Will Gilbert is a sixth-generation winemaker, with his great-great-great-grandfather Joseph Gilbert responsible for planting some of the first vines in the Eden Valley in 1842. That legacy is honoured under the Gilbert label today, with a range of Eden Valley rieslings, but the core of the Gilbert operation is in Mudgee and the frosty climes of Orange, New South Wales, with a focus on riesling, pinot noir, chardonnay and shiraz with several bottlings of each, and made in a way that highlights purity and elegance.
“I love the freshness that comes with cool climate, high-altitude wines,” says Gilbert. “Wines with elegance and restraint that have a great backbone and structure. A delicate nature allowing us to showcase that site and season. And we now have better balanced vineyards, allowing us to harvest earlier with great natural acidity and freshness, while packed with flavour. Focusing on cool climate varieties in a region that has vineyards over 1,000 metres certainly helps with this.”
The portfolio also includes a trio of “field blends” – an Alsatian-themed white, a red from shiraz, pinot noir and riesling, and a rosé. Gilbert has also established an experimental range, with both a riesling and a rosé pét-nat, along with a skin-contact sauvignon blanc, a skin-contact gewürztraminer and a shiraz and riesling blend.
“The range gives me the chance to push the boundaries, continuously experiment and trial new ideas or even to introduce old practices that have disappeared with time,” he says.
Gilbert’s father, Simon, struck the first vintage under the Gilbert label in 2010, after having made wine for others in the area for some 25 years. Gilbert is now the winemaker, alongside his father. Although he has helped out at the winery since he was a child and learnt his trade from his father, he started a degree in wine sciences at Charles Sturt University, in Wagga Wagga, in 2010.
The winemaking degree remains unfinished, but Gilbert’s on-the-job training has not. He has worked numerous vintages overseas, crediting Marlize Beyers of Hidden Bench, in Niagara, Canada, and Benjamin Leroux of Domaine Benjamin Leroux, in Burgundy, as mentors, alongside his most significant influence – his father.
“I love what I do and wouldn’t want to do anything else,” says Gilbert. “Seeing people enjoy what you’ve spent the best part of a year, even longer, crafting for their enjoyment is amazing. Not only this, but also the ability to mix the creative and the scientific.”
That scurrying back and forth between the northern hemisphere and the home vintage may have scuttled the degree, for the moment, but Gilbert has been extremely active in developing the wines under the family label. He has introduced concrete eggs, amphora and large-format foudres, as well as the gentle effects of Stockinger barrels, from Austria, and was able to convince his father to make a pair of pét-nats alongside their methode traditionelle sparkling, with both styles now firm features of the winery’s offer.
Gilbert has also been co-fermenting red and white grapes, making rosé by carbonic maceration and employing skin contact on white grapes. These experimental forays sit alongside the more classic expressions, which are equally thoughtful, including a kabinett-style riesling and single-clone pinot noir. He also makes a syrah and pinot noir blend with his friend Angus Vinden, which blends Vinden’s Hunter syrah with Gilbert pinot noir.
“My style of wine is driven by the desire to showcase true varietal character while highlighting the site and season within which it was grown,” says Gilbert. “Freshness, purity, uniqueness and texture, all in balance, is what I strive for.”
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