“Nothing I’d rather spend my life doing” Colin Campbell shares his ‘why’
Fourth-generation Australian winemaker Colin has spent 50 years among the vines and says there’s no place on earth he’d rather be.
After five decades in the game – and accolades and laurels aplenty – the pleasure of harnessing the elements to transform grapes from the vine into premium wine remains as potent as it was back in 1968, when Colin released his first vintage.
“When a wine is made, and the result is something that really stands out, the smell, the taste, the lingering finish… that gives you such an enormous thrill,” he says.
“Not very often do you know you’ve created something that will really blow people away but that’s what we aim for.
“When you achieve it, it’s just the most fantastic feeling.”
A good vintage
Australian wineries don’t come much older or more distinguished than Campbells.
The Campbells have been growing grapes and producing wine in the Rutherglen region in north-eastern Victoria since 1870.
That was the year their immigrant ancestor John Campbell abandoned his bid to find fortune on the Victorian gold field and planted the Bobbie Burns Vineyard, founding what’s become one of Australia’s proudest and most enduring winemaking dynasties.
Today, Campbells Wines produces a full complement of premium red, white and fortified wines, including its signature Bobbie Burns Shiraz and Rutherglen Muscat range, for the domestic and export markets.
John Campbell’s great grandsons, Colin and Malcolm, have been at the helm since 1968. They jointly received a distinguished service award from the Victorian Wine Industry Association in 1995. Malcolm was awarded an OAM in 2001 for services to viticulture and in 2018, Colin was awarded an OAM for services to the wine making industry.
Continuing the tradition
Despite the family’s long history, it was the influence of two external mentors that cemented Colin’s decision to follow in the footsteps of his forefathers.
“As a young man, I wasn’t sure where my future would lie but somebody had to keep the family and the winery going,” Colin says.
“My father had a serious heart attack while my brother and I were boarding at Scotch College in Melbourne. I decided to study a Diploma of Agriculture and then went on to Roseworthy Agricultural College to study oenology.
“I had an excellent lecturer there who really piqued my interest in winemaking. Then I went to work at Lindeman’s and their senior winemaker taught me a great deal.”
Working under someone with an enormous passion for the craft had a seminal impact on the young Colin.
“He really inspired me to make winemaking my profession,” he says.
“It had always been in my blood and during that time I realised it was in my heart also – that there was nothing I’d rather spend my life doing.”
Thirty years later, Colin’s daughters made the same choice their father and uncle did, back in the 1960s. All three have joined the family firm and provided it with an injection of youthful enthusiasm.
“I’m a believer in the bloodline and the passion and the DNA of wanting to be in the business,” Colin says. “The younger generation brings the youth and the drive to take the company to the next level and Malcom and I see ourselves as the more tempered voice of experience. The perfect blend is a mix of both.”
Selling to the world
Colin’s relentless focus on quality has resulted in multiple awards over the years, including a clutch of coveted Gold Medals at the International Wine Challenge in London, for various vintages of Campbells Bobbie Burns Shiraz.
Export success has long been part of the winery’s game plan and today Campbells sells 20 per cent of its wine abroad, the bulk of it to discerning drinkers in the UK, the US, China, Hong Kong and Canada.
Colin is also heavily into selling the virtues of Australian wine more generally. In 2009, he helped found the First Families of Wine, a collective of 12 multi-generational wine families whose mission it is to promote the rich heritage of our local drop to distributors and customers in key markets around the world.
“We’ve always kept boosting our presence wherever we want to sell,” Colin says. “It’s been an expensive strategy but it’s worked very well for Campbells and NAB has backed us all the way.”
Partnering through the years
The Campbells are among a small clutch of clients whose relationship with NAB spans three centuries. “They’ve been our partner for 126 years,” Colin says.
“And they’ve helped our family business to thrive in a myriad of ways during that time. Most recently they’ve worked with us to provide the export finance we needed to develop new markets and introduce our premium Australian wines to customers in places like China and Hong Kong.
“It’s been an extraordinary relationship and if it wasn’t for NAB, we wouldn’t be where we are now.”