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Leeuwin Estate Founder Denis Horgan AM Honored

Celebrating Three Australian Wine Legends

Wine Australia
21st March, 2017

Legend. It’s a term that is thrown around with almost reckless abandon these days. Something as simple as a hamburger can become ‘legendary’ in a few months. But in the Australian wine community it takes more than a couple of good deeds or exceptional vintages to become a legend.  Since 1992 the Winemakers Federation of Australia has honored the legends of the Australian wine community by electing them to the ‘College of Patrons’ or awarding them Life Membership of the Australian Wine Industry.

The membership of this exclusive federation includes Australian wine legends such as Len Evans, Dr. Ray Beckwith, Bob Hardy and Tom Angove. These are people who have spent their lives dedicated to promoting fine Australian wine around the world, helping to grow Australia into one of the top five wine exporters in the world. Other honorees like Brian Croser, Wolf Blass and d’Arry Osborn continue this work today and in so doing help shape the ongoing Australian fine wine story.

Life Membership of the Australian Wine Industry 2017

These legends were recently joined by three new Life Members. James Halliday AM, Chris Hancock MW and Denis Horgan AM were recently honored by the Winemakers Federation of Australia for their outstanding achievements in shining a spotlight on fine Australian wine.

James Halliday is quite simply the doyen of Australian wine writers and the most respected voice on Australian wine. Between his numerous books and magazine articles to his annual Wine Companion and regular appearances on panels at wine events around the world, there is simply no more authoritative voice on Australian wine.

Winemaker and Master of Wine, Chris Hancock’s C.V. would cause most others in the wine community to blush. From dux of his class at Roseworthy College to his work with Penfolds in turning Australian Chardonnay from a little-known curiosity to global phenomenon, Chris has long been a leader in the Australian wine community.

As for Denis Horgan, it is almost impossible to think of a fine Australian wine story today without mentioning the contribution of the Margaret River Denis has been instrumental in building the once sleepy surfing community into a gourmet food and wine destination.

Denis Horgan AM: From accidental vigneron to Australian wine legend

Today, Leeuwin Estate is one of the most highly regarded Australian wineries in the world. Denis, who worked as a chartered accountant specializing in mergers and acquisitions, bought the property on which Leeuwin Estate now stands in 1969. The property was purchased in a deal to acquire a plumbing business and at first Denis harbored no dreams of building a fine wine estate The property lay untouched until 1973 when Denis got a phone call from the U.S.

Like James Halliday and Chris Hancock, Denis Horgan’s life changed completely when he met another legendary figure in the world of wine. On the phone was an attorney from Seattle, Washington calling about their property in Margaret River. A few probing questions from Denis and the attorney revealed that his client was Robert Mondavi, already a legend in the world of wine. Mondavi, recognized as arguably the most important person in modern wine, put the Napa Valley on the map with technical innovations and brilliant marketing strategies. When Robert Mondavi is interested in planting vines on your property you don’t question, you get planting!

In the early years, Mondavi helped Denis as a consultant with the planning of the vineyards and with the direction of the wine styles. One of Robert’s key pieces of advice was to plant Chardonnay, which was quite a rare variety in Australia in the 1970s and 1980s. This astute advice led to Leeuwin Estate’s most iconic wine, the Art Series Chardonnay. This wine was a beacon to producers in the region around Australia, showing that Margaret River could make wines to rival the best in the world.

Denis has skillfully combined his passion for wine with his passions for great art and great food. Innovations like the art gallery at Leeuwin Estate, the regular concerts held at the winery and the award-winning Leeuwin Restaurant have become oft-copied examples of excellence in food and wine tourism. Denis Horgan has helped to shape modern Australian wine in ways that will resonate for generations to come.

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