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Robert Hill Smith retires as Yalumba CEO

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Robert Hill Smith has been in the news a lot lately. He’s announced his retirement as CEO of Yalumba (tastings) after 30 years at the helm of Australia’s oldest family-owned winery. He will be replaced by Nick Waterman.

Hill Smith becomes chairman, replacing Peter Barnes, who is retiring as chairman, having chaired the company for 12 years. All these changes are effective from March 7.

This follows the release this month of the 2012 Yalumba The Signature Cabernet Shiraz (tasting), the signatory of this vintage being Robert Hill Smith. It is highly appropriate as the 2012 is one of the best ever vintages of this $50 wine, which had its first vintage in 1962. 

Robert, 63, remains a board member of the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia and recently took over the chairmanship of Australia’s First Families of Wine. 

I think it’s fair to say Hill Smith has built Yalumba into a highly successful modern wine company, making superb wines and holding its place in a market that often seems more preoccupied with fashion than tradition or experience. Yalumba has established a ‘corporate personality’ that embodies fun as well as seriousness; a quirky personality that allows them to brand vines that span three centuries as “bloody exceptionally old”, at the same time presumptuously showing a lead to the Old World by drafting the Old Vine Charter. 

Hill Smith’s achievements, which would take a book to relate, began after he and his brother Sam audaciously bought the company from their extended family. It was a serious gamble. Part of the success story, though, is Yalumba’s extraordinary ability to pick the right talented people to make the gamble pay off. 

Which brings us back to Nick Waterman, who started with the company in 2002 as head of Negociants Australia (Yalumba’s import/export arm). In 2009 he became executive director of strategy and trading for Yalumba and since 2014 he’s been chief operating officer. He also becomes a director. Onwards and upwards.

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