Meet Mary Hamilton, CEO of Hugh Hamilton Wines
MEET MARY HAMILTON
Mary Hamilton is the 6th generation of one of Australia's oldest wine making families and also just happens to be the CEO. Mary first started her career in the cut-throat industry of advertising before finding her way home to the family business where she ignited her entrepreneurial skills to help build the Hugh Hamilton brand and business to what it is today.
Most of you know and love Hugh Hamilton Wines and would be familiar with the Black Sheep on the label and the names such as 'Trickster', 'Floozie', 'Rascal', 'Mongrel' and more... and so we asked Mary about her background, wines, Hong Kong and more.
Tell us about your background and how you ended up back in wine?
Wine was all around me as I was growing up, some families have water on the table, we had wine. The smell of barrels and wineries is fundamental to childhood sensory memory. Perhaps it is because it was so unremarkable that I never considered a career in it. There were two things growing up that I liked – glamorous magazine ads and understanding why people do the things that they do. Early on I decided that the world of advertising was for me and I plotted my path to it via work experience and study. I really began at the bottom of the ladder in what was probably the lowest paid ad job in Sydney, but it was a foot in the door and that is often all that a young person needs to begin. I ended up working on lots of big brands and my last assignment was running the brand and creative work within McCann Erickson for Penfolds, Lindemans, Wynns, Rosemount and a swag of other brands – it was a pivotal experience and I left the industry on a high. Not long after I received a call from my Dad in McLaren Vale saying he needed marketing help, so I did some part time work for him from interstate; I found that I loved the variety of being in a small busy business that was growing. That was 16 years go and I now run the company and still find it just as stimulating. I realised that I am entrepreneurial not corporate, but you can get a lot of great lessons from different styles of work.
You've been to HK... how does the wine scene differ here than from Australia?
Australians by and large like to drink Australian wine, it probably because most of us have a connection to our wine regions which Hong Kong doesn’t have. Hong Kong is a global market with a more global approach and a strong base of European wines, so Australian wines are just part of the choice. It’s a fascinating market because it is a crossroads of east and west – the gateway to China yet with a strong expatriate community of people from western countries. What we all have in common however is that we have plenty of choice when it comes to wine and that our taste buds don’t lie. Across the world people love Australian wines because they are flavoursome, generous and straightforward in labelling, price and variety.
What is your greatest challenge in producing and selling great wine?
It is very expensive to produce wines in the manner that we do. Owning vineyards and running them as a patchwork of small exquisite parcels is very time consuming and costly – it would be cheaper to buy other people’s grapes or wine and just label it as ours, but that’s not our approach. Small production runs are also very cost prohibitive but we love little gems and experimenting with blends and varieties that are not commonplace. We have great authentic stories which are essential in an age of mass produced copycat wines; the issue these days is that we all spend so much time plugged into technology that our attention for hearing stories and digging deeper into them has diminished and wines made with love need time to tell their story and to appreciate them when you drink them. Learning to be more mindful will be a skill for the future – forget the adult colouring in books, grab a great glass of Shiraz and slow you brain down smelling and tasting it!
What wine would you choose if you could only choose one?
The ‘Bloodline’ Grenache. To celebrate 180 years of our family growing grapes and making wine we wanted to do something special and put together three wines that represented the first three grape varieties that were planted in South Australia 180 years ago, which were Shiraz, Grenache and Pedro Ximenez. The real joy is that it was my great great, great, grandfather who planted those first vines. He was a real black sheep, as well as being a pioneer, so we created his smuggler’s bounty box (he had a colourful past). The Grenache we made for this box is divine – bursting with fresh red raspberry & spice, very fine tannins, really elegant acid line that makes it refreshing yet silky smooth.
Best music to pair with Hugh Hamilton Wine's 'The Mongrel'
The first sip of Mongrel is classic aperitif, it gets the saliva glands going and ready for a meal. I like this wine very much with Mediterranean cuisine, particularly a nice oily spaghetti with cherry tomatoes that have caramelised in the oil, garlic & chilli, add capers, Kalamata olives and maybe an anchovy in the background for some salty flavour depth, fresh basil and tangy parmesan cheese to top. In that frame of mind which is upbeat and pretty soulful, I love to cook, drink and eat. All of this goes so well with Motown – think The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Martha Reeves, The Temptations – oooh yeah!
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