Yalumba is the oldest family owned winery in Australia, its chair, Robert Hill Smith is the fifth generation of the family and has been a driving force since he took on the managing director role over 30 years ago.
The name Yalumba itself was given by Robert’s ancestor Samuel Smith from the local Aboriginal word ‘all the country around’ or ‘all the land about’, making Robert Hill Smith and his family, custodians with a real sense of belonging to the region, its history and the land itself. With its excellent wines, long family tradition and proud heritage, Yalumba is a must for anyone visiting the Barossa - its beautiful Angaston Marble building and clocktower - built in 1910, are still a striking example of early South Australian architecture and local building material.
"Yalumba is the oldest family-owned winery in Australia."
Along with the continuous history of the Smith family, the Barossa is also host to the largest collection of the oldest, continuously producing vineyards in the world. And although Shiraz (Syrah), and Grenache are the most prevalent, there is also Mataro (Mourvèdre), Semillon and even Cabernet Sauvignon.
And it’s precisely because of these old, unique vineyards, filled with thick stumped, craggy old vines, that Yalumba wanted to ensure that terms such as ‘old vines’ were properly used and easy for the consumer to understand.
But why even bother with the term ‘old vine’, yet alone divide vines into 4 categories, not including those under 35 years? According to winemakers that have had the opportunity to work and make wines from very old vines - whether it be California Zinfandel, Swartland Chenin Blanc, Toro Tempranillo or Barossa Grenache and Shiraz - there seems to be an extra dimension of character, depth of flavour… ‘X factor’. Robert Hill Smith says “Seriously old vines appear to have an advantage in their consistent ability to make wines of great structure, concentration and power – with minimal intervention…”
"The Barossa Valley is host to the largest collection of the oldest, continuously producing vineyards in the world."
People argue about whether they are great because they’re old, or old because they’re great - it’s probably a bit of both. After all, if a vine doesn’t perform, it’s simply removed - uprooted - so poor vines don’t get an opportunity to get old. Great old vineyards survived because they had always produced great fruit, which in turn, made great wines. Even over a 150 years ago, people saw that they produced superior quality grapes.
So in 2009, the Barossa Grape and Wine Association, backed Yalumba’s initiative and established the Barossa Old Vine Charter at a regional level - recognising and celebrating the intrinsic merit of old vines so that older vines could be preserved, retained and promoted. The Charter groups vineyards into four chronological categories by age, as detailed below.
These old vines have grown beyond adolescence and are now fully mature. They have a root structure and trunk thickness that encourages diversity of flavour and character. Their worthiness has been proven over many vintages, consistently producing the highest quality fruit for Barossa wines of distinction and longevity.
These very old vines are a living symbol of traditional values in a modern environment and signal a renewed respect for Barossa old vine material. They have weathered the worst of many storms, both man-made and naturally occurring, including the infamous 1980s Vine Pull scheme. A Barossa Survivor vine has reached a significant milestone and pays homage to the resolute commitment of those growers and winemakers who value the quality and structure of old vine wines.
These exceptionally old vines serve as witness to Barossa’s resilience in the face of adversity. Barossa, unlike many other of the world’s great wine regions, is phylloxera-free, which allowed these vines to mature into their naturally-sculptured forms with thick, gnarly trunks. They have very low yields and can produce wines with high intensity of flavour. Planted generations ago, when dry-farming techniques required careful site selection, Centenarian vines have truly withstood the test of time.
An Ancestor vine has stood strong and proud for at least one hundred and twenty-five years – a living tribute to the early European settlers of Barossa. Their genetic material has helped to populate the region with irreplaceable old stocks that underpin the viticultural tradition. They tend to be dry-grown, low-yielding vines with great intensity of flavour, and are believed to be among the oldest producing vines in the world.
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