Sons add some sparkle

Kate MatthewsCountryman

When Jim Gilbert picked up his wife, Bev, and first-born son Clinton from hospital in Perth 26 years ago, alongside the pram and baby clothes were 5000 grapevine cuttings.

Their return to the family farm in Kendenup not only marked the beginning of family life for the Gilberts but also the start of diversification from an apple orchard and sheep enterprise into viticulture.

The inspiration to grow grapes came after travelling through Europe in 1983.

Before then Jim was working in a bakery and Bev as a school teacher, both living in Perth.

They had always wanted to return to the farm which had been in the family since 1930, but because it was a smaller property, they needed to diversify.

At the time, the wine industry in the Great Southern was in its infancy and starting to please the palates of wine connoisseurs.

So as well as running prime lambs, the Gilberts decided wine grape growing would be the perfect fit.

With little knowledge about viticulture, Jim enrolled in a six-month course at the University of WA in wine making to learn how to establish a vineyard.

The Gilberts worked closely with Tony Smith, who established Plantagenet Wines, and were advised to plant Riesling, Chardonnay and Shiraz grapes. They later added Cabernet to their 8.5-hectare vineyard.

The working relationship with Plantagenet continues to this day — the Gilberts’ 24th vintage is to be fermented and produced this year at the Mt Barker winery.

During the early days, Bev said there were very few courses on viticulture and growers around the region would chip in to bring consultants from the east.

And growers are still working together, now promoting food and wine through the annual Taste Great Southern festival.

About the time of the planting of each block of vines was the safe arrival of a son — Clinton was born in 1985, Mathew in 1987 and Nicholas in 1989.

“We didn’t set out for it to be that way, but it’s been quite a good marketing tool,” Bev said.

Three Devils Shiraz, released in 2000, refers to the boys’ younger days and a decade later Three Lads Cabernet was released, marking their current status.

“We are still a fair way off releasing three gents,” Jim said with a laugh.

Along with the amusing set of wine labels featuring their three sons, they have long been known as producers of first class Riesling.

Last year, they were awarded the best current release trophy at the Canberra International Riesling Challenge for their 2010 Riesling.

And it’s certainly not the only win the husband and wife partnership can claim.

As well as many silver and gold medals from various wine shows they also won three trophies at the 2000 Qantas Mt Barker Wine show for their 2000 Mt Barker Riesling

At the time, the Gilberts’ Riesling 2000 was the first white wine to be awarded ‘the Best Wine of Western Australia’.

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