“At 71, I had time on my hands. I rang a few friends, to see if they would support a non-profit organisation. The idea was to seek out, each year, twelve gifted palates who could be further trained as show judges. There was to be no distinction between genders, no limit to age as long as trainees would have a useful show life ahead of them, no allocation to states and no preference given to candidates of the sponsors. Obviously we needed sponsors, to accommodate and feed the selected scholars, to pay for the judges’ expense (in the event some never claimed them) and to buy the wines necessary. We needed at least $60,000 and thought this could come from 12 friends in the industry – about $5,000 each.
Amazingly, this was obtained in one morning. A typical phone call – ‘We’re starting a non-profit organisation in an attempt to improve and develop the quality of show judging. I would like you to be a sponsor. Its $5,000 per year’. There was only one refusal – the Wine Federation of Australia. I thought it proper it should be seen to be helping a scheme that could only be in its interests. After initial enthusiasm, it cancelled on the basis that it might establish a precedent. Typical blinded bureaucracy, and you can imagine our scorn.
The original twelve sponsors, many of whom remain to this day, were:
- Amorim Cork Australia Pty Ltd, Dandenong South, Victoria
- Brokenwood Wines, Hunter Valley, New South Wales
- McGuigan Wines, Hunter Valley, New South Wales
- Petaluma, Crafers, South Australia
- Shaw and Smith Pty Ltd, Balhannah, South Australia
- Vintage Cellars, Silverwater, New South Wales
- Tyrrells Vineyards, Hunter Valley, New South Wales
- Leeuwin Estate, Fremantle, Western Australia
- McWilliams Wines, Hunter Valley, New South Wales
- Lehmann Wines, Tanunda, South Australia
- Tahbilk Pty Ltd, Nagambie, Victoria
- Yalumba Wine Company, Angaston, South Australia
After a couple of years, it was obvious we could not run the event without further funds. Our guardian angel was Basil Sellers, an old friend and a partner in Tower Estate, who had wanted to establish a Len Evans Memorial Scholarship. As I have said elsewhere, I thought this rather premature and when he examined the results of the first two tutorials he injected funds for the following ten years; a superb gesture.
The scholarships are awarded after a considerable search and quality program. Wine-makers, sommeliers, industry sales personnel, wine-writers and educators are obvious candidates, though amateurs may be included if they have started to ascend the judging ladder. One for example, Dr Ken Dobler, a very keen and knowledgeable wine lover, started at the Hunter Show as a trainee before becoming an associate and finally a judge. He obtained a scholarship, performed well, was recommended to show committees and has now judged in Sydney and at the National Show.
The scholars each ‘labelled’ with a sponsors name, have a gruelling four-and-a-half day program. In the mornings they judge only 30 wines (Chardonnay, Shiraz, Pinot Noir and Cabernet on various days). The wines represent the best from all over the world. The Pinots, for example, will come from Australia, France, the USA, New Zealand and anywhere else we might find and outstanding example. The French wines from Burgundy will contain DRC’s, de Vogüé and Leroy wines for example, the greatest vintages. All wines are masked. They are judged by the experienced panel, comprising James Halliday, Brian Croser, Iain Riggs, Ian McKenzie – all of whom are, or have been, ‘multi’- chairmen- Geoffrey Grosset, Gary Steel and myself – while the scholars do the same. The panel generally finishes first, collates its points and then every scholar has to justify his or her points per wine. Some lively discussions ensue, and that is why it takes three hours to do 30 wines. In the afternoon there are masterclasses and in the evenings each dinner has brackets of great wine served masked with emphasis on identification of quality rather than that of area and label. The week concludes with a tasting of the range of wines from Domaine de la Romanée Conti.
Quite simply, the idea is to further develop the wine-judging skills of the scholars, and by showing them the greatest wines in the world, encourage them to aspire to the development and support of such greatness in Australia. People overseas may not realise that we tend to keep our best wines to ourselves, especially those of small makers. We need to have a much greater culture of site, varietal and clonal selection to do better than we are.
The tutorial has exceeded whatever success we may have anticipated. Last year over 130 placements were made by scholars. In 2001, almost 50 per cent of judges and associates of the three major shows, Canberra, Sydney and Adelaide were tutorial scholars. In Sydney, five of the twelve judges and all of the twelve associates were scholars. Brian Croser called it ‘the bright new face of judging in Australia’.
What is most pleasing to me is the discovery of such a well of talent, obsession, knowledge, thirst (for more knowledge) and passion for quality. At the first tutorial I said, rather patronisingly, ‘Though we expect to teach you, I’m sure we will learn a great deal from you’.
How prophetic my words were. How good most of them are. If these people represent the future of the industry, then Australia will develop even further as a great wine nation”.
Len Evans, 2006
From “Not My Memoirs” pub. 2012