The item below is reprinted from the Spring 2003 Overseas Bag. This was paraphrased from an article in the Canberra Sunday Times dated July 27, 2002 covering the life and times of Len Evans and entitled “Thank Evans”:
“Last year Len Evans drank a cheeky little red, a double magnum of 1865 Chateau Lafite Rothschild which cost $78,000. It was the most expensive bottle of wine he’d ever drunk from. Why did he open it? ”Well, because I wanted to drink it,” he says.
Ask a silly question . . .What Evans means is that he needed no special occasion to drink the wine other than for the sheer delight of tasting some very special French wine. Evans is not Australia’s best-known bon vivant for nothing.
Evans, the grand old man of the Australian wine industry, turns 72 next month. He seems to have always been aged somewhere in his 50s, the shock of white hair, the ruddy complexion, the chubby-cheeked smile never changing from year to year. ”I still have the old twinkle in the eye,”
Born in England to Welsh parents, Len Evans has been an unlikely champion of Australian wine for more than 40 years. He’s made it, sold it, talked and written about it, judged it, flogged it to as many countries as he can and drunk as much of the good stuff as possible. He’ll occasionally drink a cold beer on a hot day, but won’t touch spirits. ”I can’t do everything,” he says. Evans’s personal cellar has about 3000 bottles in it.
The best wine he’s ever tasted? ”No such thing. There have been great moments. When I opened a bottle of 1646 tokay I cried.”
Evans started promoting Australian wine exports in 1967 and ”for 20 years it was like banging your head against a total wall of indifference”. He has since seen annual wine consumption in Australia grow from two bottles a person in the 1960s to about 24 bottles a person today.
The industry has rewarded Evans with accolades such as the British Decanter magazine’s International Man of the Year. He was the first Australian invited to address the prestigious Wine Spectator Wine Experience in New York. He’s broken down barriers by being the only non-French person asked to judge major wine shows in France. He believes France is still the leading nation in winemaking.
He retired from wine-show judging this month after sipping wine from an estimated 150,000 glasses over four decades. ”I think it was time for other people to make a contribution, to put a different light on it.”
”People take it all too seriously sometimes. Wine is just a bloody drink. It’s just a juice made from grapes that’s all it is.”. ”Yes, that’s absolutely my attitude to wine, from an enjoyment a point of view,” he says. ”But someone also once said to me, ‘You don’t take wine very seriously.’ My answer to that is, ‘I take it enormously seriously until it’s in the glass.’ By that I mean the making of it, the care of it. I take winemaking very seriously. I take wine judging very seriously.”
Yet people still get wildly excited about this ”juice from grapes”. ”I think it’s the wonderful romance of it,” Evans says. “The fact that there are so many shades and nuances of flavour. And it’s one of the few foodstuffs in the world that you shove in a container and it changes character in the container for the better. You can’t imagine having a cellar of baked beans, can you?”
Evans reckons he was 15 when he tasted his first wine, a bottle of Chateau d’Yquem, which he had stolen from his father, Robert, a rigger in the air force. ”I had it under my bed for months. I drank it so slowly, it developed a scum on the top.”
The young Evans tried his hand at playing golf professionally, but when he found he wasn’t good enough, set off to ”bum my way around the world” and ended up in Australia. He did jobs ranging from working on a dingo fence in Queensland to being a writer for the Mavis Bramston Show in 1958.
”I came down to Sydney to write and while I was reasonably successful, the pay was so dreadful, and my hotel career just took off like a rocket,” he says.
Starting as a bottle washer at the Old Ship Hotel at Circular Quay, Evans joined the Chevron Hilton in 1960 and worked his way up to become food and beverage manager. He left four years later to establish a wine-merchant business. By 1968, he had formed the Evans Luncheon Club at Bulletin Place, where he hosted legendary long lunches while expounding on the wines the guests were drinking. The same year he also established the Rothbury Estate vineyard in Pokolbin.
Evans Wine Company still operates. Evans is chairman and his son Toby is a manager. His daughter Sally is managing director of the wine Internet site Winepros. His other daughter, Jodie, helps run the Blaxlands restaurant in Pokolbin. Evans met his wife Patricia at Mt Isa during his travels around Australia. She was also English, the daughter of a miner. They’ve been together 43 years. ”Well, she was a pretty girl,” he said.
It doesn’t take a long time with Evans to understand his love of absurd humour. He has a bit of The Goon Show about him. As well as collecting wine, his favourite hobby is to collect books ”for their title alone”. He has hundreds of the unintentionally humorous titles.
”My attitude to life is that I’m absolutely scared stiff of dying. I don’t want to go yet. I’ve got plenty more to do. And life is for living. Someone said to me I should be happy to die soon because I’ve crammed three lives into one, but I’d like to get another in please.”