As an in­no­va­tor and ad­vo­cate, Colin Camp­bell has made an in­deli­ble mark on the wine in­dus­try.

North East Living Magazine - - Contents - words Anita Mcpher­son photos Marc Bongers

As an in­no­va­tor and ad­vo­cate, Colin Camp­bell has made an in­deli­ble mark on the wine in­dus­try.

THERE are five points to con­sider when tast­ing wine, ac­cord­ing to Camp­bells of Ruther­glen pa­tri­arch Colin Camp­bell, and it doesn’t in­volve us­ing a lot of flow­ery ad­jec­tives. He says you must con­sider the fruit flavour on the palate, the weight of the wine when you take it onto your tongue, then that par­tic­u­lar va­ri­etal’s flavour at the back of the mouth. Then there is the most im­por­tant part – the wine’s over­all bal­ance.

“I like to have a wine that’s just smooth and doesn’t hit you and dis­ap­pear,” he says.

“It should come up, go right through and fin­ish with a kind of smooth­ness. That’s good bal­ance which is crit­i­cal in my view. Then you’ve got to have wine with length - when you have a taste it should hang around in your mouth for a while. They’re the sort of things that I look for.”

It’s the kind of qui­etly con­sid­ered ad­vice you can ex­pect from Colin, a gen­tle­man and leg­end of the wine in­dus­try. And it’s ad­vice worth tak­ing from some­one who has spent five decades im­mersed in the busi­ness, who has won the ad­mi­ra­tion of his peers and has an un­par­al­leled rep­u­ta­tion as a vi­sion­ary, ad­vo­cate and quiet achiever. That vi­sion may well have come down the fam­ily line when you con­sider Camp­bells of Ruther­glen will mark its 150th an­niver­sary in two years’ time.

Colin said he and his brother Mal­colm were al­ways aware of the fam­ily’s pi­o­neer­ing history in the Ruther­glen re­gion as they were grow­ing up. They’d heard the story of John Camp­bell, their great grand­fa­ther, and how he left his home in St An­drews, Scot­land in 1857 and sailed to Aus­tralia in search of gold, ar­riv­ing in Ruther­glen in 1860. The ship which brought him was the “Mer­chant Prince” and its moniker now adorns the fam­ily’s most pres­ti­gious Mus­cat.

It was John who found him­self on the Bob­bie Burns Lead to the west of the town­ship of Ruther­glen where in 1868 he se­lected an ad­ja­cent 79 acres of land, planted vines and two years later es­tab­lished Camp­bells Wines.

The home he built on the prop­erty, known as the Bob­bie Burns Home­stead, is still right there next to the win­ery - a mon­u­ment to the founder and the base from which John’s son David and his wife Is­abella, his grand­son Allen and his wife Is­abel, and his great-grand­sons Colin and Mal­colm, would each play their part in the fam­ily busi­ness. At times they would face ad­ver­sity, and each gen­er­a­tion has had oc­ca­sion to steer the ship through rough waters, but with tenac­ity they man­aged to keep it afloat.

Colin and Mal­colm were born in a time when the wine in­dus­try faced an uncer­tain fu­ture, when farm­ing was more prof­itable than wine­mak­ing and their par­ents sold pro­duce like pigs and eggs to make ends meet. Yet some­how, through sheer de­ter­mi­na­tion, they still man­aged to send their sons to board­ing school at Scotch Col­lege in Mel­bourne. Mal­colm re­turned to the fam­ily busi­ness in 1961 af­ter their fa­ther suf­fered a se­ri­ous heart at­tack, to help run the vine­yard and man­age the farm­ing prop­erty and he be­came the viti­cul­tur­ist. Colin, two years younger, went from Scotch Col­lege to com­plete a Diploma of Agri­cul­ture at Dookie Agri­cul­tural Col­lege, then a Diploma of Oenol­ogy at Rose­wor­thy in South Aus­tralia, be­fore spend­ing sev­eral years work­ing at Lin­de­man’s Wines in Corowa. He then re­turned to the fam­ily busi­ness in 1968 as a wine­maker and has been piv­otal to its growth ever since.

He says in truth his fu­ture could have been spent on the farm and it wasn’t un­til his se­cond year at Rose­wor­thy that he be­came re­ally in­ter­ested in the wine in­dus­try. >>

“I had a choice - I could have stayed at Lin­de­man’s or I could have come home and worked and I felt there was more in­ter­est and chal­lenge in the fam­ily busi­ness,” he said.

“There was also the abil­ity to do things with­out go­ing through such a com­pli­cated de­ci­sion mak­ing process.”

Dur­ing that pe­riod in the late six­ties and early sev­en­ties a sig­nif­i­cant shift was tak­ing place in the in­dus­try, fol­low­ing a wave of post war Euro­pean im­mi­gra­tion and the ar­rival of Ital­ian fam­i­lies who had brought their food and wine cul­ture with them. Colin said the wine in­dus­try changed dra­mat­i­cally, with for­ti­fied sales go­ing from 80 per cent of to­tal wine sales to just 20 per cent in only a short space of time as de­mand for ta­ble wines sky­rock­eted.

“It was prob­a­bly op­por­tune be­cause we didn’t have a lot of grapes at that time, so we were able to plant va­ri­eties for ta­ble wines like Shi­raz and Chardon­nay, whereas be­fore it was mainly Mus­cats and Topaques,” he said.

Colin’s time at Lin­de­man’s would prove for­tu­itous for both the fam­ily busi­ness and for Ruther­glen, for it not only gave him the ex­pe­ri­ence he needed, but was where he learnt about white wines which weren’t in fo­cus at the time. He in­tro­duced re­frig­er­a­tion to the re­gion, an in­no­va­tion he said his fa­ther Allen wasn’t too keen on. It sig­nalled the dawn of a new age for white wines in Ruther­glen be­cause it meant they could keep the wines cool while they were fer­ment­ing, in­stead of them be­com­ing “hot, flat and un­in­ter­est­ing”.

“We could keep them fresh - and it re­ally was one of the ma­jor changes which led us to start to make white wines in earnest,” said Colin.

“There was enor­mous growth in that pe­riod in the early sev­en­ties - it was a world of op­por­tu­nity - be­cause there were only maybe six winer­ies in the area back then.”

While Ruther­glen was full of winer­ies in the late 1800s, ev­i­denced by the re­mains of his­toric red brick build­ings which can still be seen dot­ted through­out the land­scape, they were wiped out by Phyl­lox­era at the turn of the cen­tury and most vine­yards weren’t re­planted. So the sev­en­ties was a boom time for Camp­bells of Ruther­glen.

Rid­ing on the grow­ing mar­ket for ta­ble wine, the fam­ily ex­panded their op­er­a­tion, be­gin­ning a mas­sive re­plant­ing pro­gram, launch­ing their iconic Bob­bie Burns Shi­raz in 1970 and turn­ing their tres­tle-tabled tast­ing area into a se­ri­ous cel­lar door, one that is still there today. Bob­bie Burns Shi­raz has now been made ev­ery year for 47 years and in 2020 when the fam­ily cel­e­brates its 150 years in op­er­a­tion, the wine will have its 50th birth­day.

“There are not many wines in Aus­tralia that have been con­sis­tent for 50 years, so that will be quite a hall­mark,” said Colin.

While build­ing their port­fo­lio of ta­ble wines, Colin never lost sight of the sig­nif­i­cance of its Topaques and Mus­cats, de­scrib­ing Mus­cat as a Ruther­glen spe­cialty and one of the most revered wines in Aus­tralia. It’s an area he is fo­cused on de­vel­op­ing to this day, es­tab­lish­ing the Mus­cat of Ruther­glen group and work­ing tire­lessly to see the va­ri­ety recog­nised world­wide as the unique wine of Aus­tralia. He wants Ruther­glen to be renowned as the Mus­cat Cen­tre of the World, a vi­sion which has been sup­ported by the Indigo Shire Coun­cil through its re­cently re­leased and “game-chang­ing” tourism strat­egy aimed at bring­ing an ad­di­tional 1.1 mil­lion vis­i­tors to the re­gion by 2023.

“We want to cre­ate a draw­card which at­tracts tourists to some­thing unique that they can’t see any­where else in the world,” he said.

“We hope we can get that up and off the ground - tourism is still a very big part of our busi­ness that needs to be de­vel­oped.”

Over the five decades, Colin Camp­bell has been an in­te­gral part of his own fam­ily busi­ness and the wine in­dus­try and he has been wit­ness to a num­ber of ma­jor de­vel­op­ments. Th­ese in­clude ad­vances in tech­nol­ogy, the in­tro­duc­tion of au­to­mated equip­ment and pro­cess­ing, new ar­eas and va­ri­eties be­ing planted and con­stant fluc­tu­a­tions in the mar­ket. In 1967 the first Ruther­glen Wine Fes­ti­val, the old­est wine fes­ti­val in Vic­to­ria, was a mod­est event held at the lo­cal foot­ball ground and Colin said it marked the be­gin­ning of win­ery tourism. Over the years Ruther­glen be­came syn­ony­mous with Aussie red, and today, fes­ti­vals like the an­nual Win­ery Walk­a­bout at­tract a stag­ger­ing 18,000 peo­ple.

At Camp­bell’s the area un­der vine has also grown from 30 acres back in the six­ties to 180 acres today and there are around 35 staff who the fam­ily con­sider as brand am­bas­sadors and in­te­gral to their longevity and suc­cess. This year the whole Camp­bell’s crew re­cently went out and hand-picked Shi­raz as a kind of team bond­ing ex­er­cise, hand-plung­ing it at the cel­lar door be­fore putting it into its own bar­rels. They hope to re­lease it as part of their 150th cel­e­bra­tion.

While Colin hopes the re­cent ex­cite­ment and push to de­velop the wine ex­port mar­ket into China will be a suc­cess for all, he has some reser­va­tions, sug­gest­ing it must be just a part of a balanced strat­egy.

He is also well aware the do­mes­tic mar­ket can’t be solely re­lied upon.

“In our busi­ness we have our four dif­fer­ent pil­lars – Cel­lar Door, our Cel­lar Club, Dis­trib­u­tor and Ex­port - in the hope that if one pil­lar is down, the other three pil­lars can hold it up,” he said.

“That’s what we need to do in Aus­tralia - buf­fer our­selves in case the mar­kets change and we can ad­just our strat­egy to ab­sorb as nec­es­sary and build where nec­es­sary.”

In the same way while in­ter­est­ing and some­what fash­ion­able new wines are ex­plored from time to time, the sta­ple wines re­main the core of Camp­bell’s busi­ness, in­clud­ing its Shi­raz, Du­rif, Chardon­nay and Ries­ling. It’s some­thing that is ap­pre­ci­ated by the com­pany’s loyal cus­tomers through its cel­lar club which was es­tab­lished in 1997 and con­tin­ues to go from strength to strength. New va­ri­eties and wines drift­ing in and out of the port­fo­lio in­clude Tem­pranillo, one that grows well and has proved pop­u­lar, and Rose which is cur­rently very pop­u­lar. What­ever the wine, what’s im­por­tant to the fam­ily is that it’s the best it can pos­si­bly be and true to Camp­bells style.

Th­ese days while Colin is still a pas­sion­ate ad­vo­cate on be­half of the in­dus­try, his favourite part of the fam­ily busi­ness is tast­ing the wines and try­ing to make them bet­ter, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to blend­ing for­ti­fieds. He is mod­est about his own palate, say­ing there are oth­ers bet­ter suited for the in­tense con­cen­tra­tion re­quired for the hours spent judg­ing hun­dreds of wines at com­pe­ti­tion level.

“Where I get the most pride and most sat­is­fac­tion is when I’m in the tast­ing room and sud­denly you see a wine and it’s just A1 – that’s what keeps you go­ing for an­other 12 months,” he said.

The Camp­bell fam­ily is also part of Aus­tralia’s First Fam­i­lies of Wine, an or­gan­i­sa­tion es­tab­lished in 2009 when 12 of Aus­tralia’s old­est fam­ily-owned wine busi­nesses came to­gether to tell the world about the rich history and prove­nance of Aus­tralian wine, and set the record straight that qual­ity Aus­tralian wine was be­ing pro­duced in this coun­try. Colin said it was cre­ated at a time when mass-pro­duced, cheap wine was all that over­seas buy­ers as­so­ci­ated with Aus­tralia.

“Other winer­ies now see us as a rep­utable group who get off their back­sides and go and do some­thing and we’ve done a lot to help pro­mote Aus­tralian wine around the world,” he said.

Get­ting off his back­side and get­ting stuck into it is some­thing Colin has made a ca­reer of, de­vot­ing sig­nif­i­cant time to in­dus­try bod­ies and to lob­by­ing gov­ern­ment as part of his ad­vo­cacy work, in­clud­ing his strive to re­form the Wine Equal­i­sa­tion Tax (WET) re­bate. In 2014, Colin was named the in­au­gu­ral Vic­to­rian “Leg­end of the Vine” by the Wine Com­mu­ni­ca­tors of Aus­tralia, and in 2016 he was awarded life mem­ber­ship of the Aus­tralian Wine In­dus­try by the Wine­mak­ers Fed­er­a­tion of Aus­tralia, Col­lege of Pa­trons. His ded­i­ca­tion was for­mally recog­nised again this year when he re­ceived an Or­der of Aus­tralia medal for his con­tri­bu­tion to the wine­mak­ing in­dus­try.

It fol­lows on from the Or­der of Aus­tralia medal brother Mal­colm re­ceived in 2001 for ser­vices to viti­cul­ture and the com­mu­nity. “I was very hum­bled by it,” said Colin. “You don’t ex­pect to get some­thing like that and it’s very nice when you do.”

While he’s not about to re­tire com­pletely from the in­dus­try he loves, he is will­ing to take time out and make way for the fifth gen­er­a­tion to step up.

“It’s their busi­ness and theirs to run the way they want to run it, be­cause they’ll do it dif­fer­ently,” he said. >>

“Ob­vi­ously we hope they’ll come to us if they want some ad­vice. We call it the wis­dom of age and ex­u­ber­ance of the youth and it’s true for wine - the blend of old and young is usu­ally bet­ter than the two sep­a­rates - and it cer­tainly is in busi­ness too.”

The fifth gen­er­a­tion of Camp­bells in­cludes Colin and wife Prue Camp­bell’s three chil­dren, Julie, Jane and Susie, who are now wine­maker, brand and pub­lic re­la­tions man­ager, and mar­ket­ing man­ager re­spec­tively. There is also Mal­colm’s son Roger who looks af­ter the farm­ing en­ter­prise.

Colin and Prue made it clear that if their chil­dren wanted to come back to the win­ery af­ter board­ing school, they had to bring new skills into the busi­ness. Study, travel over­seas for 12 months, then go and work for some­one else for at least five or six years. Only then if a job came up, could they ap­ply for it, and they would be con­sid­ered on their mer­its.

“Too many peo­ple bring their chil­dren into a fam­ily busi­ness with­out en­sur­ing they are pas­sion­ate about it - be­cause if you’re not pas­sion­ate about a par­tic­u­lar role, it’s not go­ing to work,” said Colin.

“You’ve got to have your heart and soul in it or your busi­ness won’t work. The wine in­dus­try is one of the most com­plex in­dus­tries, be­cause we’re in the pri­mary, se­condary and ter­tiary in­dus­tries, so there is never a dull mo­ment be­cause there is some­thing hap­pen­ing in each area all the time. It is com­plex and you can’t be skilled in each area, so you’ve got to have a very clear un­der­stand­ing of your re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and who is do­ing what.”

Colin and Prue also es­tab­lished a peer man­age­ment line giv­ing au­ton­omy to lead­ers of in­di­vid­ual de­part­ments where they be­come re­spon­si­ble for their depart­ment, giv­ing them a sense of free­dom know­ing the busi­ness is in safe hands. Their phi­los­o­phy is un­der­stood by their daugh­ter Jane who agrees it’s par­tic­u­larly per­ti­nent to the wine in­dus­try, and she says it’s for­tu­nate she and her sib­lings moved nat­u­rally into their fields of ex­per­tise and “felt at home”. “A fam­ily wine busi­ness can be hard work,” she said. “You’ve got to have some­thing that brings you back and also grounds you too. I’ve al­ways felt that my roots are here in the win­ery and I’ve been lucky to al­ways have this to come back to. When you walk in to our win­ery it feels like home - it’s part of you. Even at the end of the day when all is quiet there is a warmth, a real sense of place and foun­da­tion. As the fifth gen­er­a­tion, we will work hard to make it work.”

Hav­ing lived and worked in Alice Springs, Dar­win, Italy and now Beech­worth, it is no sur­prise that Alan Phillips’ 40-year ret­ro­spec­tive Carpe Diem – Collages fea­tures pieces that present his­toric and cur­rent affairs linked to th­ese places, in­ter­preted through his sense of hu­mour, life ex­pe­ri­ence and art knowl­edge. One of the big­ger pieces at 400 X 1500mm, the Evo­lu­tion of the Vespa – Leonardo da Vinci re­flects Alan’s deep in­ter­est and re­search into the history of art, but also his sense of hu­mour, con­nect­ing the use of carp fish to the ex­hi­bi­tion ti­tle, Carpe Diem. “I had a bit of fun with it. I was look­ing into da Vinci’s in­ven­tions and pro­pose that he might have used rot­ting carp to test some of his de­signs. Also, that I found his pri­mary school re­port in the ar­chives. The com­pe­ti­tion be­tween da Vinci and Michelan­gelo was all a bit se­ri­ous, so I felt it needed light­en­ing up a bit,” Alan said. While Evo­lu­tion of the Vespa is a mix of the se­ri­ous and the light-hearted, Alan also uses his art to chal­lenge many his­toric de­vel­op­ments in­clud­ing the Uluru Hand­back in­formed through many years work­ing with Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties. Alan grad­u­ated in in­dus­trial de­sign from RMIT and worked for two years as a graphic de­signer be­fore train­ing as an art teacher and then teach­ing in an Abo­rig­i­nal school in Alice Springs for 10 years. There he made for­ma­tive con­nec­tions and the ge­n­e­sis of his style can be traced back to the years he spent in Cen­tral Aus­tralia. He re­gards this as one of the most in­flu­en­tial pe­ri­ods of his life, as a teacher, artist and per­son. “I learned then from my stu­dents and their fam­i­lies and con­tinue to learn now from the el­ders and tra­di­tional own­ers to stop, lis­ten and ob­serve. My last ex­hi­bi­tion ‘Paint­ings from the Gibson Desert’ was as much about the mu­sic of the desert as it was about images, and I credit my Indige­nous teach­ers for that creative awak­en­ing and aware­ness. I re­gard many Indige­nous paint­ings as works of great schol­ar­ship. While I will never fully un­der­stand the cul­ture they spring from, I can learn from them about con­nec­tion to coun­try, and try to ex­press my own ex­pe­ri­ences of con­nec­tion to the land,” he said. Carpe Diem has be­come known to mean, seize the day, thanks largely to the film Dead Po­ets’ So­ci­ety. Alan and wife Joy con­tinue to seize the day them­selves, hav­ing lived in Europe and ex­plored Cen­tral Aus­tralia on many oc­ca­sions. Putting to­gether this ex­hi­bi­tion, with 32 pieces, and set­ting it in the Old Beech­worth Gaol is an­other big un­der­tak­ing for Alan. “It’s a huge amount of work but we are re­ally lucky to have such a space for ex­hi­bi­tions in the re­gion, so I wanted to use it. I wanted to seize the op­por­tu­nity which also helps pro­mote what the Aus­tralian Cen­tre for Ru­ral En­trepreneur­ship (ACRE) have planned for youth in our area and what the town’s peo­ple did by buy­ing the gaol col­lec­tively. They seized the day,” he said. The ex­hi­bi­tion is about the events and rit­u­als that pre­cip­i­tated his­toric ac­tions and the con­se­quences of th­ese. “Much of the ma­te­rial comes from my vis­ual di­aries that I have main­tained since 1977 and oth­ers have been con­structed us­ing ma­te­ri­als gath­ered from ci­ties and places through­out the world where sig­nif­i­cant events oc­curred. It highlights how Carpe Diem has been in­ter­preted from artis­tic en­deav­our to im­moral gain,” Alan said. “The role of the artist con­tin­ues to change, grow and ex­pand. It re­mains an in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant part of so­ci­ety. Art is a pow­er­ful medium not only to record mo­men­tous events but to bring is­sues to light in so­ci­ety, en­cour­ag­ing dis­cus­sion and con­ver­sa­tions.” Works in Carpe Diem - Collages come with plain English ex­pla­na­tions of the history and char­ac­ters in­volved. In one piece, What do we wor­ship? (The Hiero­phant), Alan tack­les those of his peers who present ‘art­works and in­com­pre­hen­si­ble ex­pla­na­tions’. “In the mid 1990s, af­ter vis­its to con­tem­po­rary art gal­leries, I kept com­ing back to the ques­tion: why does con­tem­po­rary art cloak it­self in lan­guage and images that are alien to the viewer? So, this piece is my chal­lenge to ask, what do we wor­ship and why?” Alan said. Carpe Diem – Collages will open on Fri­day, 14 Septem­ber at 6pm in the Old Beech­worth Gaol, Beech­worth. It will then run from 10am to 2pm daily un­til 24 Septem­ber. Old Beech­worth Gaol tours op­er­ate daily at 11am.

FIFTH GEN­ER­A­TION / Colin’s daugh­ters (from left) Julie and Jane Camp­bell, are proud to keep the fam­ily tra­di­tion go­ing.

NEW ERA / A cel­lar door tast­ing and sales area was con­structed in 1972.

CON­SIS­TENCY / The now iconic Bob­bie Burns Shi­raz was launched in 1970.

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