Yalumba! It sounds like something weary sailors would exclaim, upon glimpsing the distant horizon of a new continent for the very first time.
Perhaps it was? After all, it was 1847 when Samuel Smith departed his hometown of Wareham, Dorset with his wife Mary and their four children. Having braved the months-long sea journey from Plymouth to Port Adelaide aboard a three-masted barque, they must have cried out in joyful relief when first laying eyes upon the continent where they would seek their fortune.
The Smiths didn’t linger long in Adelaide, and by 1849 had trekked north to settle in the Barossa Valley’s Angaston community, where Samuel purchased just over 12 hectares of land. He decided to name it “Yalumba” - an indigenous Australian word for “all the land around” and today Australia's oldest family-owned winery. This is where he planted his first vines with his son Sidney, marking the dawn of the six-generation Yalumba legacy that, 170 years on, has expanded Samuel’s humble definition of “all the land around” to over 1000 hectares, reaching far beyond Barossa.
Impressively, the family has a finger in just about every Australasian viticultural pie, owning vineyards producing classic varietal expressions across the continent’s most celebrated regions. Within their comprehensive portfolio, you’ll find Pewsey Vale Eden Valley Riesling, Jansz Tasmanian Sparkling, Dalrymple Tasmanian Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and Hill-Smith Estate Adelaide Hills Chardonnay. That said, the Yalumba property in Barossa (i.e. Shiraz country) remains the family’s heartland, with its beautiful old winery building providing rich historic context.
‘Legacy’ is not a word often associated with Australian wine, at least when speaking in a global sense. We often view the wine world as a dichotomy of old and new - the Old World referring to Europe and the Middle East (where, let’s face it, 6000 BC is a pretty big head start); the New World denoting everywhere else. But families like the Smiths (now, Hill-Smiths) prove that it’s all relative. For example - in revered Burgundy, there are ancient vineyard sites like the 50.96 hectares of Grand Cru Clos Vougeot, which is owned by 82 different people (certainly not all related!), the quality of their wines varying to a large degree. The Smith descendants, as rarely seen in the New World, have kept it in the family - particularly with current owner and fifth generation descendant Robert Hill-Smith instigating a complete buyout of all other family shareholders in 1985, and through whose uncompromising commitment to quality paved the way for the premiumisation of Australian wines in the 80s and 90s.
Nothing short of an extraordinarily unwavering vision has kept this family winery at the forefront of the Australian wine industry. Self-described as “driven by the preservation of provenance, progressive thinking, sustainability and excellence,” Yalumba clearly has discovered and safeguarded a winning formula. When a person or group of people knows so clearly who they are and what they stand for, they are able to simultaneously operate at the cutting edge of innovation and yet remain impervious to trends and fads. To illustrate: at the height of “Parkerisation”, when much of Australia tended to blockbuster Shiraz, Yalumba remained focused on producing restrained, balanced wines. In the long run, this has served them well, and has allowed them to proudly take up their place in the exclusive, 11-strong collective Australia’s First Families of Wine (AFFW), which was formed in 2009.
Being one of only four wineries to be featured in Matthew Jukes’ prestigious list of 100 Best Australian Wines every year since its inception in 2004, Yalumba’s legacy persists - much like the lingering finish of its top wines. The Signature, a 100% Barossa Cabernet/Shiraz blend, which has been produced since 1962, as well as flagship wine The Caley, a Coonawarra Cab and Barossa Shiraz blend which was only introduced from the 2012 vintage, have respectively achieved cult status. On the whites, Yalumba’s Eden Valley Virgilius Viognier is revered the world over - described by Tim Atkin MW as “a candidate for the title of Australia’s best Viognier.”
The Age of Exploration may be over, but its spirit remains with the Hill-Smiths, as the eldest of Robert’s three daughters, Jessica, joins the family business. Perhaps, then, in 2019, “Yalumba!” is what one may feel the urge to exclaim at the first taste of this astounding family’s wines.