Since 1979 he has written and co-authored more than 40 books on wine, including contributions to the Larousse Encyclopedia of Wine and The Oxford Companion to Wine. Since 1986 he has published an annual overview of Australian wine which (since 2000) has been entitled James Halliday Annual Wine Companion.
James Halliday started his wine career while being a partner at Clayton Utz from 1966 to 1988. He established Brokenwood winery in the Hunter Region in 1970 with two legal colleagues. In 1985 he founded the Coldstream Hills Winery in the Yarra Valley wine region. Coldstream Hills was acquired by Southcorp Wines in 1996 with Halliday taking on the position of Group Winemaker, Regional Wineries with Southcorp.
Halliday's career as a wine judge started in 1977 and he has been accorded the role of Chairman of Judges of the Victorian Wine Show, Sydney International Winemakers Competition, Adelaide Wine Show and National Wine Show Canberra. He also has judged at the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles and in wine competitions in the United Kingdom, United States, South Africa and New Zealand.
Awards received for his writing include the Wine Spectator Book of the Year for Wine Atlas of California, the Gold Award at the World Food Media Awards for the Wine Atlas of Australia and New Zealand, and Best Multimedia Lifestyle Product at the Australian Industry Multimedia Awards for James Halliday's Interactive Wine Companion of Australia and New Zealand CD-ROM". Several of his books have been translated into European and Asian languages. He received the Charles Heidsieck Award for Excellence in Wine Journalism in 1983, the James Beard Foundation Award in both 1993 and 1994, the Julia Child award for Best Wine, Spirits or Beer Book in 1994, and the Maurice O'Shea Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Australian wine industry in 1995.
In June 2010, James was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the Queen's Birthday Honours for "service to the wine industry as a winemaker, show judge, author and promoter of Australian wine internationally, and through senior roles with a range of professional organisations."