Leconfield Coonawarra was established in 1974 by noted oenologist, Sydney Hamilton. During a winemaking career spanning nearly 60 years, Sydney was highly regarded for his contribution to the industry.

Sydney Hamilton was especially known for pioneering temperature-controlled fermentation of white wines. This technique allowed for the preservation of delicate aromas and flavours and has become the benchmark for production of white wine around the world.

At the age of 76, Sydney Hamilton still yearned to make a classic Australian Cabernet Sauvignon and set himself the task of finding the right district in which to establish his own vineyard and winery. Showing great foresight, Sydney selected Coonawarra as the area with the potential to fulfill his ambitious dream. Thus Leconfield was born, named after an English ancestor, Lord Leconfield.

Situated in the southern half of the Coonawarra strip, the vineyard occupies some of the area’s richest terra rossa soil over limestone, a composition for which Coonawarra is famous. Original plantings were to the classic variety Cabernet Sauvignon however, Sydney saved a small section of the best soils for Riesling cuttings he had sourced from his Happy Valley vineyard in Adelaide. This enabled him to  continue producing a small amount of dry white wine in the style for which he was famous.

In 1981, with 65 vintages under his belt, Sydney decided to finally retire and Leconfield was acquired by his nephew Dr Richard Hamilton, then based in McLaren Vale. The winery retains its individual identity and character to this day, representing the essence of the famous Coonawarra strip. 


Ever since Sydney Hamilton found the key to temperature controlled fermentation in the 1930s, Australian wines entered a renaissance that continues to this day. Sydney realised in the mid-1930s that temperature controlled fermentation was the key to making light aromatic white table wines that could be consumed with a meal and also for making fresh fruitier red table wines of the claret style, all with lower alcohol. His initial attempts to perfect refrigerated fermentation were met with failure. He finally succeeded by building a refrigerated underground fermentation cellar in the early 1940s. This led firstly to the white wine revolution which was followed by the red wine revolution; no longer would Australians be drinking the more alcoholic ports and sherries. All due to Syd’s ingenuity and determination. Until Syd’s pioneering efforts Australians were a nation of beer drinkers. With the introduction of refrigerated fermentation that all changed.

“Up until those days, Australian table wines were nigh undrinkable as fermentation could not be controlled, leading to bacterial and wild yeast overgrowth with off flavours evident in the wine. So, people didn’t have many alternatives but to drink beer.

Once Australian red and white table wines became eminently drinkable following the introduction of cold fermentation, consumption patterns changed radically amongst Australians to favouring wine. The humble grape became much less humble.”

Explains Richard Hamilton, Syd’s nephew and current proprietor of Leconfield Coonawarra.


“I still had faith in the work of Louis Pasteur, who set himself the daunting task of improving French Wines. He inspired in vignerons of his time a consciousness of the damage caused by overheating of their fermenting wine and demonstrated the advantages of pure yeast cultures – a very delicate and skilled operation requiring practice and considerable experience to prepare a suitable medium free from intrusion of any harmful bacteria. These are the essentials of making high-class wine.

Of course there are many other activities, enough to fill a volume. One requisite is a good microscope and the skill to use it.”

Sydney Hamilton


At the outbreak of World War I Sydney and his brother, Eric had just taken over the reigns of the family’s wine empire – Hamilton Ewell’s, after the untimely death of their father and pioneering winemaker, Frank Hamilton. Directly after Eric enlisted and saw action in both Gallipoli and the Western Front and was severely gassed on at least two occasions necessitating his repatriation to England for treatment. 

In South Australia meanwhile, the Public Trustee took control of the Hamilton Ewell’s winery and vineyards over a period of six precarious years. Soon after Frank died, Sydney, aged 15 years, ran off to sea sailing on a windjammer between Port Adelaide and Plymouth. During his time as a seaman he rounded the Cape Horn several times – joining an elite group of men known as ‘Cape Horners’. 

Explains Richard Hamilton, Syd’s nephew and current proprietor of Leconfield Coonawarra.


Such was Sydney’s passion for winemaking that, at the age of 76, he came out of retirement to plant a vineyard in 1974 with the aim of producing a ‘damn good’ red wine – perhaps the best red wine in Australia based on the Cabernet Sauvignon grape. He chose a site in the remote Coonawarra wine making district some 250 miles south of Adelaide and called the vineyard Leconfield after an English ancestor, Lord Leconfield. Through the 1970s and early 1980s numerous award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon wines were made by Sydney, allowing him to achieve his lifelong dream. The most notable was the 1980 Leconfield Cabernet.

In 1981 Sydney sold Leconfield to his nephew, the young Richard Hamilton, so the two strands of the Hamilton winmaking dynasty came together under one ownership and the company was kept in family hands. 


“Sydney Hamilton was a memorable character. I first met him at Coonawarra when he was digging the foundations to the Leconfield Winery when he was 80. I watched him for some time, a nuggetty, stooped old man with a shovel in his hands, hardly puffing. He was conducting tastings from a cottage, but seemed none too pleased at the interruption to his digging in the bright red soil (terra-rossa of course). He reluctantly dropped his shovel

‘So you are interested in wine, but you aren’t interested in soil?’ I said I could take it or leave it, and he nodded sadly. ‘That’s the trouble with you young people, you don’t understand the importance of soil. I’d expect better from a bloke with your hair colour, its almost as good as this soil.’

Mark Shield, red head wine writer for ‘The Age’
January 1992


Sydney’s first vintage at Leconfield was in 1975, made from bought-in grapes. But, with the ’78, he had, in the opinion of many who saw the wine achieved his ambition to make a classic red in the Bordeaux style. James Halliday awarded it 19 points out of 20 on his score sheet. Then came the 1980 vintage, acknowledged as a superb one in many parts of Australia, and Sydney, in Halliday’s view repeated his success remarking the wine was ”marvellously complex varietal character. A magnificent red wine with superb varietal character.

Left: An ever humble Sydney wrote to nephew Richard in 1979 advising him to not worry about awards but to focus on the vineyards. Wise words that Richard has followed since as one inevitably leads to the other.

Below: An ever humble Sydney wrote to nephew Richard in 1979 advising him to not worry about awards but to focus on the vineyards. Wise words that Richard has followed since as one inevitably leads to the other.


Wine writers and experts now had no doubts that Sydney had indeed succeeded, albeit late in life, in making the classic dry red.

The last wine made at Leconfield by this grand old figurehead of the Australian wine industry was the ’81 cabernet sauvignon. The first red wine made there by the new incumbent Richard Hamilton was the ’82 cabernet. He followed in the best family tradition for the wine won the ACI Trophy for the best dry red varietal at the 1984 Royal Easter Show at Sydney. It was released in 1985 after collecting, in addition to the Sydney trophy, gold medals at Adelaide, Perth and Melbourne.


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