Bruce and Jeanette Tomlinson established Lenton Brae Estate in 1982, the site of the vineyard being chosen after a chance conversation with Bill Pannell, owner of neighbouring Moss Wood
The Lenton Brae vineyard is in the Wilyabrup sub-region. Wilyabrup was the site chosen for the first vine plantings in 1967 and is acknowledged as the epicenter for superior Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon. The white varieties of Chardonnay, Semillon and Sauvignon also perform well. The best soils in Wilyabrup (and Lenton Brae) are a gravelly loam of a depth 500 – 800mm over a clay base. The varieties selected for planting were Chardonnay, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Pinot Noir was also originally planted but has since been removed to increase the acreage of the preferred Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The name Lenton Brae comes from the chapel district of Lenton in Nottingham, England. It is from here that the first Tomlinson’s migrated to Australia in 1882. Brae is a Scottish term for a small hill, which is what the Wilyabrup vineyard is situated on.
Bill Pannell had engaged Bruce Tomlinson to assist with the shire of Busselton’s planning requirements for dividing the Moss Wood property. During a casual chat between the two men, Bill mentioned that the soils of one of the newly created properties were uniformly excellent and equal to those of the existing Moss Wood vineyard. Impressed by this information Bruce decided to purchase the property and try his hand at viticulture. Following the purchase Bruce appointed Bill Jamieson, the retired Head of Viticulture at the Western Australian Department of Agriculture as a consultant. Ten hectares of vineyard were planted in the spring of 1983.
The winery was built in 1988 and the first vintage in the new building was in 1989. Bruce designed and built the winery, which incorporates the cellar sales gallery that has sweeping views across the Wilyabrup valley. The building has since been heritage listed by the shire of Busselton.
In 1987, the first commercial crop was harvested, with the wines being vinified at another local winery. The first release was the 1987 Semillon Sauvignon Blanc. The first Cabernet Sauvignon was from the 1988 vintage. This wine won two trophies at the 1990 SGIO W.A winemakers’ exhibition, including best wine of show. Further success followed in 1992, with the Chardonnay winning gold and three trophies at the 1992 Perth Royal Wine Show.
The gravelly loam facilitates water drainage whilst not supporting excessive vigour. The clay base retains moisture and encourages root penetration. The estate vineyard comprises some nine hectares. Approximately 60% of planting is to the white grapes with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot making up the balance. Some sections have been replanted since to introduce new clones and healthier stock.
Currently there are four different clones of Chardonnay in production and new clones of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are planned. It is envisaged new plantings will be on grafted rootstock to give greater uniformity and vine efficiency in its uptake of water and nutrients. The rainfall is winter dominant, with approximately 80% falling between April and September. The prevailing dry conditions during the final fruit ripening in early autumn allow for low humidity and disease pressures. All vines have access to drip irrigation. Experience has demonstrated that irrigation improves vine health and that healthy vines produce the highest quality grapes.
Water is collected in two dams during winter and is judiciously applied from January until harvest in March and April. Soil moisture levels are regularly measured thought the season, with the scheduling of the irrigation adjusted accordingly. Yields are typically low and average approximately 5 tonnes per Ha for Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon and 6-8 tonnes per Ha for Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Bordered on three sides by the Indian and Southern oceans, its maritime climate and avoids both summer and winter temperature extremes.