A “super claret” 168 years in the making was officially released in a series of special events across the globe last week.
One of the most anticipated wine releases of the year, The Caley Coonawarra and Barossa Cabernet Shiraz was showcased to trade and media at Australia’s oldest family-owned winery, Yalumba at Angaston.
With a price tag of $349 it sits above Yalumba’s long-established cabernet shiraz blend, The Signature, and is named for Fred Caley Smith, grandson of Yalumba’s founder Samuel Smith.
Fred was a horticulturist who had a profound impact on the development of Yalumba’s orchards and vineyards. He is best remembered for an 18-month ground-breaking research journey that he undertook in 1893 and 1894 to the USA, UK, Europe, the Middle East, Sri Lanka and India.
The 29-year-old’s detailed and poignant letters to his father were collected and kept in the Yalumba archive. Across subsequent generations, they have provided inspiration and encouragement for the winery’s outward looking international handshake.
In The Caley, Yalumba has taken a step away from recent industry trends for single vineyard, standalone varietals and looked back to the early wines of Australia and the popular claret (a blend of cabernet sauvignon and shiraz).
“The wine came to us,” fifth-generation Yalumba proprietor Robert Hill-Smith said at last week’s VIP event.
“We didn’t set out in 2012 to make a wine named for Fred Caley Smith, or a wine that was going to be priced this way in five years’ time.
“We just had so many beautiful wines on the bench post vintage in 2012.”
Mr Hill-Smith recalled how Yalumba’s long-term director of wine Brian Walsh called him in to taste ferments in 2012.
“He said, ‘We have a year in which we can, if we wish, go back to a Coonawarra Barossa blend; we don’t have a label, and we don’t have a destiny for it, but there’s some special options on the table’,” Mr Hill-Smith said.
“That’s where this all started.”
It was a year in which Yalumba saw the opportunity to do something exciting.
“I think it would be fair to say that in many ways as a winery, we’ve often been a little too modest for our own good, while others have done daring things and outshone us,” Mr Hill-Smith said.
“I think this was a wine that, as time went on and we saw how it was coming together, we saw an opportunity to have an aspiration and be bold with our vision about what Yalumba should stand for in the Australian wine fraternity.
“We have been bold, we’re really proud of the wine, we’re really thrilled with the way people have embraced our own aspiration.
“It’s important not only from Yalumba’s perspective but for Australia to have these wines that have got credibility.
“We’ve been in the game 168 years by the end of this year, we’ve had lovely wines and wines with real provenance, with distinction and personality, but this is a wine that, yes, if it invites conjecture so be it – we’re happy for that.”
The official launch day of May 12 was deliberately earmarked early in the evolution of the product.
“Fred Caley Smith left in March 1893 on this journey to learn about what was happening in horticulture across the rest of the world,” Mr Hill-Smith said.
“This day is the day he landed in San Francisco – May 12 – to start his journey on land.
”Legend has it on his first voyage which went via Auckland, he befriended a businessman on the journey; his first invitation was to take Fred to the opium dens of San Francisco and just give him a quick orientation into the real world.
“You can imagine a chap from this village of Angaston with 300 people, landing in San Francisco and straight to the opium dens for an initiation!”
Mr Hill-Smith said the story of Fred Caley Smith may never have come to light in this way if not for Yalumba wine ambassador Jane Ferrari – who is currently launching The Caley in San Francisco itself.
“(Jane) became really intrigued by Fred Caley’s travels and his work around horticulture and viticulture,” he said.
“It is Jane that really brought this story about Fred to life.”
Australian wine was at an exciting time in its evolution, according to Mr Hill-Smith.
“It can use an authentic story of aspiration, struggle and persistence.
“The Caley is that story – of a long journey that is a long way from over.”