Until his death, we were the only two people who had attended every Single Bottle Club Dinner, simply because we were the two architects of it, and jointly decided the date it would be held each year (twice a year for a brief spell in the 1980s).
It is a matter of public record that he was the greatest and most effective supporter of the Australian wine industry throughout his life, an OBE and AO small recognition of the extent of that contribution. His Bulletin Place wine shop and restaurants, his creation of the Rothbury Estate and, later, of Tower Estate and Tower Lodge, and his contribution to the Australian wine show system, were but some of his achievements. He raised large amounts at charity dinners, able to shame or outwit those who he thought should be bidding for lots at auctions.
But his strongest belief was that Australian winemakers – and, in the case of large producers, their corporate bosses – were too complacent. He was the driving force that led to the 30-year vision in 1995, articulating a path towards a $4.5 billion industry. It had its supporters, but also its critics – who were silenced when the vision was realised in 2001, 24 years early.
I know with absolute certainty that he believed his greatest achievement was the establishment of the Len Evans Tutorial. Its aims were simply: to select 12 men and women each year who, over five days, would be exposed to the great wines of Australia and the world; whose complacency would be shattered, or, at least, seriously challenged; and to find which of the 12 had the superior palate and the most rounded understanding of what it is that makes great wines great.
Iain Riggs AM
Iain stepped back from day to day involvement at Brokenwood in mid-2020 after 38 years at the helm. Iain had taken Brokenwood from a small ‘hobby’ winery into the national and international arena, developing Brokenwood’s committment to a program of regional blending from 1978 in an attempt to even out some of the more difficult Hunter Valley vintages as well as continuing a long held tradition in Australian winemaking. Iain remains a Director, consultant and part owner.
Over a 35-year period of wine show involvement, Iain has been Chair of Clare Valley, Margaret River, McLaren Vale and Cowra Wine Shows, as well as judging in New Zealand and the USA. Not to mention Chairman of the Hunter Valley Wine Show for 10 years, having taken over from Len Evans in 2002.
His strong interest in ‘improving the breed’ comes from the many years working with Len Evans at Australian wine shows, so it was no surprise that Riggs became the Chair of Trustees for the Len Evans Tutorial after Evans death in 2006. Brokenwood has been a financial supporter of the LET since the first tutorial 2001 and Riggs has worked alongside Evans, Halliday, Croser and McKenzie in fine tuning such a one of a kind wine school. In 2018 Iain was named as a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in recognition of his significant service to oenology as a Winemaker, to the development of the Australian wine industry, and to the promotion of the Hunter Valley region.
In 1983 Ian joined Seppelt as their Chief Winemaker and Victorian Regional Manager based at the company’s Great Western winery. Following the formation of Southcorp Wines, of which Seppelt was a key brand, he was appointed Southcorp Wines Chief Winemaker in 1991, a position he held until his retirement in April 2001 after which he established a small consulting company. Significant projects completed under his direction were the development of Seppelt Salinger (one of Australia’s most highly regarded sparkling wines) and Penfolds Yattarna (Australia’s most sought after chardonnay)
Currently regarded by many as Australia’s most senior wine judge he has been show judging since the mid 1970s and has been Chairman of Judges for the Canberra National, Adelaide, Perth, ACT, Barossa, Clare Valley, McLaren Vale, Mt. Barker, Hunter Valley, Riverland, Victorian Wines, Ballarat and Lilydale wine shows.
He has been a Tutor at the annual Len Evans Tutorial since its inception in 2001.
From the late 1980s until mid 2004 he was a consultant to QANTAS Airways as a member of their wine selection panel. He has been a Director of The Wine Society since 2004.
Since his retirement from a full time position with Southcorp Wines he has been retained as a Consultant in a number of capacities by various winemakers in Australia, Chile and South Africa.
Michael Hill Smith AM MW
In 1988 Michael Hill Smith became the first Australian to pass the rigorous Master of Wine examination. Michael is a wine producer, international wine judge, wine consultant, and occasional wine writer. He is also a relentless advocate for fine Australian wine via on-going Master Classes and Workshops both within Australia and internationally. In 2008 he was awarded an Order of Australia (AM) for his contribution to the Australian Wine Industry. Featured in Decanter Magazine’s International Power List 2009, 2011 and 2013.
Michael’s involvement in the Australian Wine Industry is significant: Australian Regional Chairman Decanter World Wine Awards, Mentor Judge Decanter Asian Wine Awards, past Chairman Royal Adelaide Wine Show (2001-2005), plus extensive tasting experience at other Australian and International Wine Shows since 1980.
Michael also has the privilege of being the Foundation Trustee and Judge of Dan Pontifex Memorial Scholarship, established in 1998 enabling young wine and food professionals to travel to the UK and vice versa to further their studies.
Shaw and Smith – In 1989 Shaw and Smith was formed with his cousin Martin Shaw and specializes in regional Adelaide Hills wine styles. They were listed in Wine and Spirits Magazine (USA) Top 100 Wineries 2005. Michael was Nominee Winemaker of the Year Gourmet Traveller Wine Magazine 2006. Shaw & Smith have been listed in Bettane and Desseauve – The World’s Greatest Wines, and Neil Beckett’s 1001 Wines You must try before you Die. Shaw & Smith bought the highly rated Tolpuddle Vineyard in Tasmania In 2011.
Sarah Crowe is the Winemaker & General Manager at Yarra Yering in Victoria. After studying and working in Horticulture Sarah began her wine career with vineyard work in the Hunter Valley and within three years, she had become an Assistant Winemaker. Building on her experience Sarah completed International harvests in both Oregon and the Rhone Valley and was named Rising Star at the Hunter Valley Legends Awards in 2009.
After 12 years in the Hunter Valley a move to the Yarra Valley in 2013 and to the iconic Yarra Yering vineyard has seen Sarah named James Halliday’s Winemaker of the Year 2017 and Gourmet Traveler Winemaker of the Year finalist 2019. A participant of the Future Leaders of the Australian Wine Industry program, Sarah is a current board member of Wine Yarra Valley.
Sarah became a committed wine show judge after completing the Australian Wine Research Institute’s Advance Wine Assessment Course and she has since seen many regional and capital city wine shows. A Len Evans Tutorial Scholar in 2010, Sarah accepted the role of Chair of Judges at the Hunter Valley Wine Show in 2018 and has since expanded to Chair of Judges for Gippsland Wine Show and Adelaide Hills Wine Show.
Gary Steel is one of Australia’s leading authorities on French wines. He has been involved in the wine industry for over 35 years, not only through importing French wines which are his passion, but he has built an impressive network and portfolio of domestic wines with his company, Domaine Wine Shippers. The company was created in 1977 by Gary and Yvonne Steel and was born out of a love for wine and the history of wine making. At the time Gary was also an Airline Captain with Ansett Airlines, until 1989 when the Pilot’s Dispute ended his successful 18 year career. Gary then decided to refocus his career on the wine industry and make it his full time vocation.
In the early 70’s when Gary was still training to become a pilot, he would, to further his knowledge of the wine making process and for his own enjoyment, visit the various vineyards in the Hunter Valley on the weekends. Through the associations he made in the Hunter, he met and became close personal friends with Len Evans, the most awarded figure in the Australian wine industry. Gary’s friendship with Len endured until his passing in 2006. Gary has been involved in the Lens Evans Tutorial since its inception in 2001 and has continued as a lecturer on Burgundy every year since.
Always approachable for an opinion and always willing to share his stories, whether it be from the lectern or over a glass, Gary’s true passion for wine will keep him firmly entrenched within the industry for many years to come.
Vanya Cullen has been winemaking at her family’s Wilyabrup estate since 1983. She was appointed to Chief Winemaker in 1989 and Managing Director in 1999. During that time she has been rigorously experimenting in the vineyard (especially with soil and trellis management) and in the winery all the while looking to give her wines greater complexity. Her palate has been honed by judging throughout Australia and overseas, and by her continuous pursuit of a thorough knowledge of the wines of the world.
“Winemaking is now in the hands of Vanya Cullen, daughter of the founders; she is possessed of an extraordinarily good palate….” – James Halliday
Over the past decade, Vanya has transformed her family firm from one of Margaret River’s best into one of the country’s premium boutique wineries. Cullen Wines while remaining family owned has since evolved making quality wine from a certified Biodynamic, Carbon Negative and naturally powered estate. Exemplary viticulture lies at the heart of her success but so, too, do care and thorough attention to detail in the winery.
Vanya Cullen was the winner of the 2000 Qantas/The Wine Magazine Winemaker of the year. She was the third recipient of this prize, the first Western Australian and the first woman to win the award. Vanya has judged at wine shows in every major city in Australia. In 2008, she was awarded the UK Drinks Business Magazine “Woman of the Year 2008” and in 2011 the “Green Personality of the Year” for her commitment to the wine industry and for demonstrating that you can operate a successful business while looking after the environment. In 2015 Vanya was inducted into the Australian Businesswomen’s Hall of Fame which honours and celebrates Australian female business owners who have been exemplary in their industries, are trailblazers and demonstrate inspiring and aspiring business journeys.
In 2019 Vanya was named the Australian Women in Wine Winemaker of the Year, received the ACO Chairman’s Award for her contribution towards organics in Australia. and in Halliday’s Wine Companion she was awarded for the best wine in the Cabernet and Family category with the 2017 Diana Madeline, as well as being named Halliday’s Winemaker of the Year; Australia’s most prestigious wine award. 2018 marked Vanya’s 35th year of winemaking at Cullen Wines, and 2019 was Vanya’s 30th anniversary of becoming Chief Winemaker at Cullen Wines.
Tyson Stelzer is a multi-award winning wine writer, television host and producer, author of 16 wine books, international keynote speaker, wine show chairman and judge and Chief Editor of the Halliday Wine Companion.
He was named The International Wine & Spirit Communicator of the Year 2015, The Australian Wine Communicator of the Year 2015 and 2013 and The International Champagne Writer of the Year 2011.
A highly experienced and respected winemaker, Samantha Connew launched her Tasmanian solo project Stargazer in 2013. Prior to establishing this and her consulting company, Compass Wine Consulting, she was employed working in research, development and extension for the Australian Wine Research Institute as Manager of the Hunter Valley Node. Before this she was the Winemaker/Manager of Boutique Hunter Valley winery Tower Estate, after working in McLaren Vale for ten years as the Senior Winemaker at Wirra Wirra Vineyards.
Amongst her many achievements, in 2007 she was awarded “International Red Winemaker of the Year” at the prestigious International Wine Challenge in London, and in 2008 she was a South Australian finalist in the Telstra Business Women’s Award. She has served on the board of several regional associations and was a board member of the Australian Women in Wine Awards. She is currently a director of the Wine Tasmania Board.
She is a highly respected wine show judge and has chaired many regional and capital city wine shows, having completed both the AWRI’s Advanced Wine Assessment Course and the Len Evans Tutorial, where she continues her involvement as a tutor. In 2014 she was appointed Chair of Judges at the Sydney Royal Wine Show, the first female and the youngest judge in that position.
In 2016 she acquired a small vineyard and olive grove in the Coal River Valley north east of Hobart, which she expanded by an additional two hectares in 2017. Under her stewardship, this vineyard was awarded “Tasmanian Vineyard of the Year” in May 2019.
Matt is the winemaker at Curly Flat Vineyard, in the Macedon Ranges, Victoria. He attended the LET in 2003. Since then, he has judged at many regional and capital city wine shows and is the current chair of judges (2018-2021) at the Royal Melbourne Wine Awards.
He lives on a small farm in the Macedon Ranges with his family, and grows Chardonnay for his own small label Silent Way.
A veteran of 29 Yarra Valley vintages plus harvest winemaking stints in Burgundy, Alsace and Beaujolais, David Bicknell has been the chief winemaker of Oakridge Wines since 2002.
He is a Gourmet Traveller Winemaker of the Year Winner (2017), a past Dux of the Len Evans Tutorial (2005) and co-founder of the Victorian Pinot Noir Workshop (2002). He is a respected senior wine show judge, which has included tenures as the Chair of Judges at the Royal Melbourne Wine Awards and the Royal Queensland Wine Show plus many smaller regional wine shows. He is the current Chief Judge at the National Wine Show of Australia. In his spare time, he grows grapes for his own family label, Applecross and absorbs as much football of all codes as he can take
With nearly 30 years of winemaking experience across Australia, Jim Chatto is one of the countries most respected winemakers. Jim produces his own eponymous label Chatto, with his wife Daisy – where they craft Pinot Noir from their own vineyard in Tasmania’s Huon Valley. Jim was the Group Winemaker at McWilliams’s Wines (2013-2021), overseeing all winemaking for the company. In 2009 Jim was named ‘Hunter Valley Winemaker of the Year’, and in 2019 was named ‘Gourmet Traveller Winemaker of the Year’. A Len Evans Tutorial Scholar, and senior wine show judge with over 23 years of judging experience across both regional and capital city wine shows, including Chair of Judges at the National Wine Show of Australia (2014-2017) Hunter Valley Wine Show (2012-2014) McLaren Vale Wine show (2014-2016) and the Royal Queensland Wine Show (2019 – present)