Halliday homes in on Huon for pick of the pinots
Drinks and family links aplenty at school of good drops
Despite its size, the Australian wine industry is close-knit, with family and business links across the country, and generations.
That was underlined yesterday when Tim Dolan, a thirdgeneration Barossa winemaker, was named dux of the Len Evans Tutorial, the wine school in the NSW Hunter Valley founded in 2001 by one of the wine world’s legendary figures.
“It’s so lovely that Tim should win it,” said Evans’s daughter Sally, one of the trustees of the Tutorial. “His dad Nigel and my dad were great mates.”
Mr Dolan said: “Dad and Len weren’t just friends. My father considered him a role model, so this is a great honour.”
After a gruelling but unforgettable few days tasting the world’s finest wines under the tutelage and scrutiny of some of the country’s most experienced wine judges, Mr Dolan’s accuracy outpointed the other 11 scholars to win a business-class trip to Europe, with introductions to many great wine estates.
Not a bad prize, but for Mr Dolan, the real triumph was to be accepted in the first place. “I’ve applied for the past three years,” he said, “so to be part of it was a dream come true.
“The week is unbelievable. It’s a surreal experience.”
The Tutorial was conceived by Evans as a way of training a new generation of wine judges for the Australian show system.
He believed the best way to learn about quality was by exposure to excellence.
The problem was that most of the truly great wines are far beyond the reach of the average wine professional’s wallet. So Evans collected sponsors to fund a series of tutored tastings and dinners showing a range of exquisite wines, including some of the rarest and most expensive imaginable.
The scholars pay nothing for this extraordinary week: wines, food and accommodation are covered by sponsors. Every year, more than 100 hopefuls — winemakers, marketers, merchants, sommeliers — apply for 12 places.
Some of Australia’s top wine experts have been involved with the Tutorial from the start, notably this newspaper’s James Halliday, a friend of Evans for 40 years, and Iain Riggs, managing director and chief winemaker of Brokenwood, the Hunter winery Halliday co-founded in 1970 (those connections again).
Since Evans’s death in 2006, Halliday and Mr Riggs have steered the event to its current exalted status: it is, in Halliday’s words, “the most exclusive wine school in the world”.
Evans was never short of ambition for his many ventures, but even he might have been surprised by the success of this one.
“What Len created with his Tutorial,” Mr Dolan said yesterday, “is one of the Australian wine industry’s greatest treasures.”
Others have followed in their pioneering footsteps, while Home Hill has grown a national reputation, in recent years regularly winning major accolades.
The latest of these is a 99-point rating for its 2017 Kelly Reserve pinot noir in Halliday’s Top 100 wines, featured in today’s Week- end Australian Magazine.
Mr Bennett said the score was a wonderful fillip for a family concern that began as a hunch.
“I saw wine as a commodity that didn’t have to be harvested and consumed within two or three months; it can be a product you keep for 10 years,” he said.
“It started as a hobby. I could see a future so we planted more and put some staff on. My youngest son, Sean, came home to run the vineyard and it’s grown from there.”
But he cautioned those hoping to buy from a bottle shop, with demand outstripping supply even before Halliday’s praise.
“We can’t keep up — we’ve stopped wholesaling both the estate (pinot noir) and the Kelly’s Reserve 2017 and so it’s only available at our cellar door, restaurant and over our website,” he said.
It is indicative of booming interest in the winery, at Ranelagh.
Daughter Kelly, after whom the famous pinot is named, manages the wine club; Rosemary runs the wedding business, and Gilli and Paul Lipscombe are the winemakers. They have won a swag of awards since the 2014 Kelly’s Reserve won the Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy for best wine at the Royal Melbourne Wine Show.
Kelly Bennett, after whom the famous pinot Kelly’s Reserve is named, at Home Hill Winery in Ranelagh, Tasmania, yesterday
James Halliday, left, with Tim Dolan yesterday