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News

Yalumba vows another 165 years of growth

Yalumba Proprietor Robert Hill-Smith has vowed his winery will remain independent, innovative and forward thinking as it celebrates its 165th birthday today (Monday 17 November).  Hill-Smith, 63, who co-owns the fifth-generation Barossa winery with his brother Sam, has been at the helm for 29 years and has been heavily involved in the industry during that time.  Hill-Smith currently sits on the board of the Winemakers Federation of Australia and will shortly become chairman of Australian First Families of Wine. 

“For some time now I have reinforced widely the view that the wine business as we knew it has changed forever,” he said.  “It is a time for intelligent perseverance, innovation, ideas creation and discipline to generate growth.”  “Whilst we believe 46 wineries are currently for sale, and notable sales and closures are in the news, we continue to invest in new vineyards and plantings, winery improvements in bottling and logistics, leadership training and up skilling.” 

Yalumba was founded in 1849 by Hill-Smith’s great great-grandfather Samuel Smith, a brewer who immigrated to South Australia from Dorset with his family two years prior.  While working as a gardener and horticulturalist for the prominent Angas family, after whom Angaston was named, Samuel and his son Sidney planted their first vines in 1849.  In 1852 Samuel joined the masses flocking to Victoria during the gold rush, returning with ₤300 worth of gold, which allowed him to purchase 80 acres in 1852 and a further 12 acres in 1853. 

Yalumba has remained family owned throughout its lifetime, with Robert & Sam Hill-Smith undertaking a complete buy-out of other family shareholders in 1989.  Key milestones made by the Hill Smith family in that time have included: 

- Yalumba focus on the “Great Australian Red” blend of Cabernet Sauvignon & Shiraz 

- Pioneering work with the exotic Rhone varietal Viognier from 1979 to present 

- Establishment of the Yalumba Nursery in 1979 – a specialist varietal, clonal, and rootstock provider to Australian wine growers 

- Vineyard investments in Tasmania in 1998 & 2012 and New Zealand in the mid-1980s 

- Development of the Oxford Landing Estate vineyard near Waikerie in 1958 and insightful plantings of Chardonnay in the 1980s 

“In many ways today marks another challenging journey beginning all over again,” Hill-Smith said. “I am confident we shall prevail.”

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History

Yalumba was founded in 1849 by Englishman, Samuel Smith, who only two years earlier had said goodbye to his home in Wareham, Dorset to sail for Australia. With his wife and four children, 37 year old Smith left a successful job as a brewer in his search for a new lifestyle. His knowledge of fermentation and brewing eventually led him to a career in winemaking. On arrival in South Australia, the Smith family made its way to Adelaide. After a short time there, they travelled by bullock dray to Angaston – a tiny ten-house settlement in the beautiful Barossa Valley. Here, Samuel worked as a gardener on the estate of George Fife Angas, after whom the township was named. He soon had the capital – and the foresight – to purchase 30 acres of his own. Samuel named his land ‘Yalumba’, aboriginal for ‘all the land around’, and with his son Sidney, planted the first Yalumba wines by moonlight.

 

In 1852, Samuel Smith heard news of the Bendigo gold rush. In it he saw the chance, if not for riches, then at least for the modest capital he needed to set his vineyard on its feet. He set off for the Victorian goldfields, returning four months later with £300 of gold. Not a fortune, but enough to buy more land, farming equipment, a plough, two horses and harness; plus a tidy sum to build a more substantial homestead in the future. When Samuel died in 1889 at the age of 76, his son Sidney took charge of the estate. Robert Hill Smith & Family A fifth generation descendant of Samuel Smith who founded Yalumba in 1849, Robert did not need to find an industry in which to build a career. Following his forebears Samuel, Sidney and Walter “Tiger” Smith, then his father Wyndham, Robert joined Yalumba in 1970 working in the vintage cellar laboratory and the vineyards. He travelled extensively through the vineyard regions of Europe and America doing harvest work at Chateau Rahoul and Domaine Dujac before returning in 1979. On his return he joined the sales and marketing department and in 1981 assumed responsibility for exports, mapping an international strategy for the company brands. In 1983, he was appointed Marketing Manager and immediately commenced his quest to mould a new fine wine philosophy and brand strategy for the family business.

 

In 1985, Robert was appointed Managing Director of Yalumba, making him one of the youngest MDs the Australian wine industry had seen. His appointment came at a time when the Australian wine industry was poised on the brink of a revolution that would see a major shift in Australian wine consumption. Four years later, in 1989, Robert and his brother Sam purchased all shares in the company not held by their family, thereby ensuring the growth and future direction of the company. The family business underwent a restructure and a change of direction that would see Yalumba emerge as one of the Australian wine industry’s success stories.

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Vineyards

The 'controllables' in Yalumba winemaking have been mastered with the creation of a vine nursery in the 1970's and by having an on-site cooperage, unique in Australia. Oak staves are imported from the best forests in France and America and air-dried for many years before being fashioned into barrels. These practices produce consistently high quality wines.

The Yalumba winemakers' expertise extends from excellent varietal wines such as Viognier and Chardonnay to blends including Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz, a uniquely Australian wine. Approaches such as using wild yeasts ensure that the wines are distinctive and complex. Stalwarts such as The Signature, produced every year since 1962, The Menzies, inaugurated in 1987 and The Octavius, an icon first released in 1990, are benchmark Australian wines. It's no wonder that the 2006 Sydney International Wine Competition awarded Yalumba the Wine Society Perpetual Trophy for The Most Successful Winery.

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Winemaking

Behind Yalumba's success is the innovative, progressive approach and commitment to quality that permeates every level of the company's operations. They are one of the few wine companies in the world with an on-site cooperage and their own vine nursery. The result of this huge commitment to quality is that Yalumba's wine portfolio, at every price point, is studded with outstanding offerings. Chief Winemaker is the award-winning Louisa Rose.

 

Some of Australia's most legendary wines have been made in this style, and at the forefront has been Yalumba, who set the benchmark with Yalumba 'The Signature' series of wines made continuously since 1962.

Blending Cabernet Sauvignon with Shiraz certainly isn’t an adaptation of Old World winemaking practices. In fact, staunchly traditional French winemakers scoff at the idea of blending a traditional Bordeaux varietal (Cabernet Sauvignon) with a grape variety from the Rhône (Shiraz).

But the Australian way of pairing the elegance and complexity of Cabernet Sauvignon, with the richness and ripeness of Shiraz works tremendously well, resulting in a harmonious combination. The Shiraz offers a velvety richness to the middle palate, just where Cabernet Sauvignon is said to 'drop out' (known as the 'doughnut' effect), producing a wine that is powerful and voluptuous.

The Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz blend is taken so seriously by Yalumba, that Brian Walsh, Yalumba's Director of Winemaking persuaded the committee of the Adelaide Wine Show to introduce a separate judging class for the style. "It's a wine style that is unique to Australia," he says, "and plays such an important part in Australia's winemaking history."

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Inside information

At Yalumba, no aspect of winegrowing or winemaking is left to chance.  For the past 30 years, Yalumba has been able to influence grape quality at its earliest stage.  In the 1970s, the winery made a far-sighted decision to establish its own vine nursery.  Today the Yalumba Vine Nursery is one of Australia’s largest viticultural nurseries, supplying high quality vines to winemakers throughout Australia.

 

Not only does the Nursery provide safe, quality rootstock for established varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, it is also a leading supplier of specialised clones such as the Burgundian Pinot Noir and Chardonnay clones in heavy demand by the country's leading winemakers. 

The Yalumba Nursery is also leading the way in propagating new and emerging varieties in Australia, such as Cienna, the new hybrid variety developed in association with the CSIRO.  Yalumba's pioneering work with Viognier is another highly visible result of the nursery program. This is further supported by Yalumba Nursery gaining the ENTAV-INRA® Distribution Agreement in 2004.

 

In 2000, the Yalumba Nursery became the first vine nursery in Australia to achieve national accreditation under the newly-developed Australian Vine Improvement Association (AVIA), a scheme developed in response to the rapid vineyard expansion experienced in Australia in recent years.  This translates to improved vines, new varieties and improved quality vineyards. Further to this, in 2003 Yalumba Nursery achieved certification to the international standard ISO9001-2000, for its quality management system.

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41 different wines with 112 vintages

People

  • Robert Hill-Smith

    Proprietor and Chairman
    "Our goal is to be the finest independent Australian Winemaker and Wine Ambassador"
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