160 Years of Family Winemaking and Tales to Tell
I never really chased down the history of Yalumba, or the Hill Smith family who have owned the winery for the last 160 years, until I started looking after the cellar door and visitors around 1994. When I scratched the surface of the Yalumba story to give visitors a more complete picture of our world, it wasn’t long before I found myself getting wrapped up in the place. Gaining access to the history is like having the secret password to this magic, historical adventure story packed to the brim with larger-than-life characters – with a 160-year-old, open-ended script.
I mean, here we go. Against the background of Australia stretching its legs in fits and starts as a new country, you have this master brewer, Samuel Smith, living comfortably with his family in the leafy green hills and dales of Dorset in southern England. He consults with his wife, Mary, and decides that fortune favours the brave and that they and their four children should take a longshot chance and head to the other side of the earth – to this new colonial outpost “Australia” – in order to build their own brave new world.
Two months on the high seas out from England and our founder Samuel “the Brewer” Smith lands a job as a gardener in the newly established capital of colonial South Australia: Adelaide.
On hearing of the “garden of Eden” food bowl developing in the Barossa Valley north of Adelaide, our intrepid travelling family journeys four days on a bullock-drawn dray to the tiny hamlet of Angaston, nestled in the high country ranges above the valley floor. Samuel again finds work as a gardener, this time at Lindsay Park, the Australian country estate for the English Angas family, after whom Angaston is named.
Opportunity dictates a different destiny for Samuel “the gardener” Smith.
They find gold in the neighbouring state of Victoria and the rush is on. This offers Samuel a chance to chase his own dream, and he heads for the Ballarat goldfields with Sidney, his eldest son. After sinking 20 unsuccessful shafts, Samuel “the miner” Smith strikes it lucky and finds 300 pounds sterling worth of gold – a small fortune! Enough to come home to Angaston and establish a fruit and grape growing operation – working for someone else as a gardener by day, and planting his own acres for himself by night. This grows in not too much time at all into Samuel “the winemaker” Smith’s wine making, spirit distilling, fruit canning and jam making enterprise – marking its first official vintage with a flourish – Yalumba est 1849.
The saga continues to the present day, down through five family generations to Robert Hill Smith today and the five booms and four busts that the Australian wine industry experiences during that time. The family has seen drama and major change in the industry, as well as the development of the Australian Mediterr-Asian style cuisine that has helped to reshape the wine world, and through it all they have continued to grow grapes, make wine, and contribute colourful chapters to what is an already epic story.
My good luck is to have the job of telling this great story – whether it’s at the winery, or in some part of the world out there on the road. In a funny way, things do come full circle. In 1893, Robert’s great uncle Fred Caley Smith was sent out from Yalumba on a mission. His job was to develop relationships for the family and the winery with the press, trade, and consumers of the day overseas. This Indiana Jones-style horticulturalist travelled extensively throughout the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, promoting Yalumba’s wines and building friendships left, right and centre that contributed to the success of the enterprise. Good thing for us, Fred was an excellent correspondent, sending 20-page letters home every two or three days detailing his travels, so we can easily track Yalumba’s fortunes of the times across the globe.
Here we are 116 years down the track, and I find myself in the extremely fortunate position of doing exactly the same thing as Fred did. With any luck I’ll be able to continue the tradition and get amongst it out there on the road with the press, trade, and consumers and keep winning hearts and palates for Yalumba – same story, same family. I’ll see you out there with a glass!