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Rutherglen Legends Campbells Wines

What makes Rutherglen so special?

Rutherglen has a very unique climate. Our heat degree days are about in line with the Clare Valley, but we have more sunshine hours than any other wine region in Australia. This means our grapes get more exposure to sunlight so we can make our table wines earlier in the season. Also, we normally have nice dry autumns that enable us to get much riper fruit for Muscats and Topaques.
Rutherglen is also a very unique region because we work very closely together as a group – we call it ‘coopetition’. We cooperate and work together when we’re out in the bigger scene and at joint promotions and when we’re at home, we’re competing with our neighbours.

What are some of the winemaking challenges Rutherglen presents?

Just this year we had not overly hot temperatures, but up in the mid-30s for 10 days in a row and that brought all the grapes on very, very quickly. We’re in some interesting times because as a winemaker you can’t foresee these things, you’ve got to deal with them when they happen. But I find it difficult to believe that the dramatic changes in vintages have been caused by climate change, because it’s too sudden. While I’ve got no doubt that our climate will change and it is, climate change is going to be a slow, developing thing that will happen over time.

What have been some of Campbells’ proudest achievements in recent years?

We’ve done a lot to promote our fortified wines, our Muscats and Topaques, including developing the classification system and repositioning them as icon wines. Our Muscats are highly regarded all around the world and in 2010 renowned wine critic Harvey Steinman gave our Merchant Prince Rare Rutherglen Muscat 100 points in Wine Spectator magazine. This was the first time in the magazine’s history that an Australian wine was awarded a perfect score.
So if we hadn’t repositioned the Muscats and Topaques they would have probably become a bit of a curio. Instead, we’ve been able to turn that around to something that has been a growing quality market. Having said that, however, it can be a challenge getting people to try these wines because they just associate them with Christmas lunch. So we’re in the process of revamping our fortified range with the help of a mixologist to show people that you can drink these styles any time.
The other thing that’s been very rewarding is our movement with Durif. We’ve had Durif in the area for over 100 years, and because we had phylloxera, no cuttings can be taken out of the area, so we’re really proud to have the original clone. However, nothing was ever really done with it until Mick Morris made a table wine out of it about 30 years ago. Then we made our Barkley Durif in 1992 and having recognised that it was a pretty special wine, we worked on it to develop a style that was more drinkable as a younger wine, but still with longevity. Now, every Rutherglen producer has Durif and I don’t think I’d be wrong in saying that it’s their most expensive wine and that’s been a real coup.

Your world class fortifieds are obviously an incredible asset, but do you think the message is getting out there that you do fantastic table wines too?

No, that’s something that’s developing all the time. We’ve been trying new varieties, we’ve got a lot of Rhône varieties grown here now and that’s only happened in the last 10-15 years and also we’re trying varieties from Portugal, Spain and even into Italy to prepare ourselves for what we would say is climate change.

The Wine Selectors Wine of the Month for July is your Limited Release Cabernets 2012, which features Ruby Cabernet. This isn’t a variety that we hear much of, can you describe its appeal?

Ruby Cabernet is interesting because the first wines were made down around the Riverland, etc., and they weren’t very smart, they were overcropped and Ruby Cabernet ended up with a bad name. But John Brown and ourselves planted it here and we found that at the normal crop level it makes a totally different wine. It’s just a lovely wine that holds its fruit very well and ages well

We’ve matched it in our 2016 calendar with slow roasted lamb shoulder with Middle Eastern spices and cumin yoghurt sauce. What are your favourite food matches with this wine?

I’m pretty basic with my food – just a nice steak would probably suit me very well.

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