edited by Sue Courtney
A Tasting of Leeuwin Estate
Dennis Horgan from Leeuwin Estate visits New Zealand on his 30th anniversary tour.
Dennis Horgan, a beer drinking surfie from way back, was originally attracted to the Margaret River by the waves. "If I had been from a wine generation family, I probably would not have gone there", he said. No one grew grapes in the Margaret River then, a backwater with a population of 3000, a reducing population with a high rate of unemployment.
Dennis Horgan didnít really know what wine was either. He tripped into the wine business by accident because American Robert Mondavi was on a mission to find new sites in the world where grapes would possibly make great wine. He spotted the Horgan property but he could not persuade Dennis to sell.
After a series of meetings and a trip to France so Mondavi could show Horgan what great wines really were, a compromise was made and the first grapes were planted in the Margaret River on the Horgan property. They called the venture Leeuwin Estate, after the nearby peninsula of the same name. Their aim was to make wines that rank with the best in the world.
Mondavi, the mentor, was spending money like Horgan had never seen. Everything was high-tech and state-of-the-art because Mondavi was taking the risks on Leeuwin Estate before he put the practices into his own winery.
The strategy was that they would promote the wine by word-of-mouth. With food, wine and art the focus, the Art Series labels were there from the beginning and Dennis readily admits to copying the concept from Mouton Rothschild after visiting the winery in France.
There was enormous media interest in the inaugural and the wines practically sold out overnight. The Margaret River wine region was on its way to fame.
"People can copy wine styles and viticultural styles but they can't copy the terroir", says Dennis. The thing that is unique about Margaret River is that oceans surround the neck of land on three sides. Not just one ocean, but three. With warm, medium and cold waters from each ocean there is little temperature change therefore no frosts.
The old granite gravelly soils are ideal for viticulture. There is little rain in the main growing season but with plenty of winter rain to fill the water table, no irrigation is necessary. It's rather a unique environment.
Horgan tells us that 20 percent of all wine in Australia that costs over $20 a bottle is produced in the Margaret River.
The Art Series wines are the premium wines of Leeuwin estate while the Prelude Series are made in a more approachable style to both the palate and the wallet. The Preludes are released each year to coincide with the first of the season's four Leeuwin Estate concerts.
Leeuwin Estate Art Series Riesling 2003
Leeuwin Estate Prelude Vineyards Chardonnay 2001
A mini vertical tasting of the Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay of the last four vintages gave an insight to how this wine evolves.
Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2001
Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2000
Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 1999
Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 1998
Although Leeuwin Estate is famous for its Chardonnay, Dennis Horgan's long term aim is to become known for red wine. With the quality of the reds I tasted, especially the 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2001 Shiraz, the reds should be as equally lauded as the Chardonnays.
Leeuwin Estate Prelude Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2000
Leeuwin Estate Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon 1999
Leeuwin Estate Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2000
Leeuwin Estate Shiraz Art Series 2001
While Australian Shiraz is usually quite distinctive, this example from WA is more like a Kiwi version from Hawkes Bay or a Surah from the Rhone rather than a Shiraz from the Barossa Valley. I like the acidic backbone, which makes it so good with food.Copyright Sue Courtney