Gilbert family: wine wizards of Oz

Gilbert family: wine wizards of Oz The company’s state-of-the-art winery is centrally located in Mudgee (L). In the past year, Will Gilbert’s (R) Wineworks of Australia has sold more than 30,000 cases of its premium wines for domestic and international sales.

As we stroll around booths at ‘ProWine 2022’, held at the Jio Convention Centre in Mumbai recently, a tall, avuncular person manning one of the stalls draws our attention and, on an impulse, we decide to take a look-see.

‘Gilbert’ says the name on the stall, which is otherwise bereft of any embellishments. We are soon having a lively discussion with the gentleman, who is manning the booth single-handedly, and we take up his persuasive offer to sample an array of wines displayed in front of us.

The wines included 2015 Riesling, 2016 Blanc de Blancs, 2017 Shiraz (Orange), 2021 Blanc, 2021 Chardonnay, 2021 Pinot Noir Nashdale, 2021 Pet Nat Riesling, 2021 Sauvignon Blanc and 2022 Rouge.

Meet Simon Gilbert, the man serving us. It turns out he is the boss man and the owner of the Gilbert Family Wine Co., named after the family. That Simon is actually standing with a welcome smile – a day after an eventful and tiring flight to Mumbai via Bengaluru – is a testimony to his resilience.

He is on his first visit to India; on a mission to ‘test the waters’ so to speak; and to explore the Indian market in anticipation of the exciting possibilities that it would hold once the Free trade Agreement (FTA) between India and Australia comes into effect on December 29 this year.

Simon is a graduate in oenology and is a fifth-generation winemaker, whose great-great-grandfather, Joseph Gilbert, is recognised as the man who planted the first Riesling vines in Eden Valley, South Australia, in 1847.

Simon himself is acknowledged as one of the top winemakers in the country, who combines a perceptive and analytical palate with the requisite technical skills. As the owner of the well-known winery, he also wears several other hats.

Family overview

The Gilbert Family Wine Co. was established in 2004 and trades as three entities: Simon’s family boutique wine label, Gilbert; a well-known and acclaimed tasting room, The Cellar by Gilbert; and Wineworks of Australia, a custom wine-making service to the industry.

Wineworks of Australia specialises in wine-making and consultancy for premium wine producers. The company has grown to incorporate wine export and wine brokering, which are now two large aspects of the business.

Over the past year, Wineworks of Australia has produced over 1,20,000 cases of wine for domestic and international sales for its own branded premium wines and those of others. The Gilbert brand totals approximately 30,000 cases.

Simon has also established the family boutique wine label, Gilbert by Simon Gilbert, with the simple ethos of wise wine-making with fresh appeal. Will, Simon’s son and heir-apparent, was appointed winemaker in 2016 and has become a driving force for innovation, experimentation, and further attention to crafting wines.

Simon and Will have since come together to establish Gilbert+Gilbert, a collection of wines that encapsulate the Gilbert family legacy and heritage of hand-crafted cool-climate wines from Eden Valley.

Critical to Simon’s success has been his strong performance in wine shows, wine trade reviews and marketplace representation. He has been responsible for crafting wines that have received more than 70 trophies and 2,000 medals since 1985.

Gilbert is also a Halliday 5-star-rated, award-winning winery. For Simon, the ultimate wine is the Riesling!

Growing regions

With around 37 hectares under cultivation, the company’s vineyards are spread out over Orange and Mudgee in New South Wales, and Eden Valley in South Australia. Plans are in place to add another 15 hectares over the next few years.

Orange is Australia’s highest wine-growing region, with plantings ranging from 600 to 1,030 metres above sea level. The two vineyards enjoy the benefits of cooler temperatures, unique topography, and over 9 hours of direct sunshine per day during the growing season.

The varietals here include Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz Pinot Noir (four clones), Cabernet Sauvignon (two clones), Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot specific to each vineyard.

Orange’s soil profile is predominately clay loam, which is deep and well-drained with red and brown ferrosol soils derived from basalt. These conditions add complexity and depth to the flavour and quality of the wines.

The combination of high elevation, cooler climate and plentiful sunshine, is vital to the fruits’ ability to develop intense aroma and maintain flavour, giving these wines a long, elegant mouth-feel and flavour profile.

The vineyards in Mudgee, New South Wales (26 hectares) are surrounded by rolling hills. At an elevation of 520 metres above sea level, this beautiful landscape has rich clay loam soil, which is deep and well-drained and is highly suited to viticulture and produces wines of great character and depth.

Mudgee has a mild climate with cool summer nights, which extends the grape ripening period, and cool spring days that delay budburst. The summer and autumn days are warmer than in Orange due to the lower altitude, with the mean January temperature being 23.5°C and the average rainfall 600 mm per annum.

The Mudgee sunshine gives the grapes incredible colour and powerful fruit flavour, whilst the cooler temperatures create complexity and savoury characters. The varietals here include Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Sangiovese, and Zinfandel (Primitivo).

Eden Valley is one of Australia’s premier cool climate wine regions, characterised by its rugged beauty. It has a varied topography with vineyards scattered across rolling hills, sharing the terrain with grazing land, rocky outcrops, and big red gums.

Wine-making regimen

The company’s state-of-the-art winery is centrally located at Mudgee.  All fruit is delivered to the winery under optimal conditions – harvested in the cool of the night, or in the case of hand harvesting, at daybreak.

In the case of Eden Valley, some 20 hours away by road, the harvesting operations are carried out in the cool of the morning. They are then processed to juice/must at a nearby winery as specified and shipped at 3°C through wine tankers to the winery at Mudgee.

Selected receiving and pressing equipment (Willmes, Diemme), is employed to ensure the best juice from the best grapes that are received. Each operation is carried out under inert and sanitary conditions.

Premium oak (large and small format) is considered to be essential. Oak types that are air-dried over a 3-year period are employed in the production of the wines and include Truille, Francois Freres, Ermitage and others.

Extensive refrigeration and controlled temperature conditions are maintained throughout the winery and inert CO2/N2 gas conditions are employed across all operations. Bottling is completed on-site through a new state-of-the-art bottling line.

India mission

The company’s dedicated team of winemakers and technical staff has ensured that award-winning wines are a matter of habit for the producer.

India is firmly on Simon and Will’s radar and, starting with Prowine, the company has started the process of establishing its foothold in the Indian market. The company is already in negotiations with distributors in various regions and looking at the formalities that will have to be followed.

With the confidence that they have some of the best Australian wines on offer, Simon is gung ho about how the wines will be received in the sub-continent once the FTA kicks in. He has no doubts of his wines’ ability to be accepted in a country that is increasingly becoming discerning and fond of their wines! For more information, write to