The Gilberts of Pewsey Vale: the next generation

The Gilberts of Pewsey Vale: the next generation

Name: Simon Gilbert

'I would consider Simon to be in the limited number of the very top bracket of Australian winemakers with a perceptive and analytical palate to match his technical skills.' - Brian Croser, chairman and chief winemaker, Petaluma Ltd, 1990.

The late Joseph Gilbert would be pleased with the praise given to his great-great grandson, Simon Gilbert, by the eminent industry leader.

In the last issue of the Wine Industry Journal, we looked at Pewsey Vale, its achievements and accolades, from its beginnings in 1839, its first vine plantings in 1842, its owners, Joseph Gilbert (1800-81), his son, William (1850-1923), and his grandson, William (1887-1967) to its sale out of the hands of the Gilbert family in 1923. We also glanced at the other Gilbert wine-producing property, Wongalere, from the early 1840s until the South Para Reservoir drowned it in 1949. Simon's father, also William, was briefly involved in the industry following World War II, while he lived at Wongalere, and then at Abbaston, at Mount Crawford, near the Barossa Valley. His interest in wine was drinking it, rather than growing it.

With the change of taste to fortified wines Pewsey Vale languished after World War I, and the vines were grubbed out. In the late 1950s Geoffrey Angas Parsons, proprietor of Pewsey Vale, was at a media function in Angaston in the Barossa Valley, when Norman Hanckel (a distant cousin of mine), at the time winemaker at Yalumba, talked Angas Parsons into looking at starting a new vineyard on the famous old property. Hanckel alerted Yalumba owner Wyndham Hill Smith to the idea, found some appropriate land and, by December 1961 a joint partnership agreement between Angas Parsons and Yalumba was established. Within a year the vineyard was planted, mainly with Riesling and also some Cabernet Sauvignon, with trial plantings of other varieties including Semillon, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris. The first reborn Pewsey Vale Riesling was from the 1966 vintage, made in very small quantities and never commercially available. The first Pewsey Vale Cabernet Sauvignon was released in 1972. In 1977 Pewsey Vale Riesling was one of the first wines in Australia to be bottled with Stelvin. The rest, as they say, is history, with Pewsey Vale now a jewel in Yalumba's crown.

As for the Gilbert family, it has returned to the wine industry with a vengeance. Most prominent is Joseph's great-greatgrandson, Simon Gilbert. Simon can trace his passion for wine back to 1967 when Wyndham Hill Smith invited him with the rest of his family to Yalumba to sample the first vintage of the new Pewsey Vale Riesling from the revived vineyards, planted just over the hill from the original cellars at Pewsey Vale. Simon was at the impressionable age of 11, and says that the event was to become the turning point of his life. One hundred and twenty years after Joseph Gilbert's first vintage, Simon knew that he would continue the family's passion for wine. 'I'm not sure whether it was the wine or the sense of occasion, but I always knew that I wanted to become a winemaker from that day on'.

Simon had to wait another seven years before his career got off the ground. In 1973, aged 18, he began work - a prerequisite to entering Roseworthy - as a cellar hand and laboratory technician at Leo Buring, then part of Lindemans, at Tanunda in the Barossa Valley.

'Lindemans fostered my ambition and sponsored me through my oenology studies at Roseworthy College,' he said. Simon graduated from Roseworthy in 1977 with a Diploma in Oenology. 'Those 10 years until late 1984 were consumed by an enviable grounding in winemaking, including the production of Lindemans Coonawarra, Padthaway and Rouge Homme Coonawarra brands under the guidance of respected winemaker Philip Laffer and John Vickery,' he reminisces. 'It was during this time that I undertook my first hands-on experience with Eden Valley Riesling, from receival to finished wine.'

In 1979 Simon spent several months overseas, observing winegrowing in New Zealand, California, Canada and Europe. In 1984 he resigned from Lindemans to take up a position as winemaker and winery manager at Arrowfield Wines in the Hunter Valley, where he stayed until December 1993. During this time he oversaw the turn-around of the label in the late 1980s - he soon became noted in the press as an 'innovative, adventurous and bold' winemaker. Simon took Arrowfield from a sole trophy winner between 1968 and 1984 to 23 trophies and 700 medals in just eight years. For the last year at Arrowfield he consulted to them while he established Simon Gilbert Wine Services Pty Ltd, based in Muswellbrook in the Hunter Valley.

In 1997 Simon sought seed capital to establish a new winery and vineyard in Mudgee after which the business was relocated following 'completion' in preparation for the 2001 vintage. The winery capacity totalled approximately 3000t and a vineyard of 40ha was predominantly planted to premium red varieties. Among young winemakers who worked there was Emma Bowen (now back with her parents at Bowen Estate, Coonawarra). As chief winemaker and winery manager, Simon's wide range of responsibilities covered implementation of policy, staff supervision, and all aspects of viticulture and winemaking. Among the wines produced under the Simon Gilbert name were some with especially attractive labels reproducing 19th Century playing cards which had belonged to the family and were later given to the State Library of South Australia. There were also two super premium wines made from grapes sourced from McLaren Vale - Wongalere 1998 Shiraz and Abbaston 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon.

The full version of Valmai Hankel's Part Two series of The Gilberts at Pewsey Vale can be found in the May/June issue of the Wine Industry Journal. To take out a subscription to the Wine Industry Journal, telephone +618 8292 0888 or visit

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