Meet the Maker
An Exclusive Q&A with Gilbert Cellars: Local Legends in Washington’s Yakima Valley
Maker sits down with Gloria Gilbert and Laura Rankin Schlect of Gilbert Cellars to get the full story on their family’s legacy, what makes Washington wine so unique, and what you can expect from our Cab Blend collab.
By Author: William Smith
October 27, 2022
In Washington’s Yakima Valley, the name Gilbert is synonymous with quality fruit and the strong relationship between family and the land. When Maker sat down with Gilbert Cellars to discuss our latest collab, those values were on full display.
Amidst the coming and going of family and team members, General Manager Gloria Gilbert and Head of Marketing Laura Rankin Schlect (daughter of Purna Rankin, née Gilbert) walked us through what it means to be a Gilbert, how their wines reflect the climate diversity of Washington, and why they’re excited to partner with Maker to can their best-selling Cabernet Blend.
The Gilberts on Agriculture and Legacy
We know that Gilberts have been growing fruit in the Yakima Valley for over a century, but how did they get there? Laura explains how Gilbert Cellars came to be.
MAKER: When did a passion for agriculture become a passion for starting your own vineyard?
LAURA: It started when my Uncle Curt, Gloria’s father-in-law, purchased the vineyard in the early 2000s. For those first two years, we partnered with another facility in town. Meanwhile, two of the oldest Gilbert cousins – having lived in California and cut their teeth in Woodinville, WA – became interested in the burgeoning Washington wine industry.
They saw that there was an opportunity to get involved in Washington’s budding wine industry so they moved home, wrote our first business plan, and got the winery certified. When we were certified as a winery in 2004, we were right around the 120th Washington winery—now there are about 1,000.
Do you feel like your work is building on your family’s agricultural legacy?
GLORIA: Absolutely. Like most family wineries, ours certainly started out as a passion project. I’ve always looked at wine as this generation’s contribution to the agricultural industry in Yakima Valley. As you mentioned, the Gilberts have been farming this land since the late 1800s. Wine is our way to be great stewards of the land and promote our community.
"It’s about creating our business in a way that respects the land and brings new life to the Valley."
LAURA: Just like agriculture, the craft beverage industry is integrally tied to the land. We’re dependent on the seasons just as much as the tree fruit farmers. So it’s about creating our business in a way that respects the land and brings new life to the Valley.
Charlie and Gloria Gilbert
You’re clearly passionate about Washington and the Yakima Valley. How does that come through in your winery?
GLORIA: So many wineries have opened tasting rooms outside of their growing region. We used to run our tasting room out of downtown Yakima, but we really believe in coming to the source. We’ve invested heavily in our winery and our property to make it a destination, so we could move the tasting room onto the grounds themselves. We see ourselves as ambassadors for Yakima Valley. We want visitors not just to think of the valley as an interesting place to pass through, but as a destination itself.
A Quick Tour of the Yakima Valley
When talking to the Gilberts, we were quickly persuaded that Yakima Valley is a very, very special place to live, to work, and to farm.
What makes the valley, and Washington state, such a great place for grapes?
LAURA: The Yakima Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area) is famous for being the first, most, and best. It was the first AVA in Washington, it grows the most wine grapes in the state, and wines produced here consistently receive top accolades.
GLORIA: Washington has a really broad topography and spectrum of growing regions. Here in Yakima, we have tons of volcanic soils and floodplains. Some AVAs, like the Gorge, have vineyards located in a more alpine-climate – ideal for cool climate grapes. So in our state, unlike most others, we can grow all over in different kinds of microclimates.
LAURA: And those microclimates give us a huge breadth of varietals! Every growing region has its own specialties, but even when they are the same varietals, you get completely different characteristics.
Here’s a perfect example: Washington isn’t known for growing Pinot Noir—we’re too hot—but we’ve found a really unique microclimate in one of the hottest AVAs. It’s one acre on a north-facing slope, it doesn’t receive a lot of sun, it gets cold nights, and it’s got a great breeze off the river—perfect for Pinot.
In eastern Washington, where we are, the dry air and breeze coming through means that you don’t need to use a lot of pest control or herbicides and fungicides. So we minimize our grapes' impact on the land and can have a low intervention approach on the winemaking side.
GLORIA: Exactly. It comes down to access to water, our four distinct seasons, and really diverse conditions that allow for such a wide variety to thrive in our state. And that’s unique. That’s not like any other state that’s making wine.
The Gilbert Cellars x Maker Wine Collaboration
Segueing into the Gilbert Cellars and Maker Wine collaboration, we've partnered up to release their best selling Cabernet Blend, Left Bank, in a can.
You’ve talked about the huge diversity in varietals you have in Washington. That’s got to be what you want when crafting a Gilbert Cellars blend.
LAURA: That’s right! If you asked our winemaker what Washington’s best wine is, they would say the Washington blends. Our climate diversity means we can glean different characteristics from varietals, so the winemaker has the ability to craft the perfect wine.
"It’s one of those wines that, if you bring it to a dinner party and you don’t know what they’re cooking, it’s probably going to taste great no matter what."
For Left Bank, we set out to make the perfect dinner party wine. It’s one of those wines that, if you bring it to a dinner party and you don’t know what they’re cooking, it’s probably going to taste great no matter what. It has a lot of flexibility—you can pair it with just about anything. A lot of that is because it’s a really well-balanced blend with multiple varietals with characteristics that you can pick up on without being a somm. It’s approachable.
You mentioned that Left Bank is a very flexible pairing partner, but we're curious about what you’ve been drinking it with lately.
GLORIA: My husband and I have been making a lot of pizza with alternative toppings like broccoli or fiddlehead ferns. Left Bank is the perfect compliment because you can dress it up or down.
LAURA: I was thinking about carbonara. That and hearty greens. It has a great herbal quality to it.
After this launch, what’s next for Gilbert Cellars?
GLORIA: Since we relocated the tasting room from downtown to the vineyard, we are all finally out here under one roof. Now our goal is to continue to make this property thrive. We have a lot going on with our tasting room, weddings, and now a concert series.
LAURA: Yep, and now that we are a little more established, we can go out into the market more. We’re in 14 states already! And we’re happy to keep sharing our story and spreading the word about awesome Washington wine.