Tim Lovett is Senior Winemaker at Leeuwin Estates, one of the most prestigious wineries in the Margaret River region of Western Australia. After completing his Bachelor of Agricultural Science degree at the University of Adelaide, Lovett worked for several wineries around Australia including Yering Station and Mount Langhi Ghiran, both in Victoria. He moved to Margaret River in 2005 where he became assistant winemaker at Voyager Estate and part of Cape Mentelle’s winemaking team. Lovett was appointed winemaker at Leeuwin Estate in 2010, taking over as Senior Winemaker in 2016. Lovett was named 2019 Winemaker of the Year by The West Australian Wine Guide.
Karen MacNeil: Did you have a mentor? Tell us about her/him.
Tim Lovett: I have had three significant mentors and all for different reasons. I worked under Tom Carson (currently at Yabby Lake) at Yering Station, Yarra Valley in my early vintages. Tom really inspired me to appreciate the detail of both chardonnay and pinot noir. I was full of questions and he spent time with me to answer each of them. After that, I worked as a winemaker under Rob Mann (now at Corymbia Wines) at Cape Mentelle, Margaret River for 3 ½ years. He instilled in me the need to be thorough, structured and driven. He told me to question everything and trial everything. I also taste regularly with Cliff Royle (Flametree Estate) who I worked under at Voyager Estate, Margaret River. His palate and articulation really extended my vocabulary and thought on describing wines.
KM: You are very passionate about the type of oak you use, particularly the grain. Leeuwin is famous for its chardonnays. What are the main differences between the oak you source for your chardonnays and the oak you use for your cabernets?
TL: Oak selection is critical for any wine. For chardonnay, I use both Burgundian and Bordelaise coopered barrels of light to medium toast. I find Burgundian barrels promote roundness, texture, complexity, and subtle toast. Bordelaise barrels on chardonnay are finer, delicate, fruit protective, and also provide great drive. For cabernet, I use 100% Bordelaise barrels with extra tight grain, and medium toast. Coopers are selected based on what they give to our cabernet parcels, some will be more structured, whilst others more aromatic and fragrant. Each type of barrel will leave its own footprint on the wine.
KM: If you couldn’t make chardonnay in the Margaret River of Australia, where would you want to make it?
TL: In Australia, I love the purity and clarity of chardonnay from Tasmania, in particular the Coal River—a benchmark cool climate and maritime influence winegrowing region. The wines have this finesse and elegance about them—they are so alluring. Elsewhere, no question it would be in the Côte-de-Beaune, and within that, Chassagne-Montrachet. These wines have presence, concentration, and power, without forgoing elegance and fine structural acidity.
KM: The Leeuwin “Art Series” chardonnays have a history of aging well. But many others do not. Why do your chardonnays mature so brilliantly?
TL: There are a few unique points to our Art Series Chardonnay with its energy and longevity. First and foremost, it is site—great wines are born in the vineyard. The soil, aspect, and orientation of our estate vineyard is so special, producing vines with a balance of diligent yields and concentrated bunches, leading to weight and richness counterbalanced by high acidity. The significant parcel of fruit in Art Series Chardonnay is Block 20, the first chardonnay planted in Margaret River in 1975. In the winery, it is all about preserving and respecting what we observe in the vineyard. It is important to have a delicate hand to ensure the wine is able to express itself. Reductive handling, subtle skin contact, no malolactic fermentation, and precise oak selection are key points.
“In wine, I’m looking to be taken on a journey – one that is thought provoking and emotive.”
KM: What wines did you taste at the beginning of your career that you feel deeply influenced your perception of wine?
TL: I fell in love with Burgundy early on; their wines promote thought and emotion. My favorite producers include Henri Boillot, Roulot, Ramonet, and Bonneau du Martray – all for very different reasons.
KM: How often do you drink your own wine?
TL: We regularly benchmark our wines against other producers that we feel articulate the varietal and their site in Margaret River, and from the rest of the world as well.
KM: I’m not going to ask what’s your favorite wine. But what wine or type of wine do you like the least?
TL: In wine, I’m looking to be taken on a journey – one that is thought provoking and emotive. Wine should have purity and clarity that details the variety(s) and most importantly the site. Wines that I like least are those that show more winemaking influence, a heavy hand, lack of definition, and lack of balance.
KM: Who is the person you especially love to drink wine with?
TL: Wine is emotive, it should create discussion. The best tastings are ones that engrain memory, those “I remember when” moments. I love tasting with fellow winemaking peers in Margaret River. We all see things slightly differently, and that’s the beauty of wine – it’s individual.
KM: What was the last wine book or article that you read and was it good?
TL: Amongst other things, I love pinot noir. Recently I read Le Domaine de la Romanée-Conti by Toni De Coninck and Gert Crum. DRC is undoubtedly the most incredible and magical Domaine in Burgundy, and one of the top producers in the world. I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship to attend the Len Evans Tutorial in Australia last year, which finished with a blind tasting of 2009 DRC of the communes, including the new Corton vineyard. We had to determine vintage and commune, then articulate why and how we arrived at our conclusions. This book details the finer aspects of their sites, winemaking, and overall context in Burgundy. Great book!
KM: Tell us something about you that would surprise many people to learn.
TL: I love languages. I studied Mandarin Chinese for over ten years. I love the language and culture. My daughter is part Italian, so I’m pretty handy with Italian too. My passion and work also take me to France regularly, so I love speaking with the French also.
TL: I have had the greatest opportunity to work with the Horgan family of Leeuwin Estate for almost ten years now. As a team, we have created so many amazing wines, that when we show them to the media, trade, or consumer, we see them smile. I am so humbled and honored to be Senior Winemaker at Leeuwin Estate.