Camwell Wines small-batch drops are crafted with love, a low-intervention approach and a patched-up old hand-press.
Winemaker Brad Cameron is getting a new tattoo as soon as vintage is over. “It’s of this beautiful beast,” he says, banging the old hand-press in his uncle’s shed. The press is bright red, has a mix of wood pieces, and is bolted to a pallet for easy transportation. It’s something you’d expect to see in an Italian nonno’s suburban backyard, not at a winery in McLaren Vale, packed full of grapes and ready for use. Known affectionately as Frankenpress, it’s at the heart of Camwell Wines both physically and philosophically. The small- batch wines are produced by Brad, by hand and with a lot of love. His goal is to make wines that are super drinkable, vibrant and that speak of the vineyard they come from. He’s not interested in cellaring or stockpiling. “If I have a wine in my hands, I want to try it. I can’t leave it.”
Brad isn’t a winemaker by trade – he’s a viticultural agronomist – but it’s grape growing that’s in his blood. His great-grandfather Colin Cameron planted many of the original vines in McLaren Vale, and he’s a fourth-generation grower (he has 30 acres with his dad, while his uncle and grandfather each have 90). The leap into winemaking started out as something fun. “The first wine I made was a shiraz and it was absolutely terrible,” he says. He sought guidance from an extensive network of wine-industry friends, such as Hither and Yon’s Richard and Malcom Leask, and got better at it. “I just did it to drink it and share with friends. I never really sold anything, I didn’t really think about it, and then I met Kendra and everything changed.”
Kendra is Brad’s wife. The pair met in 2015, when she was visiting from the US for vintage, and fell in love. With her encouragement, and inspired by the possibilities for smaller and alternative wine companies thanks to people like The Fruitful Pursuit’s Jimmy Hopkins, he realised it could be more than just wine for mates. Today, Camwell Wines produces a shiraz, grenache rosé and viognier (and there’s a nero d’avola, old vine grenache, vermentino, cabernet and tempranillo currently in barrel). Only 300 cases of each variety are made per year, with Brad hand selecting the grapes from his family vineyards and making up any shortfalls from vineyards within 10 kilometres.
The process is low-intervention but hands-on. Grapes are hand-picked and, on processing day, you’re likely to nd Brad jumping in with the grapes, picking out bits he doesn’t want before it hits the de-stemmer (the only machinery he uses). The grapes are then fermented naturally, and pressed before being left in French and American oak barrels for about 18 months. “We don’t even use pumps because I don’t want to introduce any more oxygen into the wine.”
Was it hard to jump from grape-growing to creating wines? “It’s basically like being a glorified babysitter,” Brad says. “Grape growing is hard work, you’ve got to deal with the weather, for a start. When it comes to winemaking, I get the grapes in and babysit them till they turn into wine, then put them away and they’re done.”
With about 100 cases of each wine sold in Singapore, and a few Adelaide restaurants offering them on their wine list, Brad has plans to grow the label. He’d like to produce up to four barrels of each wine per year and get into some more Australian restaurants, but he’s wary of getting bigger than that. But first, he’d like to find another wooden hand-press. When he does, may we suggest calling it Bride of Frankenpress?
“I just did it to drink it and share with friends. I never really sold anything, I didn’t really think about it.”