Australia’s oldest family-owned winery comes of age

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11th October, 2019 by Edith Hancock

Yalumba, Australia’s oldest family-owned winery, is celebrating its 170th anniversary this year with two special vintages.

The Caley is a celebration of Hill-Smith family history. (Photo: Yalumba)

Chairman Robert Hill-Smith launched two legends of Australian claret in London last month; The Caley 2014 and The Signature 2015.

The guestlist for the launch, held at the highly secretive members’ club 5 Hertford Street in Mayfair, is a roll call of the great and good of the world of fine wine, with the likes of Jancis Robinson MW, Steven Spurrier, Matthew Jukes all gathered to dine together to hear Hill-Smith regale the history behind these classic releases.

Bruce Tyrrell of Tyrrell’s, which has been producing wines in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales since 1858, was also on-hand to serve three outstanding vintages of the estate’s Chardonnay with the salad niçoise starter, as well as the 2011 and 2017 vintages of its Vat 9 Shiraz with the second course.

db’s own fine wine editor Rupert Millar was sat alongside chef Roger Jones of The Harrow at Little Bedwyn and Jessica Hill-Smith, the 6th generation proprietor of Yalumba Family Winemakers, who was there to help introduce the main event; The Caley.

The Caley, according to Yalumba, is a “super-claret” that honours one of the winery’s most adventurous sons, Fred Caley Smith. Grandson of Yalumba founder Samuel Smith, was a horticulturist who had a profound impact on the development of Yalumba’s vineyards.

For the third release the blend, which is based on 82% Coonawarra Cabernet and 18% Barossa Shiraz, is centered around Fred’s time The Chicago World’s Fair in October of 1893. A booklet inside The Caley’s box adds more colour to the experience, but this quote paints quite the picture…

“I cannot attempt to describe the exterior appearance of the wonderful buildings, their harmony, the great variety of design, the wooded islands, the many beautiful bridges, the lakes, the electric launches, the gondolas…” Fred wrote in a letter to his father.

Crafted by winemaker Kevin Glastonbury, the Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz parcels were vinified separately, using wild yeasts to initiate fermentation and contribute complexity, richness and texture. Cultured winery yeast was then added to complete fermentation.

The Caley was matured for 20 months in 40% new French oak barriques, all crafted and seasoned at the Yalumba Cooperage. Once bottled on 20th January 2016, the wine was cellared for a further 36 months.

The result is a wine bursting with currants, leaf and herb aromas followed by cool, fresh spices, iodine and cedar, all of which translate onto the palate alongside a rich texture and a clear line Coonawarra peppermint.

Built to spend many years in the cellar, The Caley takes time to reveal its true character and can be put to rest for between five to 30 years. If you can’t wait that long, we’d suggest double decanting. Rupert Millar hastened to add, once double decanted, the wine went tremendously well with the lamb cutlets served at lunch (it’s a living, eh?).

But it is not the only new wine Yalumba, which is celebrating its 170th anniversary, has revealed to the world this year, as 2019 also marks the 46th release of another classic Aussie claret; The Signature.

The Signature 2015’s launch is “as meaningful now as it was in 1966 when we released the inaugural 1962”, says Robert.

“We could not have anticipated how entrenched this wine would become into the culture and lives of every person passing through the limestone and red brick walled gates at Yalumba.”

Every release salutes an individual who has made a significant contribution to the culture and traditions of Yalumba. This year the wine was launched to honour Yalumba’s Barossa vineyard manager, Darrell Kruger, known affectionately at the winery as DK. Kruger tells db the accolade is “the equivalent of a knighthood” in the Yalumba universe.

Both The Caley and The Signature, Robert says, are for those that “love a rich, full bodied wine of finesse and balance.” We’ll drink to that.

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