From the tasting team

175 years of Yalumba

By Dave Brookes

30 Apr, 2024

Barossa giant Yalumba is celebrating its 175th anniversary. Tasting Team member Dave Brookes recently went along to the anniversary celebrations that included a museum tasting – here are the standout wines.

Yalumba – one of Australia’s most admired and respected family owned wineries – is celebrating its 175th anniversary.

With a multi-generational family stewardship, a stunning Barossa estate and an enviable record of some of our countries most iconic wines, it is a winery that is deeply woven into the tapestry of the Barossa and the Australian fine wine offering.

While proudly Barossan, Yalumba produces wines that span multiple regions and styles, wines with names that speak of cellar worthiness and ones that have valence in the Australian wine lexicon.

We know this to be true because often they are referred to by name alone – The Menzies, The Signature, The Octavius, The Tri-Centenary and more recently, The Caley. They are wines that hold a certain weight of provenance, of history and of Yalumba’s importance in Australia's wine story.

Yalumba vineyardThis year Yalumba celebrates its 175th anniversary.

Fifth-generation proprietor Robert Hill-Smith has helmed the ship since 1985, modernising Yalumba, investing in the Yalumba nursery and the vineyard sustainability program, expanding the Samuel Smith & Sons and Negociants distribution businesses and bringing an enviable selection of producers together under the banner of Hill-Smith Family Estates.

I asked sixth-generation Jessica Hill-Smith about Yalumba’s standing in the pantheon of Australian wines and she replied, “Yalumba has always been loved and revered as a brand and we have built a relationship of trust in the quality of the wines we make. But there is also an authenticity in knowing that the same family has been making these wines for six generations.

“Our story began 175 years ago, with Samuel Smith, a humble brewer from Dorset UK who sailed out to South Australia in search of a new beginning with his family. Ever since the day he planted his first vines in the ground (in 1849), our family have been custodians of Yalumba.

“Every generation has been pioneering, and because of that mindset we are still here today, making wines that we are proud of for people all around the world. Our story and our history carry so much weight and you can feel that when you step onto the Yalumba grounds. Whenever we welcome guests to Yalumba, they can feel that family presence and they realise all the stories, the family, the Yalumba Cooperage, the Signature Cellar, the Museum; these things are all real and they represent everything we stand for.”

Louisa RoseYalumba's head of sustainability, Louisa Rose.

When asked which is her favourite Yalumba wine, Jess says, “The wine that encapsulates everything Yalumba stands for, for me, is The Signature. Since 1962, The Signature has been a celebration of wine and people encapsulated in one historic cabernet sauvignon and shiraz.

“The wine has become a benchmark for the great Australian red style. But most importantly, each release of this iconic wine is named to honour an individual who has made a significant contribution to the culture and traditions of Yalumba. We have celebrated 50 vintage releases. Next time you open a bottle of The Signature, make sure you turn the bottle over and read the back label to discover the story of a Yalumba legend.”

Members of the wine industry recently joined together to celebrate the Yalumba 175th anniversary with a museum tasting and dinner in the famed Signature Cellar.

I’ve been lucky enough to attend three Yalumba museum tastings during my career. The lineup of benchmark wines from around the world is stellar, but there's always one thing that stands out, and that is how easily the older wines from Yalumba comfortably sit alongside some of the most revered wines in the world. Standouts from the recent tasting included the 2014 The Caley Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz, 2004 The Signature Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz, a 1974 Yalumba FDR1A Claret, and an absolutely stunning 1923 Yalumba Shiraz Port.

Dave BrookesDave Brookes at the recent Yalumba 175th anniversary tasting.

All wine brands evolve, and there have been several changes in the Yalumba winemaking team of late. “Louisa Rose has been part of the Yalumba family for 30 years, and for the past 18 has been our head winemaker. Last year Louisa took on the hugely important role of head of sustainability – a role that will arguably have a greater impact on our future than any other position.

“This opened the opportunity for Sam Wigan to step up into the role of head winemaker. Sam has been mentored by Louisa since he started at Yalumba 22 years ago, and now he can showcase and express those experiences in a very tangible and exciting way. Sam has the perfect balance of embracing tradition with innovation. He has always been a leader amongst the team, and he is primed to take our wines to the next level.”

And when asked about the sixth-generation and the future of Yalumba, Jess says, “Currently my role sits within the marketing team, heading up PR & communications, and my sister Lucy has started as our Fine Wine Ambassador in London. But as a family member you wear many different hats. My father Robert is still very much the head of the family within the business. But that transition will naturally start to happen as I take on more business responsibility and dad decides to take his retirement more seriously!”

175 years is an impressive innings for a family-owned Australian winery. It's what Robert Hill-Smith calls “a wild ride” and I’ve a feeling that ride, the stories and the wonderful wines of Yalumba will continue to shape the Australian winescape as they move forward to their next milestone. 

Happy anniversary, Yalumba.

Image credit: Yalumba.