We count ourselves lucky to be celebrating the Cullen Award for Excellence, and 50 years of Cullen Wines, while so many friends around the world are in lockdown. The evening was a wonderful celebration with John Jens announced as winner of the annual award.
Saturday June 5th saw a crowd of over 100 guests turn out in their black tie and evening wear at Cullen Wines to celebrate this year’s Award dinner and presentation. Vanya Cullen spoke of the gratitude she has for the people who have followed the Cullen Wines journey. Liam Bartlett did a sterling job as MC of the event.
The highlight of the evening was the announcement of this year’s recipient, John Jens, who accepted the honour to a standing ovation and gave an entertaining and theatrical speech. His brothers Damian, Neil and Paul Jens congratulated John via video link up, as their travel plans from Melbourne were dashed due to Covid-19 travel restrictions.
John Henry Jens has long nurtured a love of fine wine; he had collected 180 bottles of Penfolds Grange by the tender age of 24, along with 60 dozen other premium reds. Born in Victoria, John attended Xavier College Melbourne, studied Commerce Arts at Santa Clara University California and later attended Roseworthy College, then Australia’s only wine educational institute. He moved to Perth in 1977 and started his first wine wholesale operation in 1981 to represent the area’s most prominent names including Ashbrook Estate, Pierro, Moss Wood and Cullen, as well as the east’s Peter Lehmann, Yellowglen and Petaluma.
John set up and managed liquor stores under the John Jens Fine Wine banner, and in 1990 was a founding partner in Devil’s Lair Wines. Since 2007 John has worked during the day in wine importing and retailing and at night as a sommelier for his wife Kate Lamont in the Lamonts restaurants and retail outlets. John is a regular wine industry speaker and for 25 years was the wine writer for the Western Suburbs Weekly.
Simone Furlong delivered the award speech on behalf of previous winners, Leeuwin Estate’s Horgan family. She acknowledged John Jens’ steadfast commitment to Margaret River wine and praised the warmth and charisma that make him such an engaging spokesperson.
Wine writer Erin Larkin spoke of John’s great enthusiasm in a personal speech, detailing his generosity and mentorship as they work together promoting Western Australian wines.
Guests on the evening included Libby Mettam MLA, Hon. Nola Marino MP, Greg Wall chair of Margaret River Wine Industry Association, Amanda Whiteland CEO Margaret River Wine Industry Association, Steve Harrison CEO Margaret River Augusta Busselton Tourism Association, Emmanuel Loucas president of WA Wine Press Club, John’s sons Andrew and Jack and their partners, Cullen Wines chair Rod Baxter, and Independent board member Tony Taylor, Cullen family members Shel, Rick and Digby, wine industry colleagues and friends.
It was a night of shared memories and entertainment as guests enjoyed canapes on arrival with the new 2018 Grace Madeline and music by local chanteuse Cassandra Charlick. Winter vegetables grown onsite starred in the entrée ‘Garden on a Plate’ which was served with 2013 Cullen Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Semillon, poured from magnums. Abrolhos Island scallops seared to absolute perfection with pumpkin, daikon and bush lime complemented the 2019 Kevin John, and a main of Arkady lamb shoulder was served with the 2019 Diana Madeline. Guests then enjoyed a generous range of cheeses served alongside magnums of 2015 Diana Madeline. It was a wine lover’s delight. The evening was rounded out with chocolate truffles and a sublime honeycomb mousse, another triumph from the hardworking Cullen kitchen led by Executive Chef Antoine Deunff.
In the days following the awards, journalists attended a three-day tasting of over 150 wines dating back to 1977 to commemorate Cullen Wines’ 50th anniversary. Vanya Cullen presented eight brackets of wines, showcasing the very best of the biodynamic, carbon positive vineyards. She spoke of the 50 years of sustainable wine growing preceded by 65,000 years of Wadandi sustainable land care, and the biodynamic experiments in the Legacy wines which flow on to improve the Diana Madeline and Kevin John.
It has been an extraordinary weekend of celebrations, not only acknowledging the wonderful work of John Jens, but the gratitude felt for everyone involved in Cullen’s journey.