Information about work, life and play in Regional Australia

Monday, August 28, 2006

Australian Wine - Len Evans Dies

In my post on Regional Australia & wine I provided an overview history of Australian wine, noting that while the Australian wine industry was a long-standing one, wine drinking was very much a minority drink outside certain areas.

Growing up in Armidale I did not realise this. My parents drank wine, the Hunter Valley Vineyards were not far away, the main local hotel had a good cellar. So when I started drinking wine I rapidly acquired a taste for the big full bodied Hunter reds.

I mention all this because Len Evans, the man who did so much to both popularise wine drinking and drive up wine standards in this country has just died aged.

I did not know Len Evans. The material that follows is drawn from Tony Stephens' very well written obituary (see link) in the Sydney Morning Herald with some supplementary comments drawn from my own experience.

Len Evans was born in England, migrating in 1953 to New Zealand. Arriving in Australia in 1955, he worked on the dingo fence in outback Queensland, did some welding, and washed glasses in a pub at Circular Quay. He wrote TV scripts, including for The Mavis Bramston Show

Evans's introduction to the wine trade was at the Chevron Hotel in Kings Cross. This hotel built by property developer Stanley Korman and opened in 1960 was a mark of modernity in Sydney.

Australia was then breaking out of the remaining austerity - intellectual as well as material - from the War and the Fifties. The Chevron was a symbol of this, and thousands drove past it upon its opening. The Korman Empire fell in the crash of 1961, leaving the Chevron's planned second wing a long standing hole in the ground.

Len began writing wine articles from 1962, becoming the first regular wine columnist in Australia, with articles published from 1962. He was founding director of the Australian Wine Bureau in 1965 and later wrote the first encyclopedia of Australian wine in 1973.

In 1969 he set up Len Evans Wines in Bulletin Place, Sydney, a wine shop and restaurant that made him a legend in his own lunchtime. Tony Stephens quotes him as saying in 1995 "Life will never be the same fun as the '70s in Sydney,"

This was the period of the four bottle lunch, a period I remember well and fondly, long lunches where the standard was jokingly described in terms of the number of bottle of wines consumed.

Also in 1969, Len launched with others the Rothbury Estate winery and vineyard in the Hunter Valley. Backed by Peter Fox, Len's dream was the creation of an Australian based international wine empire. However, the dream died when Fox was killed when his Ferrari ran off the road in 1981 and his company, Adelaide Holdings, went into receivership.

Evans's dream, was over, but he still had his belief in developing fine regional wines. He chaired the judges of the Sydney Wine Show (1979-2000) and National Wine Show (1983-1990) and judged in France. He continued to encourage younger figures in the Australian wine world, including Brian Croser and James Halliday.

He set up Tower Lodge, along with Tower Estate winery as an upmarket boutique winery and hotel in the Hunter Valley.

Tony Stephens' concludes: A death notice in Saturday's Herald advised: "Len Evans would like to inform his friends that his long and joyous life has come to an end … He hopes they will attend the Tower Estate Winery … on September 16 to give him a bloody good send off."

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