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The Story of Yalumba

Cabernet and Grenache are two essential chapters in the story of Yalumba. Join us as we uncover the characters and the plot behind their creations with a dream vertical tasting in the Barossa

As Australia’s oldest family wine brand, Yalumba has a rich history packed with incredible stories. And, like any family, the tales offer more about the individuals and their character than the brand itself.

As time passes, these stories meld and form an identity that ultimately shapes the family’s place in the world. Yalumba is bursting with such yarns and if you visit its home, just outside Angaston in the Barossa Valley, you will see mementoes of these moments, memories and people everywhere.

As for the brand, ‘Yalumba’ is an Indigenous word that translates to ‘all the land around’ and is now connected to its home, the winery and cellar door just outside Angaston. This impressive structure, complete with clock tower, is made from Angaston marble and it stands as a five-generational, 168-year statement in winemaking vision and commitment.

Interestingly, Yalumba’s story began not with wine, but beer, when brewer Samuel Smith came to South Australia in 1849. With the help of his son Sidney, Samuel set up shop and started planting vines on 30 acres on their land. Today, the Yalumba empire is considered a multi-regional, multi-layered, modern, family wine business that has plenty of products across a wide brand portfolio. 

Most people will have a Yalumba taste or experience to call on if required, but what about the lesser known stories? Thankfully, a recent Yalumba tasting helped bring a couple of significant ones to light: its commitment to Coonawarra and its undertaking to Grenache.

 

 AN ODE TO SIR ROBERT

Former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, who was well known for his love of Claret, once declared that a 1962 Yalumba Coonawarra was, “the greatest wine he had tasted.” Someone at Yalumba took note and in 1987 the first ‘The Menzies’ was born. 

Today, The Menzies, under the custodial care of winemaker Natalie Cleghorn, is classic Coonawarra and represents the best of Yalumba’s Cabernet plantings on the magic terra rossa strip.

The Menzies is a serious wine, built to last with elegant measures of everything – structure, complexity, balance and long term cellaring potential. From the current 2013 to the soon to be released 2014, all the way back to the original 1987 vintage, the bracket proved that this wine deserves its place in the Yalumba narrative. 

Natalie, originally from the Adelaide Hills, came to Yalumba to work in the lab and loves the frame that Cabernet offers to the winemaker’s palate. “To me, Coonawarra Cabernet is a building block; fruit and flavours are on top of the presence of its structure,” she explains. “When it comes to wine, it’s like looking at a beautiful building. It’s a hard thing to describe, but it’s about creating something that will live for a long time.”

Structure is key when it comes to Coonawarra Cabernet and the impact of that factor in the life of a wine was not lost when we tasted the 1987 vintage of The Menzies. Fine and elegant with buckets of dusty violets, blackcurrants, cassis and chocolate flavours beguile the nose and palate, while the texture of this wine in the mouth is quite stunning. 

HOLD THE OPULENCE

Next up was The Cigar, made from the same vineyards as The Menzies, but designed to be less opulent and therefore more of an approachable Coonawarra Cabernet statement.  

The Cigar was first released in 2006, but has been steadily gaining popularity since. Now part of the ‘Distinguished Sites’ range, this wine shows controlled intensity and classic Cabernet flavours with satisfying, well-toned complexity and length. A standout was the 2013 for its dense blackcurrant and tobacco leaf aromatics balanced by a juicy palate of elegant black and red fruits. The not yet released 2014 shows plenty of elegant, feminine beauty and medium weighted potential, soon to become a new character in the Yalumba story.

 A CHAPTER REBORN

Grenache has been a blending partner with Shiraz and Mourvèdre for years, but only recently has the thick skinned, late ripening variety gained attention as a single expression. 

Ironically, while it’s thought of as an alternative grape in Australia, Grenache was one of the first to be widely planted here and the Barossa has some of the country’s oldest vines. Yalumba has long recognised the important part this variety will play in its story and has entrusted it to senior red winemaker, Kevin Glastonbury. 

Kevin has spent his working life in the Barossa and has been at Yalumba since 1999. Highly regarded and respected, he has a real soft spot for Grenache’s many vivid expressions and unique power to weight potential.

Kevin has been on a Grenache crusade and all his wines are beautiful expressions of versatility, each with its own tale. 

“One of my personal goals when I joined Yalumba was to bring focus onto Grenache, mainly because it’s my favourite single variety to work with,” Kevin describes.

“Consumers are appreciating that Grenache isn’t just another big Barossa or McLaren Vale red wine. They are now wines of finesse and texture, with techniques like whole bunch fermentation playing a big role. 

“At Yalumba, we have seen incredible growth with Grenache. When I started here 18 years ago, we had a couple of Grenache wines. Now we are making it in two Rosé styles, five single varietal wines, and one blended with Shiraz and Mataro. It is really fantastic to see how Grenache is being appreciated.”

And with resources like the 820 gnarly, 128-year-old bush vines that Kevin has at his disposal for theTri-Centenary Grenache, it is easy to see why he is a happy Barossan. The Tri-Centenary line-up going back to 2005 was incredible. These wines are light, almost Pinot Noir-like in weight, but all possess incredible depth and complexity. From the rustic, heady aromas and tart-ripe cherries of the 2005, to the exotic truffle and blackberry aromatics and rounded length of the 2011, these wines express a depth and intensity that is quite special.

 WEIGHTY WONDERS

Next bracket of wines were the Carriage Block Grenache planted in 1954 in the valley’s north towards Kalimna by local train driver at the time, Elmore Schulz. These wines showed a little more weight that the Tri-Centenary wines, but had wonderful layers of bright cherries, spices and raspberries. With all that ripe fruit you would expect some sweetness, but surprisingly, both wines had an attractive savoury finish.

To finish up, we looked at the 2015 and 2016 Vine Vale wines, yet another expression of the Yalumba Grenache tale. These wines expressed a gamey, savoury complexity that was charming and again, exhibited bags of power and finesse, but in a light-weighted frame. As a variety that loves the warmth, Grenache can sometimes exude alcohol heat, but none of Kevin’s wines had fallen victim to this curse.

Grenache is a wonderful old part of the Yalumba story that, through the support of the Hill-Smith family and the drive of Kevin, has become a new chapter. Similarly with Cabernet, Coonawarra and Natalie, we will start to see new stories emerge and find their as part of the bigger Yalumba picture. 

If you haven’t formed your own Yalumba impression, you should take a closer look, the wines and the story are definitely worth it.

 THE WINES OF THE TASTING

  • Yalumba The Menzies Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 1987, 1995, 2006, 2010, 2013, 2014 
  • Yalumba The Cigar Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, 2010, 2013, 2014
  • Yalumba The Tri-Centenary Grenache 2005, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2016
  • Yalumba Carriage Block Grenache 2015, 2016
  • Yalumba Vine Vale Grenache 2015, 2016

RARE, FINE AND DISTINGUISHED YALUMBA WINES

Wine
Words by
Paul Diamond
Photography by
JK+Crew – James Knowler
Published on
15 May 2017

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