McLaren Vale, one of South Australia’s seven wine regions, has a reputation for producing the most consistent wine. Shaped as a beautiful bowl, the vineyards have regulated temperature and weather, which provides the perfect climate for grape growing.
McLaren Vale has been described by winemakers as “one of the most perfect locations for growing grapes.” Mary Hamilton, CEO of Hugh Hamilton Wines and daughter of Hugh, is one person who strongly believes that McLaren Vale is the destination for wine in South Australia. Spending the morning perched over the vast Hugh Hamilton Wines’ vineyards, we found out what makes the perfect drop.
Hugh Hamilton Wines originated in 1837 when Hugh’s ancestors purchased their own block of land in Adelaide. They sailed for sixteen weeks, from Dover in England, to relocate to their new land as part of ‘The Wakefield Scheme’. Purchasing eighty arcer of land, this investment enabled his Grandfather of five generations, and his nine children, the opportunity to build their own mixed farm. As Mary Hamilton explained “they had to be self sufficient, growing their own vegetables and fruits and they loved wine… sending away to some friends in South Africa for vine cutting [they produced] planted and sold the first wine that was ever made in Glenelg, South Australia.”
After Hugh went out on his own ‘branch’ in the early nineties, Hugh Hamilton Wines has been driven by the generational perspective, passed down through the years. The love and passion for wine is driven by the underlying history and expertise, captured within their specialist wines. An example is their 2010 vintage, ‘Pure Black’, which has been created over years and years of perfecting their vineyards. This bottle is the perfect blend and “encapsulation of the Hamilton history,” Mary said. “This wine was created and dipped in black wax as a homage to our forbears to show our appreciation for what they did.”
With only 1,200 bottles, Hugh Hamilton Wines hopes the 'Pure Black' will be an icon wine that Australia can be proud of.
Combining the natural elements McLaren Vale has to offer with the passion its viticulturists have, there is no wonder why there are so many successful vineyards within the same region. Each of the Hugh Hamilton vineyards, The Church Block, Cellar Block and Black Sheep, have different soil profiles, resulting in a reflection of varying flavours. These rich and deep flavours create blends of Shiraz to reflect the best of everything in McLaren Vale. As an intentionally small, artesian and hand crafted business, it’s very much about being true to the region. Just as McLaren Vale is a tight and loving community, driven by the love and passion of locals, Hugh Hamilton Wines are driven by the “personal connection and long term relationships with [their] customers.”
Reflecting the journey of the wine, there is a lot more behind the process of wine making than what people realise. In a big company winery, all the grapes will be picked, as this is the most efficient and cost effective way to farm. However, as a business created to be purposely small, Hugh Hamilton Wines takes a small scale, small parcel approach. “We do it differently, in that we are looking for the best bits… we collect separately, ferment as wine separately, crush and put into barrels separately,” says Mary. This way the patterns, profile and character between each vineyard or soil segment can be depicted in the flavours and replicated each year.
The world of Hugh Hamilton as a small business, does not impact on the beautiful, bold and cheeky personalities hiding within the winery. In fact, it’s all reflected in their name as they say ‘discover the Black Sheep of McLaren Vale’. “My dad was the cheekiest of six children, always the black sheep of the family” Mary explained. “Every family has one, or someone who wants to be one, Hugh was the Hamilton’s black sheep.”
When Mary was asked to describe McLaren Vale, South Australia her answer was a perfect reflection of the breath taking viticulture.
Natural, with the surrounding sea, vines and hills. Acclectic- with the diversity of the soil meaning we all produce something different and interesting. Young and experimental- the people here are willing to have a go, to try new things and be adventurous.
Wine making is a complex industry, which is more of a full-time, life style choice. Hugh Hamilton has made this choice, following in his families footsteps to produce wine that not only reflects his family, but the rich earth of McLaren Vale that is home to his varies of vineyards.
Be willing to experiment. Go to smaller places you haven’t necessarily heard of, brands you don’t know and try the different varieties- even if you might not know how to pronounce the names… go and find things run by passionate people. - Mary Hamilton.
All images taken by Brittany Evins