Noise is defined as “unwanted sound judged to be unpleasant, loud, or disruptive to hearing.” Tom Gamble, of Gamble Family Vineyards, is not a fan of noise – at least in wine. He seeks to produce wines that are “not trying to be the loudest voice in the room.” Although his wines are not loud – one sip and they will get your attention.
I spent a few hours last week enjoying lunch with Tom Gamble, Kristin Pavlovic, Gamble Family Vineyards Sales and Marketing Manager, Melanie Ofenloch, aka Dallas Wine Chick, and Dallas Chef Richard Chamberlain, at one of Richard’s restaurants, Chamberlain’s Fish Market. It was a wonderful afternoon of learning about Tom Gamble while enjoying a few of his wines with a delicious and beautifully paired meal.
Tom Gamble is a third generation Napa Valley farmer. He told me, “farming is in my blood, and I’ve made a life out of it – but I did not know I was going to make wine.” He added, “He cannot remember a time he didn’t have dust in his nose.” As a young boy, Tom would follow his dad around the family ranch mostly getting in the way, but trying to be useful. Tom said sometimes his “usefulness” resulted in his dad “tying him to a tree” to keep him out of trouble.
Tom bought his first vineyard in 1981, making him the first in his family to grow grapes commercially. More than twenty years later, Tom founded Gamble Family Vineyards, with a focus on crafting wines expressive of the distinct Napa Valley terroirs. The family winery is located in Oakville on a piece of land Tom purchased in 2008 from a family friend whose family had owned the land for more than a century. That family entrusted Tom and his wife, Collette, to preserve this historic property.
Gamble Family Vineyards seeks to produce “old world style wines that seamlessly bring together elegance, balance, nuance, with good structure and moderate alcohol, while embracing and highlighting the characteristics Napa Valley terroir imparts on the wines.” They use primarily Bordeaux varietals and low intervention winemaking techniques.
Tom has a heart for Sauvignon Blanc. He explained he “takes it seriously, respecting the grape in an old world style.” He recalls how during the Merlot craze of the 90’s Merlot was being overplanted. However, he was planting Sauvignon Blanc. Gamble Family Vineyards offers two Sauvignon Blancs. We did not taste the Heart Block Sauvignon Blanc, available to members of the wine club. This wine sells for $90 – causing a bit of controversy for being a high end white wine. Tom speaks passionately about both of his Sauvignon Blancs. These are wines made of intention- from vineyard planting, management, clone selection, winemaking aging, etc The Heart Block Sauvignon Blanc has a 6-8 year cellar-ability.
The 2016 Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc ($25) is crafted from a blend of clones, including Loire Valley and Bordeaux. The wine is rich and smooth, it is evident it is a higher level Sauvignon Blanc the minute it enters the mouth. Bright fresh fruit is wrapped in high acidity, it is fresh, bright, and lovely. We enjoyed it with a west coast halibut crudo on fried sushi rice for a light and refreshing pairing.
After enjoying the Sauvignon Blanc our attention turned to the two Gamble Family Vineyards reds that are available through retail and restaurant channels. This is where it became apparent Gamble wines are something truly special. Tom shared with me his wines “are not trying to be loudest voice in the room.” Instead, embracing an old world wine philosophy that wine is meant to accompany a good meal, not steal the show. Tom explained he believes, “wines are to be enjoyed while lingering for hours with friends and good food.” This contributes to the focus on lower alcohol levels. Enjoyment is the goal, not getting drunk.
His palate was informed by early experiences of low alcohol wines – before wines became so ripe and concentrated. He seeks wines with layers of complexity in flavors and textures. Therefore, all Gamble Family wines are blends – grapes, clones, vineyard blocks, different harvest dates all add to the complexity of the wines.
The 2014 Gamble Family Vineyards Paramount Red Blend ($90) is the only wine available through both distribution and the wine club. It is a blend of 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Petite Verdot – all four varieties were harvested, fermented, and aged separately. It is a beautiful blend of earth and fruit – fresh black and red berries mixed with baked berries, leather, baking spice, dark chocolate, cedar, vanilla are wrap the nose and dance across the palate. It is a lean and focused wine, full-body yet reserved, smooth medium+ tannins and acidity provide structure, long spicy finish. It is dignified and restrained. It was paired with duck over local mushrooms and a cherry sauce. The cherry sauce grabbed the Merlot and did a tango down my throat. It was another perfect pairing.
The 2014 Gamble Family Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($50) is 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Malbec, 4% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petite Verdot, and 1% Merlot. Fruit from eight different vineyards contributed to the wine – creating complexity and layered flavors. This full body wine offers notes of black fruit, baking spice, dried figs, worn leather cigar box lined inside with cedar, dried tobacco, black pepper, graphite, and vanilla dazzle. Although there is lots of rich earth, it is a bit juicier on the palate than the Paramount Red Blend. It was aged in a blend of American and French oak, with the American included oak from Missouri and Virginia. It is balanced with medium+ tannins and high acidity with a long, lingering finish you don’t want to end. Another beautifully restrained yet focused wine. Paired with juicy prime rib with a peppery crust that really brought out the earth notes of the wine.
As a 3rd generation farmer Tom Gamble said he “stands on broad shoulders.” He farms sustainably, “making all decisions for the next generation.” This guides him to “farming in a manner that isn’t detrimental to the community or the planet.” The Gamble Family winery and vineyards are Certified Napa Green and Fish Friendly.
We wrapped up our lunch discussing Gamble Family Vineyards impact by the fires last fall. Tom told me it was “scary and really stressful.” They lost 200 vines, a ton of harvested Merlot, and a building. Due to power outages they purchased a generator to keep the wines cool, manage volatile acidity, and minimize spoilage. He said the working conditions were terrible due to the thickness of the smoke. What made it all worse was the significant business they lost from tourist who stopped visiting. The loss of future revenue remains to be calculated. Go to Napa Valley; buy wine.
In closing, I enjoyed my time with Tom Gamble. He is a straight talker and I love his passion for wine, dirt, and the environment. I admire his desire to celebrate Napa Valley terroir. I found the three wines I tasted outstanding and it left me with a desire to try more. I appreciate the restraint and balance of his wines. They do not steal the show, instead adding depth to the overall enjoyment of the food and conversation. But don’t be fooled, they are not shrinking violets. Take away the noise and your left with high quality wines.
If these sound like wines you would enjoy visit Gamble Family Vineyards web site to find out where they are available in your state. You can also contact them about joining their wine club.