Joseph Gilbert of Pewsey Vale – early maker of the classic Australian blend

Name: Joseph Gilbert

The Gilbert oenological dynasty began in the quaintly-named village of Puckshipton, in the Vale of Pewsey, Wiltshire, where Joseph Gilbert was born in May 1800. After his education and a tour of the continent which included a visit to France's winegrowing regions, he returned to England to manage his father's estate.

Joseph decided to come to South Australia after seeing an advertisement in The Times newspaper for the ship Buckinghamshire's departure for Adelaide. With some financial assistance and guarded encouragement from his recently widowed father, Joseph, complete with a frame house, set sail aboard the Buckinghamshire and arrived in Adelaide in March 1839. He set up his house in Hindley Street, one of Adelaide's main thoroughfares, and immediately set about selecting land, while waiting for the arrival of sheep he had ordered from Van Diemen's Land. With Edward Rowland, who gave his name to the small Barossa town of Rowland Flat, he claimed land in excess of 14,000ac in a Special Survey of the Lyndoch Valley in July 1839 and by the end of the year he had started building his homestead from local stone.

Originally named Karrawatta, the property was renamed Pewsey Vale two years later. Gilbert wasted no time in enclosing 23ac of his land, and in establishing a one-and-a-half-acre garden. Here, in 1841 or 1842, he planted his first vines, probably of tablegrapes. In 1847 Gilbert was exhibiting dried grapes at Adelaide's annual show.

By 1852 the vineyard had been expanded to 8ac. Vines came from the Macarthur vineyards at Camden in New South Wales, and also from the Horticultural Society's glasshouse collection of vine cuttings at Chiswick in England. In November 1855 frost decimated the vines and the whole vineyard had to be grafted with new cuttings. Undaunted, Gilbert continued to expand his vineyard which by 1857 had almost doubled to 15ac.

Like many early vinegrowers Gilbert planted his vines too close, with about 1350 vines to the acre. By the time journalist Ebenezer Ward visited Pewsey Vale in January 1862 he observed that vines had been removed and were now eight feet by four feet apart, or about 1000 vines an acre. After trial and error Gilbert resorted to trellising and long pruning his vines.

Gilbert seems to have made his first wine in 1847 or 1850, depending on where you look. In 1849 he had employed as distiller and winemaker the influential Carl Sobels, but this arrangement probably ended in 1851 when a new Distillation Act was passed, which led to Gilbert's still being unusable. Gilbert himself almost certainly became his own winemaker.

When Ward visited in 1862, Gilbert had a range of grape varieties which would rival that of today's larger growers. His first plantings in 1847 were Verdelho, Gouais, Riesling, Shiraz and Cabernet, and from Chiswick he planted Malaga, Muscatel, Chasselas Musqué, Black Lombardy, White Malvasia, Black Prince, and Black Morocco. He also grew Sweetwater (Palomino), Tokay, Muscat of Alexandria, White and Red Frontignac, and Madeira.

The full copy of Part One can be found in the March/April 08 issue of the Wine Industry Journal

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