Meet the Maker
Gilbert Cellars: Putting Yakima Valley Pride on the Map with Cabernet Blend
Meet the Gilberts. Farming and exploring Washington for over 100 years, they put Yakima Valley on the map. Now, they’re putting it in a glass.
By Sarah Hoffman
May 15, 2022
The Gilbert family has been growing fruit in Eastern Washington's Yakima Valley since the 1800s, and they’ve left quite an impression. If you visit the valley, you may pass by Gilbert Elementary on your way to Gilbert park. Feeling adventurous? Why not brave a summit of the 8,000ft Gilbert Peak?
This deep family history and connection to the land informs their relationship to winemaking and their place in the Yakima Valley community. Every generation has deepened that bond, building on the legacy of one of the first Gilberts in the valley—Curtiss Richey Gilbert.
After World War 1, Curtiss returned to Yakima and brought with him a passion for mountaineering. As a scout leader, he spent decades leading expeditions into the rugged Cascade Mountains. Among his many hiking buddies was Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas who named Gilbert Peak in his honor. Mountaineer and man of enterprise, Curtiss successfully managed his orchard through the Depression and World War II while maintaining his love and stewardship of the wilderness. That spirit and legacy of exploration represent what it means to be a Gilbert.
While they’re local legends, they’ve never been interested in resting on their laurels. Each generation of Gilberts has brought new energy to the family business. In 2004, that meant officially diving into the wine business by launching Gilbert Cellars. As usual, they were ahead of the curve. When they founded their winery, they were just the 120th in Washington. Now, there are over 1000.
History in every sip: the Gilbert fam has been farming in Yakima Valley since the late 1800's.
A New Era for Gilbert Cellars
Since Sean and Nate Gilbert co-founded the winery in 2004, Gilbert Cellars has become a full on family affair. After grad school, their cousin Laura Rankin (Gilbert) came back to the valley in 2009 to manage Gilbert Cellars’ first tasting room —nestled in the heart of downtown Yakima. Always a family-focused winery, the Gilberts built it to feel like a little piece of their living room. There, the community could gather around a shared table to bond over wine and food. When her cousin Charlie and his wife Gloria Gilbert joined the business in 2014, they began to take that mission to another level.
After two years of managing the tasting room and wine club, Gloria Gilbert took on the challenge of being General Manager. The downtown tasting room was full of charm, but Gloria knew that Gilbert Cellars deserved a bigger audience. To introduce more wine-lovers to the wonder of their wines, the Gilberts began a shift to shipping to customers directly. Now customers anywhere could enjoy Gilbert wines or build a deeper connection to the land by coming directly to the source in Yakima Valley. Gloria saw this pivot as an essential way to continue their duty as Gilberts to be stewards of the land and ambassadors to Yakima.
“I’ve always looked at wine as this generation’s contribution to the agricultural industry in Yakima. The Gilberts have been farming since the late 1800’s here in the Yakima Valley. This is another way to be stewards of the land.”
By carefully choosing the grapes they ferment and hosting visitors in the Yakima Valley, the Gilberts have cultivated a deep connection between the wine and the land itself. So what is it about the earth that makes Washington and the Yakima Valley so special?
A few members of the Gilbert Cellars fam - Laura Schlect, Gloria Gilbert, and Charlie Gilbert.
Leave it to Washington Weather
Usually, wine growing regions are known for a specific climate that fits a few varietals perfectly. Washington’s strength is the opposite. From arid sandy slopes to dense alpine regions to ancient volcanic soil, Washington has a wide diversity of micro-climates—each perfectly suited to its own varietal. The weather is just as dynamic as the soil, too.
“Unlike some other states, we can grow all over our state in different micro-climates, and every growing region has their own specialty.”
On any given summer day in the Yakima Valley, the temperature swing from a cool night to a blisteringly hot afternoon averages a whopping 40°F. As a human, that sounds pretty unpleasant, but grapes love it. Cool nights help the fruit build flavor and acid, which makes for a delicious glass (or can) down the line. Washington’s unique climates give the Gilberts a leg up when it comes to producing fantastic wine, but that’s not their only advantage. They also have a secret weapon, one named Justin Neufeld.
Trained molecular biologist and certified wine geek, Justin is Gilbert Cellars’ man in the field. In his work with growers across the Yakima Valley and Washington, it’s Justin’s job to identify the perfect grapes for Gilbert wines and then be as hands-off as possible as he shepherds the fruit from vine to glass. Eastern Washington is the perfect fit for this low-intervention approach. The dry air and steady breezes make for fewer pests and less fungicide.
Introducing the Maker + Gilbert Cellars Cabernet Blend.
Will it Blend?
When we had the idea for a Gilbert x Maker collab, picking a wine was easy. Remember all that talk about the stunning breadth of Washington varietals? Well, all that variety means Gilbert Cellars has serious options when it comes to crafting a perfectly balanced red blend (leveled-up to a Cabernet Sauvignon with the 2021 vintage). Once they found the perfect blend, the world responded. Left Bank Red Blend has been their best-selling red for over a decade. One sip and you’ll get it.
“It has really nice fruit, some tannins but not overbearing. It’s not too dry either, so I think it checks a lot of boxes. It’s universally appealing – the perfect dinner party wine.”
Left Bank has the richness and warmth of the perfect dinner party and brings the goods for both your favorite wine snobs and novice sippers. It brings a mix of spice with subtle sweetness and finishes with a tart fruitiness and smokiness. Pair it with just about anything, or don’t. This beauty is happy to speak for itself.
The next time you raise a glass of Left Bank, toast to 100 years of exploration and to each delicious varietal that makes this blend a true Washington beaut.