Australia’s iconic Yalumba winery has long adorned the shelves of both on and off trade in the UK. Earlier this year, Yalumba GEN launched into the UK on-trade, showcasing its bold steps towards fully sustainable production from grape to glass. Fast forward to autumn 2023 and GEN is now available across the UK’s off-trade sector. To mark the next step in spreading the word about this exciting initiative, we sent The Buyer’s Mike Turner to find out why producing crowd-pleasing wines needn’t ‘cost the earth’.
“The strong selling points of the GEN series include an appeal to younger, more socially aware drinkers who increasingly demand organic wine as a base case scenario,” writes Turner.
About ten years or so a good mate of mine from my postgrad days invited me over for dinner. He’d just got married and his new bride had moved over to the UK with him as he bustled his way through the murky world of working in finance in Canary Wharf. He mentioned she had some game in the kitchen and, both of them being Pakistani, she was going to cook up a feast for us including a Pakistani curry with cream, almonds and more aromatic spices than you could shake a stick at!
I was to bring the wine and followed the tried and trusted check-Fiona-Beckett’s-website method, which led me down the route of Viognier. A quick trip to Majestic later and I arrived sporting a bottle of Yalumba’s Organic Viognier which, within a few hours, was providing one of the most perfect food and wine pairings I can genuinely remember. You can’t help but have great memories of a wine like that and one you go back to time and time again.
It was with genuine eagerness then that I took on the assignment to look into the evolution of that wine and that range as, this autumn, Yalumba launches their new-look GEN range to the UK’s off-trade.
Who are Yalumba?
Yalumba is a bona fide Australian wine icon. First set up by an Englishman, Samuel Smith, in 1849, his descendants have now been managing the Barossa-based property and making wines for over 170 years. Current proprietor and 5th generation Robert Hill-Smith has cemented Yalumba’s position as one of Australia’s finest.
Arguably Hill-Smith’s greatest success, however, has been to put together one of the finest winemaking teams in Australia, headed by the world-renowned Louisa Rose. It’s her that I apparently have to thank for my Australian Viognier epiphany all those years ago thanks to her persistent efforts to establish the variety in South Australia. She’s joined by a team that each boast an average of over 20 years at Yalumba, including scientist-turned-winemaker Heather Fraser whose responsibility of helping to progress the Organics Collection has now evolved along with the wines to become the GEN series.
Yalumba GEN – the pathway to sustainability
The new collection is an evolution, albeit a very well-planned evolution, of Yalumba’s pre-existing organic range. First produced around 20 years ago, in the early 2000s, the organic releases from Yalumba marked the first step on an impressive path to explore what a winery of its size and scale could achieve in terms of sustainability. As Hill-Smith once said, “if we’re to focus on excellence in winemaking, it absolutely requires excellence in environmental management – the two are inseparable.”
Accolades, awards and registration with the most progressive systems have followed. Recognition also came from outside the industry with: special recognition by South Australia’s Environmental Protection Agency as an industry high-achiever in 2005; the Climate Protection Award from the US’ EPA just two years later; and 2013’s International Award of Excellence in Sustainable Winegrowing. A quick scroll on the scores of awards and accolades on the Yalumba website prove that this is far from playing lip-service to a ‘sustainability trend’, they truly live and breathe the desire to do things better year on year.
Yalumba is now proudly accredited by both the Sustainable Winegrowing Australia programme and a member of the International Wineries for Climate Action. Its pathway towards future-proofing activities has led to the Yalumba Sustainability Charter, a blueprint for all those generations to come. Cynics may scoff at the phrase “A Better Future for Future Generations” on each label of the GEN series, but when it comes from people who genuinely mean it, it becomes a lot less risible and a lot more deserving of respect.
Work in the vineyard
The work towards sustainability starts, inevitably, in the vineyard. Yalumba works with six different family growers for the GEN collection, producing certified organic grapes since 2005. These growers have multiple generations of knowledge and have been part of the Yalumba story for at least 30 years. Each grower is a member of Sustainable Winegrowing Australia, which requires they manage their vines to the same high standards, such as planting native salt bush as a cover crop inbetween rows to preserve soil structure, and putting straw under vines to help water retention and increase microbial activity in the soil.
The collection is also covered by the wider Yalumba Sustainability Charter, which includes the use of drought resistant rootstocks to deliver water savings of 20% and the use of an insectarium in the Eden Valley to boost the biodiversity and natural health of the surrounding vineyards. This biodiversity is further boosted by the Hectare for Hectare initiative which sees one hectare of native vegetation planted and protected for every one hectare of vines planted.
Work in the winery
The Yalumba GEN collection includes many aspects of what we know as minimal intervention winemaking. The use of spontaneous fermentation using only natural yeasts was, like many sustainable practices used by Yalumba, out of a desire to make better wines, not as a sales pitch. The same is true for its decision to move away from using animal products such as gelatin, milk, and eggs. The winemaking team believed that they stripped away the delectable fruit flavours and textures they wanted in the final wines. It just so happened that those best practices produced vegan wine.
The winery is where the sustainable pillars of energy, water and waste use really need to be controlled and can have a huge effect on the whole process. The Yalumba winery has a massive 1300MWh of energy generation through the solar panels on the roof, enough to power a small town, and covering 20% of the power needs. All water used in the winery is treated onsite and returned to the vineyards for irrigation. Yalumba also proudly states that “100% of our vintage output is recycled, re-used or re-purposed,” with all organic waste returned to the vineyards as mulch or fodder. Even the old barrels are used for further storage needs or given to local carpenters to make furniture.
The great packaging debate
As the debate on packaging in the wine industry rages on, we’re all becoming increasingly aware of the impact that bottles, labels and shipping has on the sustainability credentials of that wine by the time it hits your glass. Yalumba is signed up to Australia’s National Packaging Targets of 100% recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025. Around 30% of the bottles for the GEN collection are from recycled glass, with 100% of the glass recyclable and increasingly lightweight. Even the labels are made from post-consumer waste and FSC-certified paper, and proudly display the flowing icon in the middle of each label to represent the ever-evolving sustainability journey.
How do the wines taste?
The strong selling points of the GEN series include an appeal to younger, more socially aware drinkers who increasingly demand organic wine as a base case scenario. The wines are organic, 100% wild fermented and now fully certified by Sustainable Winegrowing Australia. The strongest selling point, and the true base case for anyone looking to stock these wines, is that the wines taste good…well, other than they’re going to be about £10-£13 retail which is a bit of a steal! I tried my way through each of the wines and picked out what I thought really stood out about each.
Yalumba GEN Viognier 2022
I mean this was always going to be a favourite of mine wasn’t it? It took me right back to that dinner table in St Catherine’s Dock all those years back. Lovely nose of stone fruits, peach blossom, ginger and a citrusy twang. Creamy, mouth-filling texture and a gently warming finish. This wine won a trophy for Best Park Wine and GOLD at the Australian Organic Wine Awards 2023.
Yalumba GEN Sauvignon Blanc 2022
I drink a lot of Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc and this wine felt like a fabulous middle ground between the subtler French style and the in-your-face style of the Kiwi Savvy Bs (which I also love I’d like to point out). Smokey, bit of struck match reductive notes, white peach, green apples and a restrained but very present lemon and gooseberry citrus. Bit of lees action on the mouthfeel gave it that little extra for the food pairing.
Yalumba GEN Shiraz 2022
For those of you who like your ripe fruits and restrained body, this is the Shiraz for you. Red and black plums, wild raspberries, black pepper, a touch jammy but not in a bad way at all. I actually like the smooth, very drinkable nature. One to open on a Thursday evening when you’ve nearly made the weekend! This wine won GOLD at the Global and Vegan Wine Masters UK Wine Show.
The full GEN collection contains 5 different varietal wines. At launch it is the Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz that will be available to the UK’s off-trade through Fells, with the Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio available on special pre-order delivery only. For ordering information, please contact your Fells representative or email@example.com
Mike Turner is a freelance writer, presenter, educator, judge and regular contributor for The Buyer through his editorial company Please Bring Me My Wine. He also runs a wine events and ecommerce business, Feel Good Grapes, that explores and discusses the idea of sustainability in the wine trade.