Friday, June 13, 2008

Winemaker chat with Denis Horgan of Leeuwin Estate, Margaret River, Australia

This was an opportunity I had to exchange some conversation with another winemaker of whom I think highly. I enjoyed a recent wine tasting with Denis Horgan (left), owner of Leeuwin Estate of Margaret River, Australia. Margaret River is in the southwestern section of Australia, a few hours south of Perth. It sports a cooler climate than the acclaimed southeastern Australia shiraz territories of Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale.

During the tasting and dinner,we enjoyed a sampling of Leeuwin Estate wines, from the lower end Sibling series (specifically, we tried the Siblings Sauvignon Blanc Semillon, 2005), to the benchmark Art Series.

As might be expected, the Leewin Estate Art Series Chardonnay, 2004, was the show-stealer, preferred by most everyone in our group. It is a truly outstanding wine - though it comes at a premium price.

In discussion with Denis Horgan, I was interested to find out whether Leeuwin Estate, given its cooler climate, had ever had much success with pinot noir - a varietal not widely successful around Australia. He told me they had tried pinot noir for quite awhile in the region, but were never full satisfied with the results. The juice simply never generated the quality they sought for their wines. So pinot noir juice becomes part of the Leeuwin Estate Brut - we tried the Leeuwin Estate Brut 2003 vintage. It was satisfactory, but not outstanding.

Denis explained that his vision had always been to focus on wines that ranked among the best in the world. And since the pinot noir never lived up to that standard, it has not become part of the portfolio.

We tried several other Leeuwin Estate wines from among current and recent releases. The Art Series Riesling 2005 rated three plus stars out of five, making it an excellent value wine. Probably the best value of the Leeuwin line. Good for aging too.

The Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 was an attractive wine, rating three stars plus, but it sells at two or three times the price of the comparably-rated riesling.

For my discussions with another outstanding winemaker, Sparky Marquis of Mollydooker Wines, check out this posting.

1 comment:

  1. Great interview ive been fascinated for so long! Leeuwin Estate, owned by Denis and Tricia Horgan, has a reputation for producing top quality wines from its location in the Margaret River region of Western Australia. Yet, however, you try and dress it up, its creation was more by chance than by design. The property was originally a cattle farm which Denis Horgan had acquired in a business takeover. Horgan took advice from the State Department of Agriculture as to the optimal use for the land, and their suggestion was viticulture. And so Denis Horgan started down the road that was to lead to the creation of one of Australia's greatest wineries.

    Leeuwin Estate Art Series Pinot NoirLeeuwin Estate Art Series Cabernet SauvignonSo Leeuwin Estate began as a vine nursery, with advice from top viticulturist Stan Heritage. Over the next few years however, large areas were planted up, here taking advice from Californian guru Robert Mondavi. The vineyards saw the arrival of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, which are the basis for the two top cuvées from Leeuwin Estate, but also Shiraz and even Pinot Noir. These varieties are the basis for the Leeuwin wines of today, except for Shiraz, which was grafted over to Sauvignon Blanc within a few years of being planted.

    The first vintage came in 1978, as it takes several years for young vines to bear any fruit.

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