Five generations and 167 years later Yalumba, Australia's oldest family owned winery, has grown in size and stature, embodying all that has made the Australian wine success story the envy of winemakers the world over.
Having just turned 35, Samuel Smith departs his hometown of Wareham, Dorset with his wife Mary and their four children. Boarding a three-masted barque called China, the family set sail from Plymouth to Port Adelaide, arriving 11 days before Christmas. After a short time in Adelaide, the family load their possessions into a dray and trek north to a small settlement called Angaston. Samuel works as a gardener for the town’s eponymous Angas family and in 1849 plants his own vineyard with son Sidney.
The settlement of South Australia was drained of men seeking their fortunes in the goldfields of New South Wales and Victoria. Samuel was not one to be left behind, returning four months later with £300 of gold. With this he purchases 80 acres of land, two horses and a harness – thereby cementing Yalumba’s place in the world. A year later Yalumba’s first wine is released. By 1858 Samuel is dominating the local wine shows – a trend that hasn’t slowed in more than 166 years.
Brothers Walter and Percy Smith stand where their father and grandfather planted the first vines by moonlight, 61 years before. Rising two stories above them is a remarkable 155-foot-long building crafted from Angaston marble – a testament to the Smith family traits of hard work, determination and a keen eye for beauty. The Yalumba Clocktower, as it became known, took two years to construct and Sidney Smith, who no doubt reflected how far his family had come since he left Dorset as a 10-year-old, passed away not long after its completion.
Yalumba breaks new ground by serving its Four Crown “Port” at the most remote Christmas party in the world: in Antarctica. The members of Sir Douglas Mawson’s Antarctic Research Expedition enjoy the warming port alongside Emperor Penguin with a piquant sauce, and English ham. In later years Yalumba would be among one of the first corporate sponsors of the Australian thoroughbred racing, as well as showcasing its fine wines at other sporting and cultural events.
Still only in his 20s, fourth generation family member Wyndham Hill-Smith is scoring runs on the board – for both the business and for Australia. A keen cricketer, playing for both the state and national teams, Windy also manages Yalumba’s thriving business in Perth, until fate deals a shattering blow. In April 1938 Windy’s father Walter succumbs to a long battle with cancer. Six months later his elder brother Sidney is killed in a plane accident. Not yet 30, Windy is called back to Angaston to manage what is now a growing wine business, post the depression years in a world readying for WWII.
The wine that comes to epitomise Yalumba, a Cabernet Sauvignon & Shiraz blend simply called The Signature, is released. Honouring someone who personifies the very heart of Yalumba, The Signature over the years recognises family members, story tellers, sales people, winemakers and unequivocally loyal supporters. With four years of bottle age, the inaugural 1962 vintage of The Signature aptly honours the pioneering, entrepreneurial spirit of Samuel Smith.
Australian wine tastes are changing rapidly– fortified and sweet wines are being replaced by dry reds and whites, with wine drinkers becoming increasingly interested in how and where their wine is being crafted. In response to this sentiment, Yalumba renovates its old brandy bond store into a Wine Room. It also holds its first Museum ‘Library’ Tasting – an event that will become much lauded and highly sought after as the family’s private collection of Australian and international wines grows.
Like his father and great-great-grandfather before him, youth does not stand in the way of Robert Hill-Smith, who takes over the helm as Managing Director at age 34. A pioneer in his own right, Hill-Smith innovates the table wine market, instigates a complete buy out of all other family share-holders, insists on growing varietals matched to terroir and builds a team of talented young individuals across all areas of the family wine business.
After nearly two decades of experimentation with Viognier, Yalumba had gained sufficient confidence by 1998 to release its first vintage of its pre-eminent white wine The Virgilius Viognier. The wine was crafted by a promising young winemaker by the name Louisa Rose, who at that time had been with Yalumba for five years after graduating her winemaking university degree as dux in 1992. Louisa is arguably now the most influential maker of Viognier around the world.
A group of 12 family owned wineries collaborate to create Australia’s First Families of Wine – a multi-generational group of exceptional Australian winemakers. Yalumba is part of this tour de force, travelling around Australia and to the USA, UK, China and Canada to showcase the heritage, diversity, longevity, provenance and quality of Australian fine wine. Whilst their wines may be market competitors, each participating family member recognises that by joining together to share their stories and showcase their iconic wines they can shift the dial of perception wherever they journey. Together, the 12 families are custodians of more than 5000 hectares of estate vineyards and have 1200 years of winemaking experience.
The marketplace for wines has undergone significant change, with consolidation and disintermediation throughout the supply chain in most markets. Boutique wineries compete for space on restaurant wine lists and technology sees a major shift in how people search for and buy their tipple of choice. Amid this climate, Nick Waterman becomes the first non-family member to take on the role of Yalumba Managing Director after 12 years overseeing the company’s distribution in Australia and New Zealand. He assumes the role vacated by Robert Hill-Smith, who takes on the role as Chairman of the Board. A new era begins.