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Yalumba's Magic

In celebration of the Yalumba Galway Vintage Malbec 2012 being the Wine Selectors Wine of the Month for May, we chatted with Robert Hill-Smith, Yalumba’s Chairman of the Board and 5th generation owner.

Malbec is really stepping out from its role as a blending partner and looks set to become a mainstream favourite – what makes your Galway Vintage Malbec 2012 so special?

We know the vineyard and I see Malbec as a forgotten part of heritage. I loved many of the Mildara Cabernet Shiraz Malbec from Coonawarra and only Bleasdale seem to be having a serious dip. The time was right and given its juiciness and accommodating mid-palate we thought it was time to partner our Galway Vintage Shiraz with another Barossa beauty at an accessible price.

Yalumba is in Angaston, a village at the entrance to the Eden Valley, and you also have vineyards in other parts of the Barossa Valley– why are these regions so great for making wine?

We know both regions backwards, so that’s a start! Far from being a one trick pony the Barossa and Eden Valley have many sub-districts that favour various styles. Not many regions can make world-class fortifieds yet 15kms away grow classy dry Riesling and Viognier of greatness.

Established over 160 years ago, Yalumba is Australia’s oldest family-owned winery – it must be such an honour to be a part of its history and its future?

It is if you don’t think about it too much! With it comes a variety of positives and issues, but we respect our vineyards, our people and our community whilst we seek to craft interesting quality, fine wines.

As a 5th generation of the Hill-Smith family, did you ever consider a career in a field outside the wine industry?

Of course! Every long-haired 18-year-old rebel in the 1970s wanted to do anything other than join the family. They were great years, and whilst I studied, sport was a huge part of my life as was the penchant for beer, wine and song. However, the smell of the ferment cellar reeled me in and I haven’t looked back.

You have three daughters, are they planning to join the family business?

There is no pressure and no rush. If they do then that is a bonus for me. They show some talent, they like wine and are keen to soak up a lot of information, so you never know.

Yalumba is a member of Australia’s First Families of Wine – why is this association of families so important?

We need to share our wine history with the world to put Australia and its styles and aspirations into context – we do it with our family stories and characters.

What can you see as the future of Australia’s wine industry?

Ultimately very positive, but not without much, much more hard work. We make great wines across many varietals and regions, however, Australia needs to work harder to get our fine wine story across and make the world take us even more seriously.

Making a success in the wine industry takes a lot of hard work and dedication – what advice would you give someone looking to start a career in wine?

As a winemaker, have a theme, be a specialist and be very good at it. It takes more money and more time to do than anyone wishes, but the end game justifies the patience.

What’s your ‘go to wine’ when you’re a home relaxing with your family?

We have many – Pewsey Vale Riesling, Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache, Dalrymple Pinot and many, many more!

May is Aussie Wine Month – is Yalumba holding any special events to celebrate?

We are be conducting a few events but May is also time for the London Wine Fair and Vinexpo in Hong Kong, plus we are planning the launch of some new vintages of special wines and mature releases. Every month is busy, busy, busy!

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Passing on the Passion
Australia’s next generation of winemakers really have the goods. Producing amazing wines, from contemporary takes on much-loved favourites, to new and exciting blends and varietals, they’re taking Australian winemaking into the future. Some, like this talented bunch are blessed to have winemaking in their blood, with invaluable skills, knowledge and experience passed down from their fathers. We asked each of them the same two questions; how do you see the future of your family winery? And what influence has your father had on you and your winemaking? Ben Portet and Dominique Portet – Dominique Portet “Exciting and bright. Innovation and productivity is key to our family story and we feel proud to be part of the Australian wine landscape.” “His determination, flare, and pioneering spirit are been huge qualities that I admire greatly. I'm extremely fortunate to work with my father Dominique and share his same vision for quality.” Rob Ellis and John Ellis – Hanging Rock “It’s interesting, my parent’s original goal in the 1980s was to produce around 15-20,000 cases of really top quality wine from Heathcote and the Macedon Ranges, sell it all in six months and live the rest of the year in France. Over the years the model has changed and we are currently producing about double the quantity with grapes coming from all over Victoria. Slowly but surely my sister and I want to get back to the original plan – especially the France part.” “My dad John is an amazing winemaker. One of his biggest talents is the art of blending. He was the first person in Australia to make a Cabernet Merlot . He could see that Merlot filled the natural hole in the mid palate of the Cabernet , making it a more complete wine. Our Sparkling wine ‘Macedon’ is a blend of up to 30 different components from different vintages, varieties, clones and barrels. It’s quite a challenge to fit them all together, picturing how they will taste in up to 15 years. Dad has taught me a lot in this regard. Dad and my grandfather (Murray Tyrrell) both instilled in me from an early age not to rely on numbers (baumé level) when deciding when to pick grapes – the most important part is tasting the grapes to ensure they have the right flavour. For that reason, I drive thousands of kilometres each vintage going to vineyards to taste and sample the fruit myself.” Alex Cassegrain and John Cassegrain – Cassegrain Wines “As Cassegrain Wines moves into the future, we’d like to continue to build upon our brand profile, increasing our foothold in the export market. We have a very good presence in Japan and would like to expand on this further.” “My father John has had a profound influence on my career as a winemaker. As well as sharing his love and passion for wine, he has imparted a great sense of respect for terroir and the appreciation of different regions. Winemaking is in many aspects a science, but it is also an art; his philosophy of getting the most out of each parcel has been fundamental to not just my own learning, but also the individuality of our product.” Luke Tocaciu and Pat Tocaciu – Patrick of Coonawarra “Patrick of Coonawarra has been through some difficult times recently, with the loss of my father, Patrick, three years ago. It has also arguably been one of the toughest times in the wine industry through this period. To be able to grow and develop the business since then has been a great achievement. This gives me confidence that my father’s legacy will continue and the future is bright for Patrick of Coonawarra.” “My father had a huge influence on both my life and my winemaking – I always wanted to follow in his footsteps and be a winemaker from an early age. To be able to work together in the family business for a few years was a huge achievement and one that he was very proud of. He had the knowledge and experience of years in the industry and I had the ‘fresh out of university’ science background. He trained me to make a lot of decisions on taste rather than what the numbers tell you. This has given me a greater appreciation for the tradition of winemaking and helped me to balance this with the modern technology that we use today.” Chris Tyrrell and Bruce Tyrrell – Tyrrell’s Wines “I see the future of Tyrrell’s Wines being a continuation of the last few years of repositioning our business. Gone are the days of trying to play with the big boys and wanting to be everything to everyone. I think that we now really know our strengths, in the Hunter Valley making high-end single vineyard wines as well as our vineyard in Heathcote. I also see Tyrrell’s continuing to be the beating heart of the Hunter Valley and a leader in the Australian Wine Industry. It’s an exciting time and I’m very much looking forward to the challenge.” “My father Bruce has taught me more that I think I will ever know. We are so different, just as he and his father Murray were. We are both obsessed with making the best wine possible, and that’s one of the main things I have taken from him. If it’s not worth doing well, then don’t do it. And the vineyards are the key, without them we are nothing. Also to surround yourself with the best people you can find in areas that aren’t your strength.” Jason Sobel and Kevin Sobel – Kevin Sobels Wines “We’re fortunate to live in the Hunter Valley, one of the oldest and best known wine regions in Australia. Enjoying stable growing conditions which allows us to make a variety of wine styles, and being located in what is recognised as the most visited wine tourism region, I believe our business has a great future.” “What I have learnt from my father Kevin is that winemaking is always evolving and that you have to produce wines that are different and interesting as well as the traditional styles characteristic of the region.” Jen Pfeiffer and Chris Pfeiffer – Pfeiffer Wines “I feel very positive about the future for Pfeiffer Wines. My parents started Pfeiffer Wines 32 years ago and over all those years they have developed a very loyal following of "pfans of Pfeiffer"! I came home and started my winemaking career in 2000. Apart from the 17 vintages I have worked in Australia, I have also worked vintages in France and in Portugal. I see the future here taking on some grape varieties from the Iberian Peninsula to add to our extensive portfolio of grape varieties and wines. That way we will work alongside the changing weather patterns and adapt our vineyards in grapes and farming practices. It is a challenge but I have always been invigorated by a challenge.” “My dad, Chris, is one of my mentors. I don't have many but I truly value those that I have. I have learnt so much from them all but especially from Dad as we have worked together for so long. Over my 17 years making wine here at Pfeiffer Wines, my Dad has given me a free hand to experiment, take risks and make it all under a watchful eye, especially at the start. We do all our barrel tastings together and consult with each other after tasting the wines independently and making our own assessments. I really value my Dad's opinion, after all, this is his 43rd vintage!”
Hunter Valley Legends Awards
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Rutherglen Legends Campbells Wines
What makes Rutherglen so special? Rutherglen has a very unique climate. Our heat degree days are about in line with the Clare Valley , but we have more sunshine hours than any other wine region in Australia. This means our grapes get more exposure to sunlight so we can make our table wines earlier in the season. Also, we normally have nice dry autumns that enable us to get much riper fruit for Muscats and Topaques. Rutherglen is also a very unique region because we work very closely together as a group – we call it ‘coopetition’. We cooperate and work together when we’re out in the bigger scene and at joint promotions and when we’re at home, we’re competing with our neighbours. What are some of the winemaking challenges Rutherglen presents? Just this year we had not overly hot temperatures, but up in the mid-30s for 10 days in a row and that brought all the grapes on very, very quickly. We’re in some interesting times because as a winemaker you can’t foresee these things, you’ve got to deal with them when they happen. But I find it difficult to believe that the dramatic changes in vintages have been caused by climate change, because it’s too sudden. While I’ve got no doubt that our climate will change and it is, climate change is going to be a slow, developing thing that will happen over time. What have been some of Campbells’ proudest achievements in recent years? We’ve done a lot to promote our fortified wines, our Muscats and Topaques, including developing the classification system and repositioning them as icon wines. Our Muscats are highly regarded all around the world and in 2010 renowned wine critic Harvey Steinman gave our Merchant Prince Rare Rutherglen Muscat 100 points in Wine Spectator magazine. This was the first time in the magazine’s history that an Australian wine was awarded a perfect score. So if we hadn’t repositioned the Muscats and Topaques they would have probably become a bit of a curio. Instead, we’ve been able to turn that around to something that has been a growing quality market. Having said that, however, it can be a challenge getting people to try these wines because they just associate them with Christmas lunch. So we’re in the process of revamping our fortified range with the help of a mixologist to show people that you can drink these styles any time. The other thing that’s been very rewarding is our movement with Durif. We’ve had Durif in the area for over 100 years, and because we had phylloxera, no cuttings can be taken out of the area, so we’re really proud to have the original clone. However, nothing was ever really done with it until Mick Morris made a table wine out of it about 30 years ago. Then we made our Barkley Durif in 1992 and having recognised that it was a pretty special wine, we worked on it to develop a style that was more drinkable as a younger wine, but still with longevity. Now, every Rutherglen producer has Durif and I don’t think I’d be wrong in saying that it’s their most expensive wine and that’s been a real coup. Your world class fortifieds are obviously an incredible asset, but do you think the message is getting out there that you do fantastic table wines too? No, that’s something that’s developing all the time. We’ve been trying new varieties, we’ve got a lot of Rhône varieties grown here now and that’s only happened in the last 10-15 years and also we’re trying varieties from Portugal, Spain and even into Italy to prepare ourselves for what we would say is climate change. The Wine Selectors Wine of the Month for July is your Limited Release Cabernets 2012, which features Ruby Cabernet. This isn’t a variety that we hear much of, can you describe its appeal? Ruby Cabernet is interesting because the first wines were made down around the Riverland , etc., and they weren’t very smart, they were overcropped and Ruby Cabernet ended up with a bad name. But John Brown and ourselves planted it here and we found that at the normal crop level it makes a totally different wine. It’s just a lovely wine that holds its fruit very well and ages well We’ve matched it in our 2016 calendar with slow roasted lamb shoulder with Middle Eastern spices and cumin yoghurt sauce. What are your favourite food matches with this wine? I’m pretty basic with my food – just a nice steak would probably suit me very well.
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