langton's