Hats off to Australia’s oldest wine family

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By Melissa Keogh

It was 1837 when early settler Richard Hamilton came to South Australia and planted some of the state’s very first vines.

Importing three vine cutting varieties dipped in wax to preserve their dormancy, the tailor-by-trade went on to make SA’s first wine in 1841.

Fast forward to 2017 and Richard’s legacy is being celebrated when the Hamilton family raises a glass to 180 years of winemaking on October 14.

Headed by fifth-generation family member Hugh Hamilton and his daughter Mary, Hugh Hamilton Wines will host a 180th Anniversary Bloodline Dinner in conjunction with the Adelaide Fashion Festival.

Fifth-generation family member Hugh Hamilton.

Fifth-generation family member Hugh Hamilton.

The five-course degustation – cooked by revered chef Simon Bryant – is also a nod to Richard’s history as a tailor on the high streets of Dover, England.

Mary, CEO of Hugh Hamilton Wines, says her family’s story was relatively untold before now.

“We liked the idea of threading together Richard’s tailoring history and the winemaking,” she says.

“It’s my ambition to tell this story because we’ve become such an iconic SA brand,” she says.

So how does a European tailor arrive in SA in the early 1800s, sprouting a legacy that would exist almost two centuries later?

In 1837, a 47-year-old Richard purchased an unseen 32ha on the banks of the Sturt River at Marion, packing up his wife and eight children.

Hugh Hamilton Wines, in McLaren Vale.

Hugh Hamilton Wines in McLaren Vale.

They began the voyage from England to Australia aboard the Katherine Stewart Forbes.

“That was an amazing thing to do – to uproot your life and travel to the bottom of the globe,” Mary says.

The Hamiltons planted crops, fruit trees, veggies, and of course the three vine cuttings of Grenache, Shiraz and Pedro Ximenez.

Hamilton’s Ewell winery was established and as the years ticked by the family produced a successful range of drops, becoming Australia’s biggest wine exporter and moving operations to McLaren Vale.

By the 1970s the company was sold and disbanded, however, the family continued grapegrowing and winemaking ventures.

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Hugh Hamilton’s recently-released Georgian-inspired Saperavi wines feature names such as The Oddball and The Quirky.

Hugh Hamilton, the ‘black sheep’ of the family, launched his self-titled winery in 1990 from one of the original McLaren Vale blocks.

Hugh’s daughter Mary, with a background in marketing, rejuvenated the wine labels, recharged the brand and drove the presence of the businesses’ ‘black sheep’ and ‘oddball’ taglines.

Employing at least 14 full-time staff, Hugh Hamilton Wines exports to several countries.

Despite the chops and changes among the family, the 180-year winemaking tradition remains due to an unbreakable passion for the industry.

“My grandfather died on the job and his brother was the same,” Mary says.

“They were lost without work and came to work until the day they died.”

For more information on the Hugh Hamilton Wines 180th celebrations, visit the website.

Visit I Choose SA to find out how you can support our State by choosing South Australian businesses, products and services.

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