Taken at Duck Chase, photograph by Robert Woodward.
It was inevitable at a young age from the blood coursing through his veins and a family history that Karrawatta Wines principal Mark Gilbert would ultimately pursue a career in viticulture.
Over the past six years Mark has developed Karrawatta as a producer of ultra-premium wines from established South Australian vineyards in Langhorne Creek and the Adelaide Hills and has recently acquired one of the best vineyards in McLaren Vale.
“They are icon premium wine growing sites with old vines and vines that are right for their particular region,” Mark said.
“The assets are in the vines, which we own and manage. We produce small batch, single vineyard wines from diverse vineyards, such as one in the cooler Adelaide Hills climate at Meadows and the other at Langhorne Creek.
“All vines are detail hand-pruned and the fruit selectively picked and whole bunch-pressed to nurture the wines from the vineyard to the glass. Our first vintage was in 2012.”
The high-altitude Adelaide Hills vineyard Sophie’s Hill, named after Mark’s daughter, has produced quality Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz with a Chardonnay release to follow soon.
Its Christo’s Paddock vineyard, named after son Christopher, produces ultra-premium Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz in Langhorne Creek. The soil is some of the best in the district, which avoids flooding, and is located next to the Angus River.
A number of Karrawatta’s vintages have been commended in reviews with tastings of last December’s release of the 2014 Joseph Shiraz receiving acclamation from pre-eminent wine critics, James Halliday (94 points), Huon Hooke and Rob Geddes, each rating it 95 points. The Christo’s Paddock Cabernet Sauvignon has claimed best Cabernet in Langhorne Creek two years in a row and the Sophie’s Hill Pinot Grigio has been reviewed as one of the best in Australia on multiple occasions.
Mark’s roots can be traced back to the wine’s namesake - his great, great, great grandfather Joseph Gilbert, who arrived in Australia in 1839 and bought thousands of acres in the Barossa Valley and Eden Valley before planting grape vines.
Joseph built a home in the Eden Valley, naming it Karrawatta, and in 1847 developed the first winery in the region and was the pioneer of planting Riesling vines in Australia.
However, with an adjoining property having a similar name, a coin toss at the local Williamstown Hotel, determined the use of the property’s title and Joseph reluctantly opted for the winery name of Pewsey Vale, recognising his English home in the Vale of Pewsey, in Wiltshire,
Despite Pewsey Vale changing ownership over the years, generations of the Gilbert family have continued to produce wine grapes in the region and seven years ago Mark Gilbert was excited to establish vineyards featuring the Karrawatta branding.
It was with pride that he could recapture the family property name and utilise his education of viticulture and from working at various vineyards in SA and interstate.
Mark moved to South Australia in 2005 and after working for a viticulture consultancy he bought the business and has since established a major management and vineyard contracting operation that services a number of premium properties in SA.
“We have established Karrawatta Viticulture as a professional vineyard management and vineyard contracting business, primarily through the Barossa Valley and Langhorne Creek, Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale regions,” Mark said.
“When we started seven years ago we managed three vineyards as a small business, but now staff numbers have grown from six to 34 full-timers.
“We contract to other vineyards to help them with their audits, reviews, financial analysis, advice on wine production, technology use and preparation of realistic business development plans, budgets and cash flows.
“We have built and developed our own software that reduces administration costs and we can track staff, track inventory and handle the billings.
“Nexia does all of our strategic tax advice, daily matters and has advised us on the best way to set up trusts and tax expenditure for our short and medium planning.”
Karrawatta Wines is also developing and will soon open a cellar door by expanding an existing shed to welcome the public for tastings and also be available for corporate events.