One of the first wine industry ‘legends’ I ever met as a young novice was Sydney Hamilton. Syd had spent his working life in the family wine business, Hamilton’s Ewell Vineyards, but at the age of 75 he was restless and far from ready to retire. Instead, he bought land at Coonawarra, where he hoped to produce an elegant Bordeaux-style red wine and planted a whole new vineyard. He was a man of energy as well as vision and could be seen ploughing his own rows even at an age when many chaps would be watching the cricket in their slippers.
I happened to drop in when visiting my cousins in the Penola district and the year would have been 1978. Syd himself was in the tasting room and poured the wines himself. There was a 1975 ‘rhine riesling’ made from bought-in grapes, which was as acidic as a lemon and austere enough to make your teeth jangle. Later, Syd would release the 1978 Leconfield Cabernet Sauvignon made from grapes ‘hand picked by experienced women’, as the label proclaimed. From three-year-old vines, he had made the wine that justified his move and fulfilled his ambition. He repeated the feat with the outstanding 1980. These were two superfine, classy reds that raised the eyebrows of fine wine lovers the length and breadth of the country.
By 1982 Syd had retired for the second time, and his nephew Richard Hamilton had bought Leconfield, which he still owns today. The Hamilton family is, of course, wine industry royalty, having been one of the first to ever make wine in South Australia.
Recently, Leconfield has been experimenting with a new flagship cabernet sauvignon named Sydney in homage to this pioneering winemaker whose name should never be forgotten. Chief winemaker Paul Gordon recently showed me the first five vintages of Leconfield Sydney Reserve – the 2012, ‘13 and ‘14 having been released so far, each at $80.
These are excellent wines in a rich, concentrated, full-bodied style (especially the 2012), but I believe the yet-to-be-released 2015 and ’16 will be even better, judging from the pre-bottling samples I tasted.
Oddly for a high-end new release, Leconfield did not make a fuss when it released these wines. I hope they make some noise about the 2015, which will deserve it. Indeed, Coonawarra needs more top-end wines like these, wines that will help draw the spotlight back to the region.