|Len Evans, AO OBE, one of the best known and much loved characters of the Australian wine industry, has passed away at the age of 75.
Mr Evans died suddenly on Thursday the 17th August 2006 of a suspected heart attack at Newcastle, New South Wales.
He had suffered from heart problems in recent years but continued to live and enjoy life in his typically passionate way.
Len Evans has been described in so many different ways through his involvement in the Australian wine industry – as a pioneer, visionary, statesman, as an impeccable wine connoisseur, wine writer, bon vivant, legend of the long lunch, wine icon, internationally renown wine judge, chairman and director, winemaker and raconteur and so on – all true and valid descriptions.
Mr Evans is also acknowledged as being almost singularly responsible for placing Australia’s wine industry onto the international arena. He did this through another of his most important wine related achievements by way of the leadership and ambassadorial role that he played in guiding the Australian wine industry away from beer and fortified wines in the 1960s towards the style of premium table wine we currently enjoy today.
All of these achievements were derived from relatively humble beginnings that saw the Welsh born Len Evans coming from England to New Zealand then finally Australia in 1955. Indeed when he arrived here, he held a variety of occupations from welder, dingo fencer through to working in television as a screen writer before turning to the world of wine.
Mr Evans’ entrance into wine was through a position he gained as assistant beverage manager at Sydney’s then famous Chevron Hotel in 1960. He later went on to become one of Australia’s first regular wine writers in 1962 for The Bulletin magazine. He also was the founding director of the Australian Wine Bureau in 1965, a role he pursued with vigour, gaining much success in leading the Australian wine industry and public towards the consumption of table wine.
In 1968, Mr Evans established Rothbury Estate in the Hunter Valley, and then formed the Petaluma winery with Brian Croser, later founding the Evans Wine Company in 1996 and then his most recent ventures, Tower Estate and Lodge in 1998. Mr Evans also wrote the first encyclopedia on Australian wine in 1973 and was an internationally acclaimed, respected and competent wine judge for over 40 years.
The international wine community has been saddened and shocked by Mr Evans sudden death. Everyone seemingly has a “Len Evans” story to share and tell and invariably they all involve common threads of much laughter, happiness, good company, fine food and outstanding wine. Indeed the persona of Len Evans epitomised all that is good about Australian wine and life in general.
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of his company at the Tower Estate Chairman’s Lunch in the Hunter Valley, where despite recent heart surgery, he was in fine form. I especially recall him being introduced to speak to the audience. He was sitting there next to my wife and I remember the expression on his face, wincing, as all the praise and accolades were being bestowed upon him. What impressed me was the humility of the man, in spite of the all he had achieved. Indeed he then got up and worked the room beautifully with his wit and charisma, his masterful conduct of the wine options game and his imparting of his limitless knowledge about wine.
The other thing that impressed upon me was the generous manner in which he gave credit and recognition to the young, smart and capable people who worked for him at Tower Estate. I couldn’t help but thinking what a legacy he would one day be leaving through this future generation of wine folk along with the fruits of his mentoring in the Len Evans Tutorial program.
Upon news of his death, wine industry leaders were immediate in their lauding of Len Evan’s achievements and his contribution to Australian wine. Sam Tolley, CEO of the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation said: “Len’s passing robs Australia of one of its greatest characters, whose enormous influence as a wine writer, show judge, maker and advocate leaves an extraordinary legacy.” Stephen Strachan, CEO of the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia said: “He was a pioneer in the development and promotion of modern table wines, setting the industry up to grow from a specialist producer of fortified wines to a leading producer of wines for all occasions.” He went on further to lament, “We have lost a true champion of the Australian wine industry.”
In 1982, Mr Evans was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his services to the wine industry and his extensive involvement in the community through his work with charities. Then in 1999, he was also made an Officer of the Order of Australia (A0).
Len Evans is survived by his wife, Patricia and two daughters, Sally and Jodie and a son, Toby.
Paul Ippolito is a Sydney wine writer.