Even though James Hamilton’s family had planted grapevines in Kuitpo, in the Adelaide Hills, and he had worked extensively as a winemaker in McLaren Vale and the Adelaide Hills, the trigger that led him to start his Golden Child label came in Portugal. A bottle of 2008 Niepoort ‘Charme’ in 2015, while holidaying in the Douro, switched the lights on for Hamilton, and he asked his dad for grapes from the upcoming vintage. From the 2016 vintage, he made a rosé and pinot noir syrah blend, and he still does, along with varietal bottlings of each, a skinsy chardonnay and a fumé blanc that redefines what sauvignon blanc from the Hills can be.
Hamilton had completed a straight science degree at university, majoring in biology, but after a vintage at Coriole, in McLaren Vale, he went back to the books to study postgraduate winemaking at the University of Adelaide. After graduating, he did a vintage in Sonoma at Buena Vista, then came home for stints at Wirra Wirra, Langhorne Creek Winery, then as Assistant Winemaker at The Lane, in Hahndorf, before settling in at McLaren Vale legend d’Arenberg, where he is now the assistant winemaker under Chester Osborn. He is also a graduate of the AWRI’s Advanced Wine Assessment Course.
That bottle of Niepoort was a whole-bunch tempranillo, touriga franca and touriga nacional – an exercise in taking classic Portuguese grapes and giving them the Burgundy treatment. That idea of mid-weight whole-bunch wines has informed the Golden Child style since, with all fruit sourced from the family vineyard. “It’s unique as a sub-region because it’s the only area of the Adelaide Hills that has a coastal influence. We try to tell this story through our wines,” says Hamilton.
The Hamiltons call Golden Child a collaboration between father and son, between grower and maker. The vineyard is managed sustainably, with no synthetic herbicides, pesticides or fertilisers. In the winery, all yeasts are ambient, and are made with as little intervention as possible. The first red that Hamilton made became the ‘Lazy Sunday’ light red. “It pretty much summarises what our brand is about – fun, drinking wines made with serious thought.”