Celebrating 260 Years: Q&A with Colin Campbell (Campbells Wines)

In our next interview to celebrate our 260th anniversary, we sat down with Colin Campbell, joint owner, winemaker, and fourth generation family member, to discuss his experiences, Muscat, and their next projects.

by Erin Ogilvie

Colin Campbell:

Joint Owner, Winemaker, and Fourth Generation Family Member


Campbells Wines boasts five generations of winemaking history.  What have been your challenges, and what has helped the company survive?

My brother Malcolm and I are the fourth generation.  We’ve had our challenges but not like the first three, who suffered the scourge of Phylloxera, World Wars, and the Depression.  I think our family has survived because of guts and determination. 

When I returned home from graduating as a winemaker from Roseworthy College in South Australia, Campbells was predominantly a fortified winery, like many others.  The influx of migrants after the World War changed the perspective of drinking wine because people started to drink wine with food.  Up until then, it was a bit of a snob’s practice.  About 80% of what we sold was fortified, but it quickly changed to about 80% table wine, and it was a big adjustment.  Our Bobbie Burns Shiraz is by far our best selling wine now. 

While the rapid expansion of the industry brought new techniques and technology, it has also brought with it a lot of problems.  People suddenly saw the industry as a gold mine, and now we have an oversupply.  Australia has had an enormous impact on the international markets but they can be fairly volatile, depending on the exchange rate and so many little things.  The other challenge is negotiating with the government.  We constantly have to defend ourselves against the arguments about alcohol abuse, when we are a responsible wine industry focused on quality and promoting the enjoyment of wine with food. 

What has been one of your biggest contributions to Campbells’ wine story?

I’ve been joint owner and winemaker for 48 years.  When people began to consume more table wine, we recognised that we needed to do something to keep our magnificent and unique Rutherglen Muscat relevant.  My brother and I believed that, as a generation, we had a responsibility to our forebears.  You need very old stocks to produce Muscat, which is a blended wine. So you rely on the previous generations’ work to be able to keep producing it.  They had left some great wines for us, and we realised that if we didn’t do something to promote its popularity, it would become a curio.  We didn’t want that to happen.

I formed the Muscat of Rutherglen group and we developed a classification system, which is now part of the Australian code of practice for fortified wines, and is used in all national wine judging shows.  We promote it around the world, and now Muscat has become one of the most highly revered wines.  It’s been a very big turn around.


What makes Rutherglen the ideal region for growing Muscat?

The warm Rutherglen climate enables the Muscat to ripen to a very high degree of sugar but, more importantly, we have about 20-30 minutes more sunshine in our ripening periods than any other wine region in Australia.  I believe this extra sunshine is what makes Rutherglen perfect.  Our climate also brings winter and spring rain then a very long and dry autumn.  This means we can leave the Muscat grapes on the vines for longer without fear of the rain destroying them.  We pick them around the end of April, which is very late in comparison to other varieties and regions.

Many people also believe Rutherglen can only produce good fortified wines, but we have been successfully producing Riesling for a very long time.  Chardonnay has also been most successful and, more recently, varieties such as Roussanne and Tempranillo have thrived.


Are there any myths about Muscat that you’re constantly working to dispel?

Muscat isn’t just for Christmas pudding – you can enjoy it any time of the year.  It works with a wide range of foods and is perfect on the rocks in summer or perhaps with a Muscat mixer.


What have you done to help keep Muscat relevant to a younger audience?

We have to keep evolving with the changing tastes of the consumer.  For example, we realised that our younger Muscats and Topaques work well in cocktails as a spirit substitute.  The Rutherglen producers started working with mixologists to introduce the joys and variety of Muscats and Topaques to a younger audience through a refreshing cocktail, usually enjoyed as an aperitif.  We hope that it will encourage them to learn more about these wines.  We’ve done a couple of events based around this idea now, and it’s been very well received. 

Our rare and classified wines will always be highly regarded but we know they are only a niche part of the market.  We’re just trying to reinvigorate it, which is one of the reasons we started working with Riedel to find the perfect Muscat glass. 


Why did you choose Riedel to be your partner on the project?

We’ve been working with Riedel for… I don’t know how long!  I think Riedel is the best brand on the market and offers a quality glass with different designs for different wines.  They understand the importance of delivering the wine in a way that maximizes the enjoyment.  It was an obvious choice.

In the past, when you went to a restaurant, Muscat and Topaques were served in a tiny little Port glass, which is wide open at the top.  It made it difficult to swirl and it didn’t do the wine any justice at all.  Now we’ve taken a step up and hope the glass will be embraced by sommeliers and consumers alike.  


Why is the winning glass (Ouverture White Wine) ideal for Muscat?

The design of the glass has a huge effect on flavour, and there are two great things about the size and shape of the Riedel glass.  The bowl has an enormous impact on firstly the concentration of the aromas, and secondly on the delivery onto the palate.  It’s a fantastic improvement.

We know it’s going to take time to catch on and we are working on educating consumers.  We want this glass to be used by sommeliers and people at home; we want them to know the ideal glass is readily available to them.


 What’s your best food and Muscat match?

It’s hard to go past warm figs with blue cheese!  Plus Muscat is the only wine to pair with a fine dark chocolate.


Tell us about one of your next projects.

We’ve been growing Durif in this part of the world for over a century, but it’s only in the last 20-30 years that we’ve started using it for table wines.  We believe we have the oldest and truest clone of Durif in Australia, and we’re looking to promote Rutherglen as the Australian home of Durif.  It’s unique and very high quality with a distinctive flavour profile.


What do you think is the next big trend for the Australian wine industry?

I don’t quite know where we’re heading but we’re undoubtedly responding to climate change. We have had some very erratic vintages recently; it’s very frustrating.  Everyone in the industry is trying to prepare for the changing climate.  In typical Aussie style, there’s a lot of trial work going on with different varieties as a result, and developing new products is keeping everyone busy.

To learn more, go to www.campbellswines.com.au.

Did you miss our first interviews with Yalumba Family Vignerons? Read part one with fifth generation family member Robert Hill-Smith, or catch up on part two with senior red winemaker Kevin Glastonbury! 

RIEDEL Ouverture White Wine
RIEDEL Ouverture White Wine
EUR 21,90
Box quantity 2