We are on a quest for individuality and quality in our vineyards with painstaking attention to detail paid by our viticultural team. If you have been to our Cellar Door you will have been to the Cellar Vineyard. We have another block within 500 metres of the cellar door; the original McLaren Vale Church Vineyard. Finally we have the Black Sheep Vineyard located in the sub-region of Blewitt Springs.
Sourcing grapes from our own vineyards means we have control over the yield and flavour. As a grape grower the objective is high yields. As a winemaker the objective is perfect balance of flavour. The two are somewhat incompatible. We manage our vineyards for flavour not for yield and this shows in our wines.
We practice a minimal approach to viticulture. Blessed with the ideal grape growing conditions of McLaren Vale the grapes virtually look after themselves, and that is the way we like it - with as little interference from people and chemicals as possible.
Minimal amounts of water are applied to the vines to produce small concentrated bunches of berries that are jam packed with flavour. A principle that clearly pays off once you taste the wines.
The Cellar Vineyard
The first of our vineyards is our Cellar Vineyard, the vines which form the beautiful sweep of green immediately to the south of our Cellar Door. The soil here is ‘Biscay Clay’, also referred to as ‘self-mulching black cracking clays’. These soils are relatively widespread in the McLaren Vale/Willunga strip and have unique properties. Slow to wet, they can hold a large volume of water, but hold it very tightly. Vines struggle to recover that moisture when it is needed, and so stress very quickly if exposed to a sudden heat-wave. The fruit therefore needs to be watched very carefully as it ripens, or it can very quickly shrivel and show sunburn. When dry, these soils get cracks 2-3cm across, which can extend down as far as a metre. As they crack and separate, vine roots, irrigation pipes and concrete footings can all suffer, torn apart by the intense but very slow-moving force of the particles contracting after swelling when wet. It’s lousy soil to build houses on—which as farming land comes under pressure from urban sprawl, we think is wonderful—but vines love it, particularly Shiraz. Such vines can produce fruit with great fragrance and power and a structure which guarantees ageing potential.
The Church Vineyard
If you stand in our beautiful Cellar and look east toward the old Bethany Chapel, you look straight across our ‘Church Vineyard’, which surrounds the chapel on 3 sides. It is planted to Shiraz, Saperavi, Merlot, Tempranillo and Sangiovese –a very important piece of real estate to Hugh Hamilton Wines, indeed! The soil here is alluvial as the vineyard is an ancient creek bed (a deep, winter-only creek at the eastern end is the last vestige to it). There is a distinct but very shallow gully which cuts across the Merlot and Shiraz vineyards; and at the western end has a band of soil which is shallow and tough, with bits of quartz and scattered ironstone. The rows run east/west, which provides maximum shade from the sun during heatwave conditions. The Shiraz vineyard can best be described as alluvial loam. It’s not easy country for the vines, but they are pretty happy once they get their roots into the clay below, and produces a crop which ripens readily and evenly.
The Black Sheep Vineyard
On the north-eastern fringe of the broader McLaren Vale region lies the Blewitt Springs sub-region: higher in elevation and further from the sea—and consequently cooler and later-ripening than the main region, and featuring large ancient sand hills which are interspersed with gullies which feature ironstone and clays. Here is the Hugh Hamilton ‘Black Sheep’ vineyard: a very diverse piece of land with a sizeable creek separating it into two Main sections. It is home to substantial plantings of Shiraz and Cabernet, each of which is divided into smaller sub-blocks according to the patchwork of soils on which they lie. Many of these are quite mature—so that what our winemaker refers to as the ‘Young’ Cabernet is probably at least 25 years old ... what a privilege to call such vines young! And what he calls ‘Old’ Shiraz needs to be differentiated from the ‘Ancient’... but we believe both vineyards to be well over 60 years old.
Small quantities of interesting grape varieties are our thing. We think that just as one doesn't eat the same meal every day, there is excitement and interest in appreciating the different flavours that other grape varieties offer. We grow 10 different varieties from the mainstream to the fringe.
Cabernet Sauvignon: the most noble of red grapes. When grown in McLaren Vale its aromas and flavours are blackcurrant and blackberry.
Merlot: a food friendly red with plump sweet flavours and light fine tannins. Subtle soft and velvety.
Sangiovese: the native grape of Tuscany, has found a natural place on our land, producing wines of great intensity and flavour. Sweet and savoury cherry flavours predominate the aroma and palate.
Shiraz: the fuel that powers McLaren Vale. Intense and complex, rich and luscious. Deep coloured blackberry and raspberry flavours with velvet tannins.
Tempranillo: the most widely planted red grape in Spain. Has a distinctive strawberry and cherry flavour. Combines well with oak.
Saperavi: ancient Georgian red grape. This is a teinturier (red juice) grape, with high acidity. Ideal for blending, very interesting on its own.