1847 till Today: Australia’s Wine History with Yalumba and Pewsey Vale

1847 was an important year in Australian wine as two things happened. First John Gilbert who moved from Britain to Australia planted Riesling and other grapes in the Eden Valley in what is known as the Pewsey Vale Vineyard.  This vineyard had 3 generations of Gilbert’s grow grapes till it was sold in the 1920’s, and then again in 1962 when Wyndham Hill-Smith bought the land and planted more Riesling in this vineyard to bring it to it’s time today.  This vineyard is well-known for producing premium Riesling.  There is only Riesling now in this vineyard.  That is more than 170 years of heritage growing Riesling in this vineyard.  Quite a feat. 

The second reason 1847 was important was that another British man, Samuel Smith arrived in Australia.  He started his life there as a gardener, then joined the Australian gold rush where he found enough gold that he then in 1849 purchased land in the Barossa Valley and named it Yalumba, the indigenous word meaning “all the land around”.  Six generations later, Jessica Hill-Smith, is working at the winery.  Again a wonderful history of a long-lived vineyard and winery in Australia.  And you may have noticed that Pewsey Vale Vineyard is owned by the Hill-Smith family.

Jessica Hill-Smith (left) and Louisa Rose (right) talking about Yalumba and Pewsey Vale wineries

Jessica Hill-Smith (left) and Louisa Rose (right) talking about Yalumba and Pewsey Vale wineries

I, and other media people, had a Zoom meeting with Jessica Hill-Smith and Louisa Rose to taste through a bottle of the Pewsey Vale Eden Valley Riesling 2018, the Yalumba Y Series Viognier 2019, Yalumba Samuel’s Collection Barossa Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2016, and the Yalumba Samuel’s Collection Barossa Shiraz 2017.  Louisa is a winemaker at Yalumba and talked to us about the 2020 vintage while Jessica covered more of the history of both wineries, and finally Louisa walked us through the four wines. All four wines are vegan friendly by the way.

The 2020 Vintage

2019 was a dry winter in the Barossa and Eden Valleys. Typically there is enough rain to soak into the soils and prepare the vines for the growing season, but not this winter.  Only enough rain to get plants to get green.  On top of this problem, there was a late frost in November followed by strong winds.  These 3 things happening together caused the grapes to have a lower berry set.  Although there were bush fires in this vintage in early January, for Yalumba the fires stayed to the south of them, and winds came from the north pushing any smoke away, so there was no issue of smoke taint.  But it was very hot which does affect grape maturation. Luckily the temperatures cooled by the end of January and continued into February so that the grapes could fully ripen, although with all the stresses on the vines, the grapes were smaller than normal; approximately 12% less across all Australian vineyards when compared to the average yearly yield.  This though was good for the red wines as you would get lots of tannins and colours for the reds.  The cool weather would also keep sufficient acidity in the berries so that the resulting wines would have fresh fruit flavours.  During harvest in mid-March, another set-back.  This one hit the whole world: COVID-19.   Luckily wineries in Australia were declared an essential service so that the harvest and fermentation of the grapes to wine could continue, although now with modified shifts and protocols to try to keep COVID-19 at bay.  With the 2020 wines vinified, the 2021 growing season will start soon as Louisa already noted that she has seen small sprouts on some of the vines already.

The Vineyards

Along with the long heritage of Riesling vines at Eden Valley, the Hill-Smith family also decided to try planting Viognier vines in 1980.  These vines, now 40 years old, are termed Old Vines in Australia and are producing a quality white wine.  In the 1990s as part of trying out the Viognier vines for wine production, Yalumba started fermenting with indigenous yeasts, which they found to bring out the terroir of these grapes. And they continue to use wild ferments.  A portion of the Pewsey Vale vineyard is managed using biodynamic farming methods.  I did not have a chance to ask whether they noted any differences between the biodynamic managed vines and the rest of the vineyard, but it would be interesting to hear their experiences.  

My Wine Tasting Notes

Pewsey Vale Eden Valley Riesling 2018, the Yalumba Y Series Viognier 2019, Yalumba Samuel's Collection Barossa Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2016, and the Yalumba Samuel's Collection Barossa Shiraz 2017

Pewsey Vale Eden Valley Riesling 2018, the Yalumba Y Series Viognier 2019, Yalumba Samuel’s Collection Barossa Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2016, and the Yalumba Samuel’s Collection Barossa Shiraz 2017

Pewsey Vale Eden Valley Riesling 2018 (BC $19.99) –  A medium intensity bright lemon colour.  It has a medium intensity nose showing petrol and citrus along with touches of floral and honey.  This wine is dry, is semi-round, has a light mouth feel, and bright yet soft acidity.  You get bright citrus flavours along with petrol, salty minerality, and some pepperiness on the finish. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Yalumba Y Series Viognier 2019 (BC $16.99 – $15.99 on sale till Aug 1 at BC liquor stores) – Medium plus intensity lemon colour.  Deep aromas of straw, lemon, flint and tropical fruits. A medium plus body, off-dry, smooth with a heavier mouth feel.  Lower acidity. Ripe fruits, pears and apricots, along with a peppery finish.  4 out of 5 stars4.5 out of 5 stars

Yalumba Samuel’s Collection Barossa Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2016 (BC $25.99 – $22.99 on sale till Aug 1 at BC liquor stores) – This wine is 55% Grenache, 41% Shiraz, and 4% Mataro (aka Mourvedre).  It has a deep, almost opaque garnet and ruby colour.  Dark, ripe black fruit, sweet spice, tarriness and black olives.  A bigger mouthfeel, round and smooth.  Buttery.  Plush with lower acidity. A mix of black and red fruits, and sweet spices.  I may also noted a hint of floral.  And some spiciness on the end.  4.5 out of 5 stars

Yalumba Samuel’s Collection Barossa Shiraz 2017 (BC $29.98) –  this wine, and the GSM above, are both Samuel’s Collection wines.  Samuel’s Collection honours Yalumba’s founder Samuel Smith as I mentioned above who planted the Yalumba vineyard in 1849. It honours his spirit of embracing provenance and giving back to the land. This wine is 99% opaque garnet in colour.  It has a pretty nose with floral, red fruit and cinnamon aromas. It has a medium body, dry to slightly off-dry, round, with a light mouthfeel.  Soft ripe red and black fruits, floral, and some chocolate flavours.  You also get some tarriness with air.  Light pepperiness on the finish. 4.5 out of 5 stars5 out of 5 stars

Where Can I Buy These Wines?

Luckily all these wines are available in BC.  The Pewsey Vale Vineyard Riesling is available at BC Liquor stores. The Yalumba Y Series Viognier and GSM are also available through BC Liquor stores.  Everything Wine has the Pewsey Vale Riesling and the Yalumba Y Series Viognier and Samuel’s Collection Shiraz. Check your local wine shop as well.

Drink Good Wine. That is my motto and I really want to help you drink good wine. What is good wine? That can be a different thing for each people. Food also loves wine so I also cover food and wine pairings, restaurant reviews, and world travel. Enjoy life with me. MyWinePal was started by Karl Kliparchuk, WSET. I spent many years with the South World Wine Society as the President and then cellar master. I love to travel around the world, visiting wine regions and sharing my passion for food & wine with you. Come live vicariously through me, and enjoy all my recommended wines.