Monday, May 19, 2008

Robert who?

To be quite honest I have tasted few Mondavi wines and purchased even less and have none in my cellar. On my few trips to Napa we have driven by the Robert Mondavi Winery, admired its singular presence in the valley, but never ventured past the gate. But then I must also confess that I never had many wines from the Rothbury Estate, the Hunter Valley winery which once had the famed and much loved Len Evans as its Chairman. I was never fortunate enough to meet either of these giants of the wine world. Actually that should really be giants of New World wine because both, pretty much over the same time period, were intent on advancing the growth of wine and wine appreciation on either side of the Pacific Ocean. Mondavi built Robert Mondavi Winery in 1966 and in 1962 Evans had become Australia’s first wine columnist. As the Mondavi reputation grew in the 1970’s so did the Evans’ wine shop and restaurant Bulletin Place; where Jancis Robinson noted “the people who by now constituted the beginnings of the Australian wine mafia” would gather.

There are great similarities between these two men. Both labored against significant odds in their quests to have the wines of their country recognized as world class. Both had their wine endeavors disrupted by those searching for the quick buck rather than the accolades of wine drinkers. Both saw wine as a world wide enterprise. Most importantly, both had the foresight to realise that education was the way of the future for wine. Mondavi’s ventures in this sphere eclipse those of the more pragmatic Evans. Mondavi played a significant role in the establishment of Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts, in the city of Napa, and was the major benefactor for the soon to open Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science at UC Davis. Evans was a major mover and shaker in the revamping of the Australian wine show circuit, leading to great improvements in Australian wine. But perhaps his most lasting contribution will be the Len Evans Tutorials at which carefully selected young Australian wine makers/tasters are expsosed, over a number of days, to some of the finest wines of the world so that they can appreciate not only the world of wine but Australia’s place in it.

Robert who? There will be those who ask that question. They won't be the same as those who asked Len who? None of us can know all that there is about wine or the individuals involved, but as the giants who carried much of the weight of bringing wine to the masses leave us, the question must be asked. Who will replace them?

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