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THE Campbell clan recently celebrated the 140th birthday of its eponymous winery at Rutherglen.
Scottish immigrant John Campbell selected 32ha in 1868 adjacent to the Bobbie Burns gold lead, and adopted the name for his property. Despite some hard times, his direct descendants continue to make wine on the same property.
Malcolm and Colin, the fourth generation, now run the business, supported by five members of the fifth generation. Malcolm is responsible for the pastoral and viticultural side; Colin is the winemaker. Both have been trailblazers: Colin pioneered cold fermentation techniques in the Rutherglen region in 1969-70, while Malcolm obtained one-bud cuttings of 40 different varieties from the CSIRO experimental vineyard and planted these as single rows in the ’60s Block to evaluate their performance.
Success in wine shows was always a given for the muscats and tokays (as they were then called) but table wines – especially white – should not have been accorded much notice. Yet in 1980 and ’81, Campbells’ ’80 Riesling won the trophy for Best Victorian White Wine at the Royal Melbourne Wine Show (the ’82 Riesling winning the following year); in ’80 another four gold medals (five in all) went to Campbells for dry white wines, more than any other exhibitor. Over ’80 and ’81, Campbells won two trophies and 16 gold medals at the Rutherglen and Melbourne shows.
Morris and Chambers have long been regarded as the foremost producers of Rutherglen muscat and tokay/topaque. It took time for Rutherglen’s jewels to be discovered by wine writers in the UK and the US, but when they did, Campbells was not lost in the wash. Robert Parker was particularly lavish in his praise and points for Chambers, Buller and Morris but he didn’t ignore Campbells, giving the Merchant Prince Rare Muscat 99 points in ’03 and the Isabella Rare Topaque 99 points in ’04. In 2010, Wine Spectator’s Harvey Steiman gave the Merchant Prince the perfect score of 100 points. In the 2008 and 2010 Rutherglen Wine Shows the Merchant Prince was named Best Australian Fortified Wine of Show and Best Fortified Muscat of Show.
Isabel Campbell (mother of Malcolm, Colin and Jeannette) turned 90 in 2009. When she died in 2010 she went peacefully, full of pride at her family’s remarkable achievements.