When Nikola Yukich came to Western Australia at the age of just sixteen years old, he could have hardly believed that a century later he would be the namesake of a wine estate acquired by his grandchildren. No ordinary one at that, as what is now Nikola Estate was the historic Houghton estate, founded in 1836. The second oldest winery in Australia it has a place in global wine history.

“When Nikola came from Croatia he couldn’t speak a word of English,” says his grandson Graeme Yukich, who leads the family business, Y Group. “He worked the mines in Kalgoorlie, did that for 5 years and saved up for 5 acres in the Swan Valley. So, the family has been in the valley since 1929; we’ve been growing grapes for 95 years.”

 Nikola Yukich

Purchasing the original Houghton estate from a US venture capital firm back in 2019 wasn’t a case of just another acquisition for Y Group. “They’d let the place run down,” says Yukich of the previous owners. “We’ve invested many millions of dollars, opening Woodcutters restaurant, and quite a bit of hospitality capacity as well. We redid the old cellars and The Barn to bring it back to its glory days.” As a destination Nikola Estate sees weddings and functions, family lunches, and concerts across its spaces. Generations of families know to head to the estate to picnic under the jacaranda trees as they blossom.


Yukich is clear that while taking on the estate and carrying the Houghton’s baton is important in the Nikola Estate story, they have their own distinct vision for the future. “We didn’t take on the Houghton brands; they predominantly made commercial wine,” he says. Key to their ambitions is the quality of wine produced. Yukich calls out fifteen trophy wins in three years under chief winemaker, Damian Hutton.

The significance of the estate isn’t lost on Hutton, though neither is the opportunity. “Much of it was planted between the 50s and 80s, to feed the beast that was Houghton White Burgundy,” he says. “What we’ve done in recent years is isolated several parcels from vineyards planted as far back as the 30s, 50s and the 60s, and we’ve started experimenting with ways to make Chenin Blanc a little bit differently to how they would have in the past. We can hand select pick, whole bunch it, wild ferment, and use new oak to make the Nikola Regional Range, Swan Valley Chenin Blanc.”

Hutton says that currently they’re reducing and expanding plantings of several varieties using an experimental block of plantings as the litmus test. “Montepulciano, Arinto, Nero d’Avolo – so that’s the future; we’re doing these red experimental blends which are really working for us,” says Hutton. “In terms of traditional, obviously we have the Chenin Blanc and the Verdelho fortified, and now a whole lot of sparkling coming into our range as well. Chenin Blanc makes such a good sparkling wine. We pick it a bit earlier, and it’s just got so much acid retention. It’s a really good sparkling base.”

Plantings of Fiano, Grenache, Tempranillo, and Mourvèdre are also set to play a part in Nikola Estate’s future production. “We can really build on emerging varietals and blends [with these plantings] and in particular expand that GSM (Grenache, Shiraz, and Mourvedre blend) we do every year,” he says. “We want to be self-sustaining in our production of those and growing them ourselves.”

Looking forward Hutton says his “dream” would be that in five years’ time when the new vineyards come on stream and he’s building their range around it, he won’t have to source fruit from anywhere, but the estate. For Yukich his vision for Nikola Estate is also clear. It is to be the number one hospitality and wine venue in the state. “While we’re a reasonable way on the journey there’s still a long way to go,” he says. But, as this story is already a century in the making it’s safe to say that the Yukich family isn’t afraid to play the long game.

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