By Nigel Hopkins
If there was ever any doubt that Hugh Hamilton was destined to become the black sheep of his family it was probably confirmed when, as a budding motoring journalist on a Victorian country paper, he rolled and wrote off a local farmer’s brand new Daimler.
For a while he kept on in newspapers, in safer territory selling advertising, but the call of four previous generations of vignerons in his family, and the happy memories of working with his father Bert in his vineyards at McLaren Vale eventually drew him back into the wine business.
Hugh is now the fifth generation of the Hamilton family that planted the first vineyards at Glenelg in 1837, less than a year after European settlement in South Australia.
Although the various branches of the family had established the Hamilton name as one of the most prominent in Australian wine, for many years Hugh’s world was very much a hands-on small business until his father bought the prominent Coonawarra winery Leconfield.
Then the black sheep character took hold and, after a family ‘parting of the ways’ nearly 25 years ago, Hugh found himself having to buy vineyards and start a winery virtually from scratch, something he has managed to do with great distinction.
His first purchase was his father’s Church Block vineyard just south of McLaren Vale, followed by a larger vineyard block at nearby Blewitt Springs.
“It’s been a steady building process,” Hamilton says.
But there are three things about Hugh Hamilton Wines that have really set it apart.
The first was Hamilton’s decision to use acclaimed architect Max Pritchard to design a striking cellar door, an octagonal glass pavilion on a rise in the centre of the vineyard with expansive views to the Willunga hills in the distance.
The second was to establish a winemaking regime that enabled him and his winemaker Peter Reschke to make very special, small batch wines, sometimes experimental with new grape varieties, or perhaps a gorgeous shiraz from a distinguished vineyard – Hugh Hamilton Wines is part of the single vineyard Scarce Earth Project that celebrates the best shiraz of the region.
And the third was to hand over management of the winery to his daughter Mary, luring her from a high-flying career in corporate advertising in Sydney.
Her first move was to take that black sheep tag and make it their marketing icon – with a flock of wines with names such as The Rascal and The Scallywag – and the top of the range Pure Black Shiraz.
Six generations on, the black sheep has come in from the cold.