Yalumba’s Legendary Link Between Wine and Test Cricket

Yalumba’s Legendary Link Between Wine and Test Cricket

Yalumba may be best known as Australia’s oldest family-owned winery, or for being the only one in the southern-hemisphere with its own operational cooperage, but for all its rich history and fine wine, I recently discovered that the iconic brand’s links to Australian cricket are as deep rooted as the vines that trace their origins to the first plantings at Angaston back in 1849.

These days the Yalumba juggernaut remains under the ownership of the Hill-Smith family, but its leadership has transitioned from patriarch, Robert Hill-Smith, to “non-family” CEOs, firstly Nick Waterman (until 2022) and more recently Karl Martin. While the organisation may have now adopted a more “corporate” style of management, it remains shackled to its values of the past and its minimal intervention winemaking practices. And for all the grandeur of the marble and sandstone clocktower and the artworks, artefacts and history on display in the publicly accessible wine room, nothing speaks more of the larrikin cricket history of the place than the enlarged framed photo of poolside Ashes combatants from the 1982 Adelaide test.

The image of English great Ian “Beefy” Botham alongside Aussie quick, Dennis Lillee – sporting their budgie-smugglers and swigging from a bottle of Pewsey Vale Estate Riesling – sits pride of place on the wine room counter.  Back in the times when test matches had rest days, it was almost ritualistic that the Australian and touring teams would take a spell as guests of the Hill-Smith family. As Robert proudly explained during a recent visit, the tradition was started by his father,  Wyndham (“Windy”) Hill Smith – a man who played for an Australian XI and even alongside Sir Donald Bradman during the infamous Bodyline series of 1932.

But the Yalumba connection to cricket is as far reaching and enduring as the brand itself. Robert’s great uncle, Clem Hill, played 49 tests for Australia and captained the national team on ten occasions. Robert himself played a bit as a youngster, though he concedes perhaps not with quite the same success as his forbears.

With so many cricket legends visiting and sampling the Yalumba wares over the years, it begs the question, which wines did they enjoy the most? Well, according to Rob, it was probably the reds that attracted the most interest. He recalls that the Yalumba Signature (cabernet and shiraz blend) was a favourite of the late greats Richie Benaud and Rod Marsh, as well as Dennis Lillee, (South African) Graeme Pollock and (English bat) David Gower.

My recent visit to Yalumba was, perhaps appropriately, along with some former Australian greats of the game, Allan Border and Ian Healy. According to AB, he rates The Octavius most highly of the Yalumba line-up, while Heals is a big fan of the Paradox Shiraz – though I did notice that he cleanly gloved a glass of the super-premium “The Caley” ($365) when thrust in his direction. The Caley is a tribute to an adventurous member of the family, Fred Caley Smith,  who toured the world in 1893 in his research into eradicating fruit diseases. The blend of cabernet and shiraz is the “pinnacle” wine for Yalumba – a wine intended to sit alongside the iconic Australian wines like Penfolds Grange and Henschke’s Hill of Grace.

The world of wine has plenty of great stories. But whether they be of larrikins, rogues or rascals, I suspect that when test cricketers are involved, the stories that they dine on will frequently have links to the Angaston winery with the famed marble and sandstone clocktower!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *