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

Interview by Erin Ogilvie

To celebrate the Riedel family's 260th anniversary, we spoke to some of Australia's greatest wine families.


In this interview, we sat down with Colin Campbell, joint owner, winemaker, and fourth generation family member, to discuss his experiences, Muscat, and their what's to come in the industry.


Colin Campbell from Campbells Winery, Australia

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

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

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 because people started to drink wine with food. Up until then, it was a bit of a snob’s practice. Our sales quickly changed from about 80% fortified to about 80% table wine. 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.

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.


Campbells Winery Cellar Door, Australia

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 followed by a very long dry autumn, which 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?

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 through a refreshing cocktail, usually enjoyed as an aperitif.  We hope that it will encourage a younger audience 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! - so it was an obvious choice. 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.

Ouverture White Wine glass with Muscat

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.

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 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. We know it’s going to take time to catch on and we are working on educating consumers. 


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.

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 about Campbells Wines, go to www.campbellswines.com.au.

RIEDEL Ouverture White Wine