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Saturday, 3 March 2018

Chateau Yaldara - The Seventy Year Old Start-up

Image from Chateau Yaldara
(c) Stuart Robinson, 2017
"Für Sorgen sorgt das liebe Leben
und Sorgenbrecher sind die Keben"

"Cares are part of our lovely life
but an antidote to care is available in grapes."

The buzz and enthusiasm around Chateau Yaldara is palpable, such that the internal joke is that they're a "seventy year old start-up".

Their story is one that largely mirrors that of the Australian wine industry and, truly, to even begin to consider its future, you need to appreciate the past.

Its past can be traced back to the period immediately post-war (the second great war, that is) when Georgian refugee Herman J Thumm found himself in Australia via a rather colourful and somewhat tortuous journey. Not wanting to gloss over Thumm's journey to Australian shores, Thumm's own "The Road to Yaldara" covers it in sufficient detail.

Reading that publication gives the sense of determination inherent in Thumm, for his arrival in Australia was not without drama and setbacks. Overcoming such issues was to become one of Thumm's defining characteristics. That and his sense of self-importance and belief in his guardian angel.

Chateau Yaldara
Whilst working as a winery hand in the post-war Barossa Valley, Thumm recalls his first encounter with the property that eventually became Chateau Yaldara: " we came to a river crossing named Paraford; we passed an old ruin on the left and a cottage on the right....spontaneously the thoughts flashed through my mind: that could be my winery, my new home".

Image courtesy of
There's no denying Thumm's efforts in turning the ruins he chanced upon in 1940s Lyndoch, into the baroque styled masterpiece it is today.

Thumm's Yaldara was one of hard work, of tenacity, of producing a range of lauded fortified wines, as was the trend in Australian wine at the time, through the 50s and 60s.

Indeed, the winery to this date still holds significant stocks of fortified wines, an embarrassment of riches and richness, if you like.

Yet Thumm did not just rest on his laurels and follow the industry trend for fortified production. He also sought to broaden his customer base through the production of non-alcoholic beverages along with 'value add' products such as spreads made from the by-product of wine productions. He, naturally in his own humble opinion, pioneered a method for the bulk production of sparkling wine.

Thumm also sought to establish his own routes to market, partly through necessity, for the retail chain at the time was rather a closed affair. 

Thumm, with somewhat mixed fortunes established his own drive-through bottle shop - interesting parallels with Yaldara's existing ownership, but more of that later - in Sydney during the 70s. Again ahead of the curve, Thumm also pioneered a direct-to-consumer "wine club" as a means of growing revenue.

All said, Chateau Yaldara was a successful business domestically, and that financial success is where the middle part of Chateau Yaldara's story comes into play. As if to further reinforce Chateau Yaldara's claim as a microcosm for the Australian wine industry, it won't surprise to learn that a change of ownership was on the cards.

Corporate Life
In 1999 Thumm sold Chateau Yaldara to McGuigan wines. It was a tough on the brand. Chateau Yaldara effectively served as a production and administrative facility for McGuigan in the Barossa. Certainly the pioneering and experimental work of Thumm wasn't continued and the period further serves as a reference to the wider corporate concentration of ownership that was occurring in the industry during the period.

2014 - The Year of the Horse
So Chateau Yaldara's 15 year ownership under the McGuigan helm came to an end in 2014 with its acquisition by Sino-Australian businessmen Zhitai Wang and Kuifen Wang.

And that's where Chateau Yaldara's story gets interesting again. The Wang's - paralleling Thumm's own efforts in Australia - own a significant chain of liquor outlets in China, branded as (Chateau Yaldara's now parent company).

Whilst this channel has given Chateau Yaldara access to this lucrative market, the neglect of McGuigan has left its name in Australia a distant memory for many, and perhaps at best a footnote in the changing fortunes of the Australian wine industry.

I spoke of the palpable excitement within the business at the opening of this piece, and that was very evident in being shown around the property by Brand Ambassador Steve Lindner. Lindner spoke of the change and opportunity within the business and of the sense of appreciation for the legacy for the brand.

Recent vintages have seen Chateau Yaldara adjust its positioning in the Australian market place. Less of an emphasis on fortified wines and a shift away from the bombastic, hedonistic, fruit-forward and oak driven styles to wines more towards the current vogue.

The recently released 'retro' collection is, both a nod to the past, in addition to one eye to the future. A classically, retro, styled range, seemingly just one step in an attempt to re-establish itself as a name on Australian shores.

The seventy year old start-up indeed.

Those interested can read reviews on Chateau Yaldara wines published on these pages in the past here [Samples].


I was the guest of Chateau Yaldara in May 2017, staying in accommodation on their property for the duration of a private stay and visit to the Barossa.

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