Migrating to Australia
The van Gent family tree can be traced back to 1790 and reveals a family of distillers and winemakers.
It was Johannes Hermanus van Gent (1817 to 1859) ship owner, merchant, distiller of spirits, member of the Municipal Council, Chamber of Commerce and world traveller who influenced a long line of van Gents. With some fifteen sailing ships in service, he imported into Holland the grains which were sold to distillers. He died on the way back from the Holy Land and was buried in Schiedam, Holland in 1859.
Eighty years later, Pieter was born in Doetinchem, Holland.
In 1958, Pieter entered the employ of an exclusive wine importer, Robbers en van den Hoogen. One of the owner’s sons was the Cellar Master who was conscripted into the army enabling Pieter to assume his position. It was mainly work with French wines from the top chateaus that were imported in bulk and then aged in casks in the underground cellars. The wines were blended where necessary and bottled. Years later there came a law that the wines had to be bottled at the chateaus.
During his employment, Pieter studied and gained a Diploma of professional skill for Retail in Strong Alcohol, Weak Alcohol and Alcohol free drinks, as well as learning about all types of wine in France such as Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Alsace, Sauternes, Champagne, German Rhine’s, Spanish Sherries, Portuguese Ports, Italian red wines and Hungarian Tokays.
In 1959, Pieter attended the wedding of his cousin Jacques van Gent in Schiedam. Jacques' brother, Hans, was living in Australia and it was Jacques who said to Pieter, “Why don’t you go to Australia, there is wine there.”
Four months later, Pieter arrived in Australia.
Australia's First Chardonnay
Of historic importance to the Australian wine industry is the import of the Chardonnay grape from France and how this grape made its way to the Craigmoor Winery in Mudgee.
1832 - Chardonnay grape varietals were first imported into Australia by James Busby. Plants were divided between Sydney Botanical Gardens and Busby's estate “Kirkton” in the Hunter Valley.
1857 - Adam Roth, a free settler, arrived in Sydney.
1858 - Adam Roth was given a grant of 37 hectares of land in Mudgee, NSW. Craigmoor Winery was established.
1887 - J. McLean established Kaluna Vineyard (near Fairfield in Sydney) and this was managed by Ambrose Laraghy who had worked at Kirkton Vineyard.
1918 - Ambrose’s son Arthur purchased Kaluna and traveled to Mudgee to purchase grapes in order to make fortified wines. He gave Chardonnay cuttings from Kaluna to Bill Roth (son) which were planted at Craigmoor Vineyards. These cuttings came from Busby's original collection at Kirkton and it is suggested that Kaluna was the only Chardonnay source left at this time.
1930 - Jack Roth (son) had bought out his brother and consolidated winemaking at Craigmoor Winery.
1969 - At this time a nameless grape variety was identified by Professor Denis Boubals, an ampelographer from Montpellier (France,) as Chardonnay, one of the best disease-free clones he had seen. In this way, Mudgee became the first wine-growing area in Australia to grow Chardonnay.
1970 - Pieter van Gent came to Mudgee in December to take up the position of Winemaker /Manager for Craigmoor Wines . Pieter van Gent: "I officially started my job as Winemaker /Manager on Christmas Eve, when the new owners purchased Craigmoor, but I worked for 2 weeks while Craigmoor was still owned by the Roth family."
1971- Pieter van Gent: "I was told to forget about making white wine in Mudgee and stick to the reds. I made Chardonnay in 1971, but there was only one hogshead which was not enough to bottle. Dr. Ray Healey and I were both aware that this was the first time the Chardonnay grape was made into a wine in Australia."
1972 - Craigmoor marketed straight Chardonnay under the Chardonnay label. Pieter van Gent: "I have written before that Tyrell’s may have had Chardonnay in 1972 at the same time as Craigmoor, but it was labeled as Pinot Blanc, not Chardonnay." Pieter remained at Craigmoor Winery until 1979 and firmly established Craigmoor as one of the leading wineries in Australia and contributed immeasureably to the establishment of Mudgee as an important wine region.