Len Evans (RIP) told a story at one of the wine luncheons I attended about an elderly French Chateau owner who visited his Hunter Valley operations at Rothbury. He didn’t name the man, but indicated that it was one of the Premier Cru Chateaus in Bordeaux, essentially a licence to print money.
Len explained that this Frenchman had contacted him by telephone to say that he was coming to Australia and wanted to see how Australian’s went about their wine making trade, and arranged to meet with Len for lunch in the Hunter Valley. Len was very puzzled by this, because this Chateau owner had previously shown no interest in the details of the wine making process in his own Chateau, let alone those in other countries. Nevertheless, Len agreed to the visit, and when the appointed time for arrival came, a helicopter landed and this 60+ year old Chateau owner disembarked with his latest 25 year old girlfriend. Len spent the next 5 minutes describing in lascivious detail the attributes of said girlfriend, but I won’t bore you with that, for two reasons, firstly, the readers of this magazine have their thoughts on a higher plane, and secondly, the audience is mixed. This was probably the case when Len gave his talk also, but he could get away with it.
So Len takes this pair of visitors on a tour of the facilities, which wasn’t easy for the girlfriend in stilettos and a mini-skirt, but they managed, although Len commented that productivity did take a nose-dive whenever they passed. The Chateau owner showed little interest in the vineyards and winery, so Len became more confused about the purpose of the visit, until they went to lunch, and he was quizzed on the cost of land to grow grapes in the Hunter Valley.
After lunch they proceeded to fly to Cowra where the Frenchman sampled some wines being produced from Len’s vineyards there. He was very impressed with the wine, and asked Len how much the land had cost. When Len explained that the cost of the land was ¼ of the cost in the Hunter, the visitor was amazed. He then made the statement that the Old World was never going to be able to compete with the New World on price and value because land is so cheap in Australia. The purpose of his visit then became clear. He was selling all his production at very high prices and was making good profits, but if he wished to expand in the Bordeaux area it was extremely costly, because the areas are strictly controlled and landholdings tightly held. Hunter Valley land is expensive by Australian standards, but not by French values, but the Cowra land is very cheap by comparison, and the quality of the wine is excellent, and will only get better as the vines mature and the wine makers improve their techniques.
The dinner where Len was telling this story was the same one where he made the comment that I have reported in previous articles about the best regions for growing wine in Australia haven’t been discovered yet. How exciting is that, and how sad we won’t have the privilege of listening to one of the funniest and most informative speakers ever again.
The Tipsy Farmer