Meet the Maker,
Ashley Lewkowski of Lost Lake Wines
It was devotion to one type of grape that led winemaker Ashley Lewkowski back to the Southern Forests, a region where he and his wife Tia had farmed a small holding back in the 1990s. “Pinot is my passion,” Ashley says. “And this is one of the best – and only – places in the state where you can grow it.”
So in 2014 he and his wife Tia, and their children Isabelle, Chloe and Isaac, took up the custodianship of Lost Lake Wines, a 20-hectare property oriented around a pretty lake. It had been planted with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes back in the late 1980s, making it home to some of the oldest vines in the region. With Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon rounding out the 8 hectares under vine, Ashley found himself with plenty of raw material to apply his artisanal winemaking skills to.
These had been honed, after a stints studying environmental science and then viticulture and winemaking, during more than 20 years in the wine industry. Ashley’s career had taken him all over Australia, particularly for his role as winemaker for Lion Nathan which saw him making the “classics” – Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc Semillon, Shiraz, Champagne – for labels such as Chandon and Petaluma. But Pinot, he says, is “next level”.
“You can’t hide anything in a Pinot, you’ve got to have everything right – soil, climate, vineyard, personality – and then you have to hand work it. But you certainly get the rewards if you get it right.”
The wines Ashley produces are all 100% estate, or, in other words, made completely from grapes grown and processed onsite, a rarity these days. But this attention to detail and sheer hard work has paid off; Lost Lake wines have been hung with gold from numerous national and international associations, including the Shanghai Wine Awards and the China Wine and Spirits Awards. The fruit-driven, masculine Pinot Noir is still Ashley’s favourite; Tia’s picks are the Pinot Rosé and lightly oaked Chardonnay. The label’s Pemberton Red blend and Sauvignon Blanc Semillon are also very popular with customers, while the Honey Merlot consistently sells out each year.
“For me, it’s all about preserving the character of the grapes from my vineyard in my wines and expressing the site, having fun, and being a little creative at the same time,” says Ashley of his approach to winemaking. Luckily Pemberton is blessed with a unique set of characteristics that make creating in this style a rewarding experience.
“Here we can make cool-climate wines in one of the most pristine, fertile and isolated locations on earth,” Ashley says. “Because of our proximity to the Southern Ocean, there’s a bit of an evening continental effect – things stay nice and cool during the day, yet in the evenings the grapes are rapidly cooled. This allows good tannin development and retention of acid – something that’s quite unique in Western Australia. And our summer rainfall means our vines don’t need to be irrigated, so they can grow naturally.”
He’s also recently begun making ciders, a side project that kicked off after a neighbor dropped a surplus bin of pink lady apples a few years back at his cellar door. When this first batch sold out quickly and Ashley began fielding requests for more, he decided to keep at it. Now they produce four different varieties, including a rich, tangy version made from the Bravo, a dark-skinned apple which was invented locally.
Ash is also passionate about promoting the local region and increasing business opportunities for its wine producers. He’s the president of the Southern Forests Wine Regions association, and sits on the boards of a number of other organisations, such as Wines of Western Australia and the newly formed Southern Forests and Valleys tourism association.
With its top-notch food and wine industry, friendly community and jaw-dropping beautiful natural spaces – think ancient towering forests, untouched coastline and quaint townships – it’s an area that deserves to get a little more attention, Ashley believes.
“When you stop at these vineyards or farms in the Southern Forests, they are family owned and operated, which is quite unique,” he says. “And with the amount of produce that comes from here – from avocadoes to finger limes, to good wines and truffles; we’re very fortunate. What could be better than a dinner with fresh truffles and a glass of Pinot in-front of an open fire, while you listen to the rain falling in the forest?”
And while he says that nearby Margaret River “deservedly has a massive reputation as a destination and wine region,” the Southern Forests does offer something a little bit different. “We’re a bit more down to earth here. There’s also not the hustle and bustle; you can get away and escape, which is nice.”
The strong sense of community was one of the big reasons why Ashley and Tia were attracted back to the area. “We’re really supportive of each other, we all share knowledge and help each other out. There are no closed doors.”
Ashley enjoys keeping his own cellar doors open and introducing his love of wine and his home region with those who walk through. “When you drink a glass of wine it should give you a sense of place,” he says. “And it’s supposed to be shared and enjoyed!”