From the tasting team

The evolution of Leeuwin Estate's Art Series Chardonnay

Tasting Team member Jane Faulkner speaks to Leeuwin Estate’s chief winemaker, Tim Lovett, ahead of the Margaret River winery's flagship release.

In-between pressing off riesling and waiting on the last batch of chardonnay to come into the winery this week, all destined for Leeuwin Estate’s Art Series label, chief winemaker Tim Lovett says vintage ‘24 is one of high acidity. And that’s a great sign, ensuring lively wines and potentially long-lived ones.

“The flavours are astonishing in terms of concentration and power,” Tim says, “seeing great, natural acidity overall means this is going to be a vintage of power.”

Art Series Chardonnay is a wine of power and is revered – for good reason. Leeuwin Estate and chardonnay are inextricably linked: Leeuwin is a pioneer of the variety in Margaret River, being the first to plant it in 1976 on a site known as Block 20 and then in ’78 onto Block 22. While it would take another three or so decades before the Australian chardy revolution took off, morphing into our finest wine style, Art Series has remained a constant. However, it has undergone subtle changes as part of the variety’s evolution, while retaining its DNA link, the wine of yesteryear is not the same as today, so much has been learnt since those pioneering days.

Leeuwin Estate cellar doorLeeuwin Estate in Margaret River.

Yes, it still gets the 100 per cent new oak treatment, a mix of Burgundian and Bordelais coopers, all scrutinised to ensure a perfect match, with the wine spending 11 months in barrel. It is usually inoculated, and sulphured post-ferment to thwart malo. Acidity is key. 

I first noticed a paring back with the winemaking, especially from 2013, producing an overall better balance and fineness. Tim says the vintage, also a high acid one, produced clean fruit and since the microflora was so good, some wild fermentation took place. However, he’s emphatic: “What Hutchy (winemaker Phil Hutchison) and I are doing is translating site to glass and that means preserving and nurturing what we see out in the vineyard. Our goal is to translate fruit. Block 20 has natural concentration and power, a gliding pendulum of acidity, the smaller berries carry sugar and concentration, and with the maritime influence of Margaret River, it sits in a great space and wild fermentation is not a key message.” 

But up to eight hours skin-contact and more solids in the fermentation are factors, so too the type of oak “which now is tighter-grained with lower toasting. Oak is meant to sit with the fruit and not be overt. Hutchy and I are like brothers. We don’t stop talking about Art Series Chardonnay. We don’t stop thinking about all the extra details needed.”

Leeuwin Estate teamLeeuwin's winemaking team is led by Tim Lovett (pictured second from right), who look over as chief winemaker in 2016.

Tim joined the business in 2010, taking over as chief winemaker in 2016, yet he acknowledges all the previous winemakers and viticulturists in our chat, all who have nurtured those original vines and more, adding: “I think it’s an honour to be part of Leeuwin and to carry on with the legacy.”

He says the pioneering and iconic nature of the estate started with Art Series Chardonnay, and the focus on that meant cabernet sauvignon and shiraz weren’t shining as much. That’s all changed too. These days the talk is back to the vineyard, vine health, canopy management and it’s about bunches per vine, not how much fruit you can get per hectare. 

It's why both reds have come leaps and bounds and he is particularly excited about Margaret River shiraz generally. He says shiraz was once the “elephant in the room and in the shadow of cabernet. Not anymore. For us, it’s all about perfume, spice and subtle pepper. That’s the key message.” 

There’s so much more to talk about but vintage waits for no one.

Leeuwin Estate's flagship Art Series Chardonnay and Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon will be available for purchase from March 1, 2024. For more information visit