The Hunter Valley: interview with the late Len Evans
Len Evans, who died in 2006 aged 76, was one of Australia's greatest wine ambassadors. A vineyard owner for 27 years, he was the author of the first reference book on Australian wine, and brought panache to Australia's wine world. He came to Australia from England, via New Zealand, in 1955 and within 20 years had created the Australian Wine Bureaus and set the standard for wine drinkers.
He was a co-owner of Rothbury Estate wines in New South Wales, of the Petaluma winery in South Australia, and in the mid 1990s started Tower Estate Wines in the Lower Hunter Valley.
This interview, from the Winepros Archive, was conducted in 2001.
How has the region changed in the time between establishing Rothbury and Tower?
LEN EVANS: That's a thirty-year span. Max Lake started the renaissance in the early and mid 60's with the building of Lakes Folly. Rothbury, Hungerford Hill and Hermitage followed a few years later. Since then expansion has been huge - wineries, restaurants, accommodation, the garden project, Cypress and now other golf courses, the tourist infrastructure. It's still moving ahead at a cracking pace.
What have been the best developments in the region over the years, in terms of wine producing and wine tourism?
That's difficult to answer, because it's so subjective. There was a skydiving operation here that was highly popular among skydivers. Unfortunately the plane made such a noise with quick climbing and descent it offended hundreds of people who came to the valley for peace and quiet. Many golfers don't bother to go wine-tasting; thousands of wine-lovers don't play golf here, and so on.
Personally, I love the variety and quality of food available, the surprising amount of cultural activity that's here and the ability to get anywhere in a matter of minutes (and then to have no parking problems) And Sydney is only 2 hours away if you need it.
Which are the most promising of the newest wineries and why?
Now you will get me into trouble. Brokenwood have proved in the last 30 years, that one doesn't have to pander to the visitors who don't understand regional wine qualities and yet have money to spend. There's always the danger of becoming a plonk bottle shop and many individuals have had great commercial success by doing just that. Brokenwood stuck to their quality guns and have been tremendously successful.
Among the newer people Margan, Gleguin, Meerea Park, Warraroong, Wandin Valley seem to be keen to follow that path. McGuigan is making some good wine at their top. However, Mount Pleasant and Tyrrell's still dominate among the Gold's and Trophies at the Hunter Show.
What are your thoughts on the future of the valley?
I'm in awe of the changes that have taken place in the wine industry during the past 30 years. Last month , in one month, we exported four times the total exports of 1985. Only 16 years ago! We've come from 19th to 10th in world production, will be in the top six by 2025,and could be in the top three or four by 2050.
I never thought I would see a $300 bottle of Australian red or $100 bottle of Chardonnay. I never thought we would overtake Italy in volume of exports to the UK, let alone overtake France, which could happen soon. Yet I have been part of all of this as a prophet, enthusiast and optimist.
All of which means I don't know how far the Hunter will go. It's a lung to Sydney and it must become more of a playground to Sydney. It could become the golf destination of NSW. The common title availability, which has become available to developers means there will be a lot more housing in the district and if this is to the detriment of the vineyards it could ruin the area as a wine destination. Already there are rules affecting vineyards that have been imposed upon them in spite of the fact that they were there before the residents who now complain. It's a beautiful area and there's still lots of land so if everything that's being developed was done with the environment in mind instead of the quick buck then I'm for development. The great wine areas of France and the USA are full of visitors yet they retain their integrity. We have to do the same.
- Lower Hunter (NSW)
- Hunter including Newcastle (NSW)
- Hunter Valley (NSW)
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