A Family of Firsts: Richard Hamilton Wines
The Hamiltons are one of australia’s oldest winemaking families with a history dating back 184 years. Throughout that time, they’ve developed a reputation as great pioneers of their craft, a legacy that remains today - Richard Hamilton wines.
There are various points on the timeline of Australian wine history that stand out for the way they significantly shape the future.
One of these occurred in the 1930s when pioneering South Australian oenologist Sydney Hamilton enabled the wine industry to move from fortified to table wines. This he achieved through the introduction of cold fermentation using mechanical refrigeration, which allowed the production of delicate low alcohol aromatic wines – the type of wines we take for granted today.
Sydney Hamilton had wine in his veins, being the third generation of his family to make wine in South Australia. The first was Richard Hamilton, who came to Australia from England in 1837. Along with his wife and eight children, Richard arrived with a passion for wine and grape growing.
As his great-great-grandson, also Richard Hamilton, recounts, “He spent his early years wandering around the vineyards of France, which were just over the English Channel from Dover where he lived, learning from French winemakers and vignerons about wines and vines.”
“Also, it is said,” Richard continues, “that he smuggled wine into England, which attracted the attention of the authorities and hastened his decision to emigrate to South Australia before he got into trouble!”
Richard (Senior) stayed out of trouble in his new home by undertaking the Herculean task of clearing his Adelaide Plains land. By 1838, it was ready and with his plantings, Richard established the region’s first vineyard and the foundations of the Hamilton Ewell Wine Company. Three years later, he made South Australia’s first commercial wine.
Above: The old Hamilton’s Ewell Winery
The generations following Richard were equally as industrious, expanding the business and picking up an impressive swag of awards. However, while they put in the hard yards, they were also helped along by some chance encounters.
The first came when Richard Senior’s grandson Frank had taken over. As Richard relates, “In the late 1800s, a Swiss man jumped ship at Port Adelaide and sought refuge at Frank Hamilton’s home.” This refugee had experience in a French method of winemaking that allowed for high alcohol in the final wine, which Richard says, “was a protective factor. The Swiss was a godsend to my grandfather Frank as he was able to make drinkable and saleable wines which would keep.”
Another lucky arrival came during Sydney’s watch in the form of a Russian called John Seeck who, Richard says, “had studied winemaking at Geisenheim in Germany. He taught Syd how to classify and improve his wines.”
While Sydney was busy changing the course of wine history in South Australia, his brother Eric was surviving being gassed on the battlefields of Flanders. “While on R&R in the UK,” Richard describes, “he was able to familiarise himself with the potential of Australian wines to sell in the English market.”
Left: Introducing the new look Single Vineyard Range; Right: Dr Richard Hamilton tending his vines in the 1980s.
On Eric’s return, he teamed up with Sydney, concentrating on export sales. In doing so, Richard says, “It is said he single-handedly opened up the British market to Australian wines post WW1.”
Sydney and Eric had another brother, Burton, who spent almost 90 years cultivating vines and producing grapes for his family company.
“My father Burton was a great viticulturist,” Richard explains, and his expansive knowledge led to him establishing vineyards in McLaren Vale in 1947. As well as recognising the quality of McLaren Vale Grenache and Shiraz, Richard describes, “He recognised quite early the potential of Chardonnay and Riesling and planted the first of these varieties on his vineyards in McLaren Vale and Willunga.”
Burton also helped Richard in the setting up and running of his fledgling winery at Willunga in the early 1970s. “His assistance in managing the winery,” Richard explains, “allowed me to continue with my training and the study of plastic and reconstructive surgery which I still practice today.” Richard is also an accomplished winemaker and his family’s great tradition continues under his watch. What’s more, a sixth generation is set to carry the legacy on.
This year sees an exciting change for the iconic Richard Hamilton brand with the launch of an exciting new look. This sleek, stylish revamp will be seen across the three tiers of the Richard Hamilton portfolio – the Estate range, the ultra premium ‘Centurion Old Vine Shiraz’ and the Single Vineyard range.
Making the Estate range unique will be the introduction of the rosette motif. Roses are synonymous with the Hamilton family with rose gardens surrounding their vineyards in McLaren Vale and Coonawarra.
While the look might be new, the famous Richard Hamilton signature, will remain. An important link to the founding Hamilton, it’s also a reminder of the inspiration he provides to this day. The 1837 stamp will also feature, a celebration of the day Richard Hamilton set foot in South Australia and began a long history of being a family of firsts.