Yalumba celebrates 175 years

Huon Hooke with Yalumba’s Robert Hill-Smith and Lucy Hill-Smith at the Yalumba 175th anniversary. Yalumba Wines

Trivia question: what is Australia’s oldest family owned winery?

That’s easy. It’s Yalumba. The reminder is on every bottle of Yalumba wine: established 1849.

Yalumba threw a big party in the Barossa on April 17 to celebrate its 175th anniversary.

Tradition runs deep at Yalumba. The Hill-Smith family is also transitioning to the next generation.

A major part of the celebration was a Museum Tasting – where they open many rare and venerable bottles from their cellar, and invite about 100 people to taste them.

The first wine was the 1921 Pol Roger Vintage Brut: no accident that Pol Roger—apart from being a wine Yalumba imports and distributes in Australia—is another family-owned winery that turns 175 years old this year.

Tradition runs deep at Yalumba. The Hill-Smith family is also transitioning to the next generation. Robert Hill-Smith, for 30 years managing director of what is now Hill-Smith Family Estates (HSFE), is now chairman and his daughters Jessica and Lucy are now involved in the company, representing the sixth generation.

Robert has committed his life to Yalumba and at one point risked all for it. He and his brother Sam launched an audacious buy-out back in 1989 which possibly saved the company. They went into major debt to buy out all the other family members—of whom there were many. It was a risky move but they carried it off.

Yalumba celebrates its history and its traditions—such as the Museum Tastings which showcase mature, aged wines. But it’s not all about the past. Yalumba/Hill-Smith Family Estates moves with the times and is constantly launching new products and tapping into the zeitgeist. It produces organic wines (GEN certified organic), low-alcohol wines, vegan wines, environmentally friendly wines.

It has great wines at the top of the tree such as The Caley and The Signature, The Menzies, The Virgilius and The Octavius, but also inexpensive wines under the Oxford Landing label and 2-litre casks under the Winesmiths brand, and one of the country’s best value for money ranges in Yalumba Y Series. It champions the viognier grape, riesling and the traditional Aussie cabernet shiraz blend. HSFE fields several brands that stand to one side of Yalumba: Pewsey Vale, Heggies, Hill-Smith Estate, and the Jansz and Dalrymple wineries in Tasmania.

It makes wonderful old fortifieds, distils its own whisky and viognier eau de vie. It has an important vine nursery that supplies the entire wine industry, and a cooperage—the only winery cooperage in Australia still making its own barrels.

By any measure, this is a very substantial wine industry player.

175th celebrations underway at Yalumba. Yalumba Wines

In addition to its domestic wholesale arm Samuel Smith & Son, HSFE owns the Negociants Australia importing business, a very significant merchant, which plays a leading role in education through its Working With Wine Fellowship, hosting seminars for members of the wine trade.

The Museum Tastings are another example of this educative role. There have been no fewer than 29 of these, from 1977 to 2024. Most have been held at the winery but also several in Sydney, as well as Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and London. I’ve been lucky enough to attend several, the last being the last one in Sydney, exactly 20 years ago. I remember it well: the venue was The Wharf Restaurant in Walsh Bay, and Christian Pol Roger presented the 1914 vintage Pol Roger, a wartime vintage which was then 90 years old.

It has great wines at the top of the tree such as The Caley and The Signature, The Menzies, The Virgilius and The Octavius, but also inexpensive wines under the Oxford Landing label.

I won’t say much about this latest Museum Tasting except that it is a very generous gesture to share rare wines with people in the trade who may not otherwise get the opportunity to taste them and learn about the world benchmarks. There were expensive wines such as Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche 1985 and ’99, and Montrachet 2004, and impossibly rare wines like Chave Hermitage Cuvée Cathelin 2009, but these are interspersed with bottles from Yalumba and other Australian wineries such as Henschke, Penfolds and Giaconda—and the Aussies always measure up well.

The wines that impressed me most were Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Riesling Auslese 1988 (magnum), Giaconda Estate Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Bonneau du Martray Corton-Charlemagne 1999, Château Lafite Rothschild 1990, Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010, Yalumba Tricentenary Barossa Grenache 1999, Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1999, Guigal Côte Rôtie Hommage à Étienne Guigal 2005 (magnum), Yalumba The Caley Cabernet Shiraz 2014, Antinori Tignanello 1985 (magnum), Vega Sicilia Unico Gran Reserva 1985, Château Latour 2012 (magnum), Château d’Yquem 1999 (magnum), Warre’s Vintage Port 1977 (magnum) and Yalumba Shiraz Port 1923, in addition to the above.

My tasting notes on some of these and others are either on The Real Review now or will appear soon. Happy 175th, Yalumba!

(Disclosure: Huon Hooke travelled to the Barossa as a guest of Yalumba Wines)

One thought on “Yalumba celebrates 175 years”

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    Peter Gunning says:

    I recall a Yalumba Signature Cabernet Shiraz at a Real Review dinner as the highlight of the night surpassing much more expensive wines in impact and pleasure. It is always impressive to see genuine quality at a price that the broader wine consumer public can experience. A sincere thank you to Yalumba.

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