Yalumba – the history
The Hill Smith family have been making wine at Yalumba since their first vintage in 1854. When Samuel Smith planted the first grapes in 1849, he was already a savvy entrepreneur but it was a stint chasing Bendigo gold that helped fund Yalumba’s establishment. While each of the generations have made their mark on the family business, it was not until 1989 that the seeds of the today’s Yalumba bore fruit. After Robert and his brother Sam Hill Smith secured all non-family Yalumba shares, they forever changed the direction of the business which had been, until then, predominantly domestically focused.
The change in Yalumba’s destiny away from the traditional fortified production was something that Robert and Sam’s father, Wyndham Hill Smith, foresaw when vineyards for table wines such as Oxford Landing Estate and the Eden Valley vineyards were established. Wyndham was also instrumental in the first forays of the Stelvin screw cap into Australia back in 1976.
Yalumba – the past decades
In the past 30 years, Yalumba has achieved a growth that can be envied by many of the Australian corporations. A growth, largely due to being family owned. Meaning the business can ride out the lows with the highs without having to deliver double digit growth to shareholders. Perhaps because of this, Yalumba has built a passionate team. This includes includes ambassadors, past and present, such as Brian Walsh, Jane Ferrari and talented Chief Winemaker Louisa Rose.
The Hill Smith brothers did not only feel a passion to continue the family business and leave a legacy for future generations. They also had a driving desire to make a difference. Their philosophy of sustainability is holistically expressed as “All the major things we do must be sustainable in every sense of the word”. Following this philosophy means that ‘fads’ will not be part of the company’s wine direction.
This philosophy is also plainly evident in the creation of Yalumba’s Old Vine Charter & Reserve Charter. This was developed not only as an additional assurance of label integrity, but to nurture the ‘jewels’ in their vineyards. Some of their oldest vines date back to the 1880’s. Under the Old Vine charter, if a wine is labeled using terms such as ‘old vine’, it will come from vines at least 35 years old.
Other progressive programmes were initiated under Robert Hill Smith’s leadership. One was to maintain the only still privately owned cooperage on a winery in the southern hemisphere. Another was to produce a growing range of wines that are suitable for vegans.
Their commercial vine nursery established in the 1970’s, has allowed Yalumba to continue to work with new varieties. Their pioneering work with Viognier in Australia has been ongoing since the first vines were planted in 1981. They kept this fresh with sourcing of seven new clones from Condrieu and the USA being planted in their vineyards. Not only does Yalumba produce classic dry Viognier and Shiraz Viognier, they also have several dessert styles. Including at one time a unique blend of Viognier with Tempranillo and Grenache.
Now Jess Hill-Smith is also very much part of the business. And in 2022, it was announced that the name of the family business would be known as Hill-Smith Family Estates. Of which Yalumba is, of course, an integral part. The business has grown over time to include: Jansz Tasmania, Pewsey Vale Vineyard, Heggies Vineyard, Oxford Landing, Dalrymple Vineyards, Nautilus Estate of Marlborough and more.
Australia’s First Families of Wine
The family is also one of the group that founded ‘Australia’s First Families of Wine.’ This group promotes the historic origins of Australian wine and was launched in 2009. The other members of the group are: Brown Brothers, Campbells, d’Arenberg, Henschke, Howard Park, Jim Barry, Tahbilk, Taylors and Tyrrell’s. Many of these families have been making wine in Australia since the early 1900s. Some families such as the Hill-Smith (1854), Tyrells (1858), Brown Brothers (1858), Henschke (1868), and Campbells (1870) have been making wines on their estates since the 1800s. Some were among the very first families in Australia to do so.
To read more about these families please click the buttons below.
But Yalumba… Yalumba is special.
Wines from Yalumba are now sold in 38 countries, partly due to the power of its distributor arm Negociants which also gives the team insight into the changing tastes of wine drinkers, not just in Australia but throughout the world. It is this insight that also keeps them in touch with the new generation of wine drinkers, with slick cinema advertising such as ‘Talk Eat Live Laugh’, and ‘Embrace the Magnificent Unknown’. These insights plus the family’s passion and vision means Yalumba will continue to be one of Australia’s most innovative wine producers and the Hill Smith’s one of Australia’s leading wine families.
To see the tasting notes for some of Yalumba’s wines, please click below.
The organic one…
The prestigious one….
And the reds….
Note: Yalumba is an aboriginal word “all the land around”
This article was first published in 2011 in a wine trade magazine, it was updated in 2023.
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