simon_black_winemaker

I was recently immensely fortunate to receive one of twelve scholarships on offer for one of the most coveted wine experiences in Australia, if not the world – The Len Evans Tutorial. The tutorial, now in its 16th year, is hosted over 4 and a half days in the Hunter Valley and is the brainchild of the late and great Len Evans – a gentleman who shaped the Australian wine landscape.

“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” – Len Evans

For scholars, the event is one of the most demanding wine experiences you will ever encounter. It busts open any preconceived notion you may have had about wine. It puts you under a microscope whilst a judging panel applies blowtorch pressure and challenges you to endure the heat, all whilst assessing some of the rarest and most highly sought after wines in the world.

As the world’s population explodes and the demand for premium wine, both for enjoyments sake and also investment, continues to grow, many of the great wines are falling out of reach for the ordinary person. Wine consumption in China alone is expected to grow by 60% in the next few years and there’s an insatiable appetite for super premium wine by the burgeoning middle/upper classes. Through incredible generosity of sponsors, the tutorial makes it possible for the scholars to access some of these celebrated, even legendary, wines. Wines which we will most likely never get the chance to experience again. Some examples include:

  • A vertical bracket of the Australian classic Saltram Claret from the 1950’s
  • 1975 and 1976 Chateau d’Yquem
  • 1870 Kopke Roriz Port
  • Hunter Reds from the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s
  • A horizontal bracket of Domaine de la Romanée Conti
  • Barolo’s from the 1950’s and so the list goes on…

As the event drew nearer my feeling of elation gradually began to be overtaken by an element of trepidation as the realisation of the task at hand began to become more real. After all, here was an opportunity to shine on the big stage, but equally, one could plunge into the dreaded abyss under the watchful eyes of our most respected and experienced industry leaders.

The tutorial is made up of daily judging sessions, followed by tutored masterclasses and evening dinners complete with 20 to 25 wines presented blind in themed brackets.

Each morning starts with judging a bracket of 30 wines with ones’ scores being compared to a panel of industry experts including the great James Halliday, Iain Riggs, Gary Steel, Ian McKenzie, Michael Hill Smith and other industry guns. The object of this exercise is to match as many gold medals with the head judging panel as possible and points are awarded or subtracted accordingly. The onus is also on the scholars to explain how they arrived at their scoring destination.

A Masterclass followed where students got the opportunity to relax (slightly) and to be guided through brackets of some of benchmark wines from around the globe.

The night’s events, whilst demanding, were framed with blind brackets of wines from destinations near and far and students were tested in a slightly more convivial manner – I’m sure the absence of spittoons softened the mood. Combine this with great food and marvellous tall tales from the senior judges and the evenings were an absolute pleasure. As the week drew to a close, the weight of expectation lifted and the realisation of the immense honour and privilege to have participated in such an esteemed event became clear. This was an experience of a lifetime and as a result I have recalibrated my way of looking at and making wine. I move into next year’s harvest overflowing with ideas to further discover the possibilities that lie within our grasp. I am grateful for this opportunity that has been afforded to me.