Meet Fred Caley Smith, a thrill-seeking horticulturist of the 1800s who has been honoured by Yalumba as the wine brand have named their latest premium release after the adventurer.
Yalumba, as you would expect with five generations and 168 years of winemaking history under their belts, have gathered no shortage of enchanting stories over the years. But the story behind their new flagship ‘super claret’, the 2012 Yalumba ‘The Caley’ Cabernet Shiraz, named in honour of Fred Caley Smith, is a wonderful tale of a man with an inquisitive mind and sense of wanderlust; a man who was a quite brilliant horticulturist with a sharp head for business and an adventurous spirit. A story that is fitting for an offering that comfortably settles into the top tier of Australian wine among some quite prestigious company.
We’ll get to the wine in due course, but first a little about Caley Smith, the grandson of Yalumba’s founder, Samuel Smith. At the time, Yalumba was recognised for its fruit-growing, preserving and canning operation in addition to its winemaking and distillation operations. Caley Smith’s particular expertise lay on the horticultural side, though he also had a profound impact on the development of Yalumba’s vineyards.
In March 1893, appointed as an Honorary Horticultural Commissioner by the SA Government and a foreign correspondent for the Melbourne Argus, Sydney Morning Herald, Adelaide Register and Auckland Herald, Caley Smith set sail on an 18-month journey across the globe visiting the USA, UK, Europe, the Middle East, Sri Lanka and India.
He observed and reported on scientific and horticultural developments and visited many of Yalumba’s wine wholesalers and retailers on his journey. Caley Smith was a prolific letter writer, regularly penning missives to his father about his adventures.
Illustrated portrait of Fred Caley Smith
Yalumba ambassador Jane Ferrari, who has pored over the letters of Caley Smith, considers him Australia’s “Indiana Jones Horticulturalist” and his penmanship attests to this title. From gazetting the opium dens of San Francisco and nearly getting swept over a waterfall in India to being chased by sword-wielding eunuchs in Cairo after innocently looking upon a harem after scaling a wall to take a photo, his was a life well-lived.
Returning with a mind full of new ideas and luggage laden with botanic specimens, Caley Smith is very likely the source of many varieties of fruit here in South Australia, so we probably owe him our thanks for more than this lovely wine that bears his name.
The Caley, a blend of Coonawarra Cabernet (52 per cent) and Barossa Shiraz (48 per cent) is a serious riff on that great red blend that made Australian wine famous. It is the apex of Yalumba’s unwavering commitment since the late 1800s to what is one Australia’s great wine styles.
It is a wine built for the long haul, and age gracefully it will. It is just a beautiful wine. Filigreed with stunning fruit purity and balance. Plush cassis and black berry fruits mesh seamlessly with French oak, and while the purity of its fruit is the driving force, there is a sense of completeness to its form. It is a wine very comfortable in its own skin, complex and elegant with cascading, gravelly tannins falling through the wine like shafts of light. Long of finish and undoubtedly a great wine.
At a time when the emphasis is on singlesite wines, it is important to acknowledge that some of this country’s greatest wines have been and continue to be multi-regional blends. There is a certain gestalt to these blends. The sensation that the whole is more than the sum of their parts.
The current fashion for single-vineyard offerings aside, a wine’s over-riding raison d’être is to be downright delicious. To give the drinker, not only an insight into region and growing season but also into culture and tradition, as these are also part and parcel of any meaningful definition of terroir. And with this in mind, ‘The Caley’ is an exciting addition to the upper echelon of Australian wine.
The 2012 Yalumba ‘The Caley’ Cabernet Shiraz is due for release on May 12, the exact day Caley Smith arrived in San Francisco 124 years ago. It will retail for $350. Those uppity French have forbidden the use of the word ‘claret’ in branding efforts but super claret is certainly an apt description for ‘The Caley’. The story of Fred Caley Smith and the wine are akin to a vinous songline and that is something that the Australian wine industry should be rightly proud of.