The Gilbert family has a long, deep-rooted history in the Yakima Valley. In fact, the family has regularly been growing apples, pears and stone fruits in the valley since the 1890s.
But some of the best things in life are a surprise, and the winery — Gilbert Cellars — might be one of them. In 2002, co-founder Curtiss Gilbert purchased a vineyard northeast of Yakima in the Wahluke Slope AVA with the intention of tearing out the grapes to plant more apples.
“We ultimately decided to keep the grapes, thinking it [winemaking] would be a fun hobby,” says Charlie Gilbert, Curtiss Gilbert’s son and head of sales for Gilbert Cellars. The vineyard boasted sought-after varietals like Chardonnay, Syrah and Cabernet Franc. After a few trial runs, the Gilbert family merged into the wine world in 2004.
Charlie Gilbert met his wife — Gloria, the winery’s general manager — in 2011 while attending Le Cordon Bleu in Portland. Gloria hails from Los Angeles and her passion for food brought her to the Pacific Northwest. “We brought a lot back to Yakima,” Charlie adds. “Food and wine are very close industries. It’s an easy and natural connection.”
Notable Washington winemaker Justin Neufeld was brought onto the Gilbert Cellars team in 2007, and has been maximizing the vineyard’s potential since then. The “resident wine geek” earned his degree in molecular biology, and maintains each part of the winemaking process, including overseeing the vineyards.
Gilbert Cellars grows over a dozen varietals — mainly Bordeaux-style — across three AVAs: Columbia Valley, Horse Heaven Hills and the Wahluke Slope. This allows much room to create and grow their distinguishing wine list.
The Gilberts use up to 80 percent of their own yield for their overall wine production, leaving room for explore other varieties across the state. “We want to provide what we can, but we want [Neufeld] to be able to source fruit he can get his hands on,” Charlie explains. “That means connecting with other growers in the area.”
“But the beauty of Washington is that we have the luxury to grow just about anything,” Gloria adds. “There’s several microclimates, which means we can experiment and have fun.”
The Gilberts’ downtown Yakima tasting room has been welcoming locals and travelers alike since its opening in 2008. The winery is distant from the buzz of the town, but the tasting room “keeps us connected to the heart of the city,” Gloria explains.
Staying plugged into the community and helping enliven Yakima’s downtown district is the Gilbert’s purpose. And of course, the food is one of their extensions, leading them to partner with other local businesses like Cowiche Canyon, Crafted and Tieton Farm and Creamery.
But their location on the outskirts of Yakima is no less breathtaking and no less hospitable. Acres of grapes and apples wrap the winery, and lavender painted on the slopes sweeps through the breeze. The Ahtanum Ridge overlooks the scene. The destination winery at The Hackett Ranch hosts dozens of weddings throughout the year. Guests can bask in the sunset of the outdoor amphitheater for the “Music in the Vines” concert series each summer.
The small, boutique winery produces an average of 7,000 cases a year, but it ushered in a new generation of the Gilbert Cellars family. “We’re still a younger winery; always changing and evolving,” Gloria says. “We want our product to reflect that and we want to continue the legacy in our own style.”
What’s most important to the Gilberts is creating a product that is unique, yet familiar and approachable. Each bottle features a portrait of Gilbert Peak, reflecting the family’s values of adventure, community and vitality.
“Wine carries this air of exclusivity, but it isn’t that way,” Gloria explains. “Being in the Washington wine community is so welcoming and accessible. We’re a small, family business with real people. It’s fun to tell the story of who we are with our wine. And to have someone enjoy our product, that makes it worthwhile.”