In this week’s look at the upcoming Great Wine Estates auction David Pike looks at what makes Leeuwin Estate the iconic winery it is.
THE success of Leeuwin Estate’s Art Series Chardonnay has arguably made it the wine most synonymous with the Western Australian wine industry.
Owners Denis and Tricia Horgan have been among the most proactive marketers in the region since arriving in 1972 after an extensive vineyard search involving one of America’s most influential figures Robert Mondavi.
Leeuwin Estate’s concerts attract worldwide attention – only slightly less attention, in fact, than the oft-quoted remark by Mr Horgan that “Western Australia produces 3 per cent of the total Australian production yet 30 per cent of its premium wine”.
Langton Auctioneers rates the Art Series Chardonnay as ‘exceptional’ and right from the first vintage in 1980 it has been hard to fault the quality of this wine.
Winemaker at Leeuwin since its first vintage, Bob Cartwright, says although time and experience were an integral part of putting together the ‘Art Series’ chardonnay, the most essential elements came from the vineyard.
“Ultimately it is down to the aspect of the vineyard and the quality of fruit we are able to harvest each year,” he says.
“The selection of the right clones has been instrumental in the success, and together with the importance of the different aspects of the chardonnay sites, it has become clearer with time how special in particular a couple of the vineyard blocks of chardonnay on the property really are.”
One of those blocks is the mother vineyard, block 20, a vineyard planted with the gin gin clone of chardonnay on exceptional free-draining gravel soils over what has been described as an ancient base.
The Art Series Chardonnay comes only from the sites with the best aspect, with vines more than 20 years old. This also shows the benefit of mature plantings, and helps to explain why the old-world regions such as Burgundy are able to produce benchmark wines.
The first commercial vintage for Leeuwin was in 1979, and two years later the chardonnay to be called ‘Art Series’ was given world-wide acclaim when it received the highest recommendation from UK-based respected wine magazine Decanter.
During that time Mr Cartwright, together with the extraordinary viticulturist John Brocksopp, formed one of Australia’s most enduring partnerships.
Mr Brocksopp decided this year to take a back-seat role at Leeuwin, having played an integral role in establishing the winery for nearly 30 years.
It’s refreshing for those in the pursuit of quality and excellence to realise that Leeuwin has created extraordinary demand for a wine after only a relatively short space of time. This impact is even more pronounced when it’s considered that Penfolds Grange has been around since the early 1950s and many of the European wines took centuries to become icons.
The Art Series Chardonnay continues to be one of Australia’s most consistent performers and benchmark wines.
There’s an element of truth in the claim that Leeuwin is a winery built on one wine and a concert, but it’s also true that the winery has set the standard in terms of marketing the region, the State and Australia.
At the upcoming Great Wine Estates auction buyers can expect to pay up to $90 for the 1981 Chardonnay, $150 for the 1987, and $125 for the reputable 1995 vintage.
Needless to say a few more dollars will need to be spent on magnums, while the barrel on offer is from the 2001 vintage, which was well regarded throughout Margaret River.
The 2001 wine on offer is, in fact, already in bottle and at a tasting earlier this year my tasting notes were as follows.
Leeuwin Estate 1999 Art Series Chardonnay rating 17.75/20
Showing as light straw in colour with a green tinge running through it. The aromas display complex notes instantly with slight cashew nut, mineral and stone fruit characters, hints of citrus lime and a little nougat. Once on the palate you are struck with a viscous mouth feel, very good integration, and plenty of length. This is seamless. Good acidity with mineral, lime citrus, touches of stone fruits and a rounded palate make this wine complete.
Leeuwin Estate 2000 Art Series Chardonnay 18.75/20
This is a wine that evolves different characters in the glass. Citrus lime and grapefruit aromas are evident before finding a mineral note and an undertone of sublime oak. On the palate the wine is tightly bound with expressive acidity and shows integrated nectarine, grapefruit and white peach fruits. A viscous mouth feel with an expression of minerality together with a touch of nougat, this wine will sit proudly alongside the long line of outstanding Art Series chardonnays. Does it overshadow the 1999? There’s only one way to be sure.
Leeuwin Estate Art Series 2001 Chardonnay 17.5/20
At recent tasting this wine showed mineral bath salt aromas with delicate herbaceous notes, bound up in an enticing ball of citrus perfume.
The palate displayed lively acidity that was entwined around the citrus, grapefruit and note of pineapple, plenty of fruit weight and viscosity, before a powerful finish that had persistence and length.
Another Leeuwin Chardonnay on song.