Saturday, November 17, 2007

Turning Wine Into Scholarships

By Rich Knight NCAS'06 and Lori Varga RC'04

Back in January, James D. Hamilton NCAS'71, CLAW'74 was honored with the Joseph M. Nardi Jr. Distinguished Service Award by Rutgers' School of Law–Camden Alumni Association. This high honor is awarded annually to the graduate whose exemplary commitment to serving the citizens of New Jersey and the Camden Law community emulates the character of Judge Joseph Nardi Jr. CLAW'56, who died in 2003. Nardi was a highly respected retired Superior Court judge and former Camden mayor.

Hamilton has been deeply involved in the life of the law school and in the local community, providing pro bono legal counsel to area residents through South Jersey Legal Services. His advocacy and leadership have also helped the Camden County Bar Association (CCBA) and its foundation on several other special projects.

It is fitting that Hamilton received the award this year because Nardi was his good friend and mentor. It was in his honor that Hamilton, with Nardi's son Joe Nardi III, established a unique way to raise scholarship funds for Camden Law students and to honor the late judge's legacy. The pair formed the "Justice Good" winemaking group—because it's "just as good" as the commercial stuff. Participants pay to be part of the group; the fee covers all associated costs as well as a donation to the Judge Joseph M. Nardi Jr. Scholarship Fund.

"I think this is a fun way to endorse a scholarship," says Hamilton, who met Nardi Jr. during his Rutgers–Camden days in the '70s. Hamilton went on to clerk for the judge. "Law clerks became such a part of his family," Hamilton says, beaming.

Nardi often invited his current and past law clerks over to his house to see how he made wine, a family tradition that has been passed on for generations. Hamilton appreciated these experiences so much that, for the past 14 years, he has been writing a wine and food column for The Barrister, the CCBA's monthly newspaper. And in the late '90s, Hamilton wrote about Nardi and his love for home brewing, an act that solidified his place in the Nardi family.

James Hamilton works with the Justice Good winemaking group.

"[Nardi] used to love making wine at home, and the whole idea that you can make it easier for students to go to your alma mater [while having fun] is a great thing to do," he says.
And so here is Hamilton, using what he learned in Nardi's basement as a way to support Camden Law students. The Justice Good group first met on May 7 at The Wine Room in Cherry Hill. Using six varieties of red wine grapes from the Curico Valley of Chile, the winemaking process began with the crushing and pressing of the grapes to initiate fermentation.
Four months later, the group, which includes judges and lawyers as well as Dean Rayman Solomon, Chancellor Timothy Farrow CLAW'99, and other law school staff, got to try out their wine and observe the racking of the product while they nibbled on some cheese.
"It's all pretty authentic," Hamilton says.

And authenticity is the name of the game as far as Hamilton is concerned, as he wants to keep everything as closely related to the art of making wine as possible. The main objective (besides raising scholarship funds) is to make a wine worthy of the Nardi name.

And what would a good wine be without a fitting label? After voting on a series of great choices, Hamilton and Nardi III eventually settled on the Justice Good label, created by Nardi Jr., himself.

Hamilton is energized by the idea of raising money for scholarships that will help students attend Camden Law. He says he could have used more opportunities like that when he was a student. "Probably since I was in my junior year in high school I wanted to be a lawyer," he says. "I was [actually] the first to go to college in my family."

Overall, Hamilton and the Justice Good winemaking group are learning and having fun while benefiting a very important cause, something that Nardi valued.
"We're taking something that is so appropriate and hopefully making it into a school tradition," Hamilton says.

To learn more about the Justice Good winemaking group and the scholarship fund, contact Theresa McCuen CCAS'71, GSE'81 at or 856-225-6180.

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