Gamble Family Vineyards: 100 years of sensitive farming deeply rooted in the Napa Valley

With 100 years of agriculture in Napa, it comes as no surprise that the heart and soul of Gamble Family Vineyards is deeply rooted in the soil. Founded by third-generation farmer Tom Gamble in 2005, Gamble Family Vineyards owns prime estate vineyards from many of Napa’s most respected AVAs—Oakville, Mt. Veeder, Rutherford and Yountville. Its winery and by-invitation-only tasting room have a quiet presence, sitting modestly in an isolated nook off Highway 29 in the heart of Napa Valley’s Oakville AVA. Set back from the main road, Gamble’s mission here is to carry on the heritage of farming that his ancestors sowed when they came to Napa as cattle ranchers in 1916. They left with him a legacy of deep and abiding affinity for the land from which came not only their livelihood, but also a life full of purpose.

Having shadowed his father on the family ranches as a child, Tom has had a hand in the land since an early age. In 1981, at the age of 20, he purchased his first vineyard with several partners, making him the first Gamble to begin growing grapes commercially. “Given this legacy, one does not continue farming for dispassionate reasons alone—there are easier ways to make a living. And thus, taking the next step and putting my name on a bottle of wine does not come lightly,” says Gamble.

Winemaker Jim Close follows Gamble Family Vineyards’ mission of producing 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. Jim Close began his winemaking career in the southern Languedoc region of France, and has made every bottle of Gamble Family Vineyards wine since inception.

History
When it comes to quintessential family heirlooms, it’s no bauble or rare gem that the Gamble family cherishes; it is land, the wildlife that has been feeding off of that land, and the farming philosophy that has been passed on from generation to generation. In 1916, Launcelot Gamble first began cattle ranching and farming a variety of crops in Napa County. Throughout the years, Launcelot passed his passion and trade onto his sons, Launce and George (Tom’s father).

In 1955, Launcelot acquired a piece of land in Oakville, a very small portion of which would later become the Family Home Vineyard and the foundation for the family’s entrance into the wine business. In the early 1970s, the family entered into a long-term lease with Beringer Vineyards, which planted the land surrounding Family Home to grapes. Having already turned his focus to grape growing with the purchase of several vineyard sites in the 1980s and 1990s, Tom took over the task of farming Family Home, which was originally planted by his mother and stepfather in 1997. Following his family’s method of meticulously caring for the land, Tom’s own farming history earned him a reputation for quality and resulted in increased demand for his grapes from other vintners.

After a couple of decades of growing and selling his own grapes, Tom was ready—albeit apprehensive—to begin bottling his own wines. “I didn’t know much about winemaking or wine sales, but I knew I had good land to work with,” says Tom Gamble.

More than twenty years after his first vineyard purchase, Tom founded Gamble Family Vineyards with the goal of celebrating the distinct Napa Valley terroir he had come to know and love. The final piece of the puzzle came in 2008, when Tom acquired the land in Oakville where he would eventually begin building his family winery in 2012. Owned by the same family for more than a century, this historic piece of land embodies the ambience of the 19th century. The family’s ancestors built the farmhouse, water tower, and barns on the property, which were preserved and protected as a result of the passion and dedication of the younger generations. As lifelong friends of the family, Tom and his wife, Colette, were entrusted with the preservation of this historic legacy.

The construction of the winery was designed to ensure maximum efficiency of small lot winemaking while also complementing and blending in with the traditional and historic 19th century homestead and barns. With the goal of keeping Gamble Family Vineyards a family affair at its core, Tom turned to his brother-in-law, Morgan Conolly, who served as lead architect on the exterior and hospitality design of the space.

The first harvest at the new winemaking facility took place in 2013, and the first guests were welcomed in January 2014.

Farming Values
As a farmer in heart and practice, Gamble follows a holistic approach to farming and winemaking.

The homestead at Gamble Family Vineyards
When it comes to farming his land, Gamble chooses to focus on the sustainable route, one that he believes provides a return that reinvests in the land. His goal is to farm in a manner that isn’t detrimental to the community or the planet. His winery and vineyards are certified Napa Green and Fish Friendly.

Given the Gamble legacy, it’s obvious where Tom Gamble got his farming values. His father George is considered a “ranching environmentalist” and is passionate about caring for the land’s habitat. He was one of the first in Napa County to create food plots to support wild animals’ nutrition needs in during the lean summer months. George and his brother Launce published “Birds of Napa County,” with illustrations by Hermann Heinzel.

Working alongside his father gave Tom Gamble the opportunity to learn about different soils and their respective nuances. “This early learning was essential when I decided to begin growing grapes,” says Tom Gamble. “It really gave me an education as to what vineyards need in terms of soil, rootstock and spacing.”

Tom’s mother, Mary Ann McGuire, was active in establishing 1968’s Napa Valley Agricultural Preserve, an ordinance that protects vineyards and wineries from commercial development and ensures that the land is used strictly for agricultural purposes. Tom credits his mother’s efforts as one of the main reasons that he is able to make a living as a farmer and grape grower, because had that initiative not passed, his land and all of Napa would not have been preserved for farming.

Vineyards
Gamble Family Vineyards owns approximately 175 acres of land spread throughout some of Napa’s most well-known AVAs, including Oakville, Yountville, Rutherford and Mt. Veeder. The primary focus is on Bordeaux varietals, including Sauvignon Blanc. All of Gamble Family Vineyards’ wines are produced in small quantities, with careful attention to farming.

The home vineyards consist of the following sites:

Gamble Vineyard
The 12-acre Gamble Vineyard is located in Yountville and is planted to Sauvignon Blanc Bound by Napa River and Conn Creek, the Gamble Vineyard possesses a mix of old silted and flood plain soils. Yountville is in the central portion of Napa Valley, and is a classic “warm days and cool nights” appellation with sunny afternoons and foggy mornings.

Tom Gamble originally chose his bud wood by massale selection, a traditional practice of obtaining cuttings from great vineyards. Half of the vineyard is planted to the Sauvignon Musque clone, a third generation of the original bud wood brought from the Loire in the 1950s. The other half is planted to the Preston (Lou Preston) clone, which descended from the Graves region of Bordeaux. The farming regime emphasizes sustainable agriculture methods in order to achieve healthy and balanced vines. Grapes from this vineyard are used in the Gamble Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc and Heart Block Sauvignon Blanc.

Confluence Block
In 2005, Tom acquired what would become an additional 8.5 acres of Sauvignon Blanc adjoining Gamble Vineyard. Named Confluence due to the joining of Rector Creek to Conn Creek, the vineyard adds several new clones of Sauvignon Blanc as a challenge to make even more complex Sauvignon Blanc. In 2015, the first grapes from this block were incorporated into the Gamble Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc.

These clones include three with French origins: 27, 530, and 316; one Oakville evolved clone 22; and one which developed in the warmer parts of the Russian River, clone 23.

Family Home Vineyard
The 3.7-acre Family Home Vineyard is located at Tom Gamble’s childhood home in Oakville and was originally planted in 1997 to Cabernet Sauvignon (clone 337). From a geological standpoint, the soils at the Family Home Vineyard are relatively young. Volcanic in origin, they are punctuated by an endless supply of rough softball-size stones. With low fertility and little water retention, this rocky site is ideal for growing high-quality, intensely flavored Cabernet Sauvignon.

Between the cooler Yountville and warmer Rutherford appellations, Oakville is ideally suited and best known for Cabernet. The moderate temperatures extend the growing season, creating increased flavor maturity and softer tannins without a corresponding loss of natural acidity. This translates to elegance and balance. Grapes from this vineyard are used in the Paramount Proprietary Red Blend and Family Home Cabernet Sauvignon and G. Thomas Cabernet Sauvignon.

Winery Vineyards
The vineyards surrounding the Gamble Family Vineyards winery in Oakville are comprised of several blocks, varieties and ages.

Cairo
Cairo is adjacent to the winery and is named after Tom Gamble’s beloved rescue dog (now deceased). The 2-acre vineyard is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon (clone 337). The eastern side of the vineyard starts with a clay-loam, adding an under layer of volcanic rock as the vines get closer to the knoll.

Cairo is tucked against a knoll top on the western side of the ranch, which gets ample sunshine throughout the day and has windy afternoons. The vineyard was originally planted in 1997 and the fruit was sold until 2009, Cairo’s first vintage. Grapes from this vineyard are used in its namesake bottling Cairo Cabernet Sauvignon and G. Thomas Cabernet Sauvignon, which are made available only to wine club members.

Homestead
In 2015, more than an acre of Petit Verdot (clone 1058) was planted in an area surrounding the original 19th century homestead, which will be used for the Paramount Proprietary Red Blend in coming years. The soils and micro climate are similar to Cairo.
Water Tower

Also part of the original homestead and an iconic landmark seen from Highway 29 is the one acre vineyard surrounding the Water Tower. In 2015, this was replanted to Merlot (clone 181) in support of Paramount. As Sauvignon Blanc was once out of favor, Merlot’s maligning has led to the excessive removal of Merlot in Napa, allowing the opportunity for the variety to be rediscovered.

Farmhouse
The 19th century-inspired farm house at the winery is surrounded by a 9-acre vineyard, the largest of all vineyards at the winery. Following Gamble’s tradition of increasing wine complexity through the use of multiple clones and varieties, Farmhouse is planted to two different varieties and six clones. It was replanted in 2015 to two French derived clones of Cabernet Franc: 214 and 327, and three clones of Cabernet Sauvignon: French clone 412, the Mendoza clone which evolved in Argentina, and clone 6, made famous by Beaulieu Vineyards.

Upon proper maturation, the fruit from these vines will be used in new and existing Gamble Family Vineyards bottlings.

CC Ranch Vineyard
In 1873, Colette Gamble’s family first came to the Napa Valley. The family has owned a succession of vineyards in Rutherford since the 19th century. The 115-acre CC Ranch Vineyard is located in Rutherford and is planted to Bordeaux varieties and Petite Sirah. The vineyard has multiple soil types and is located in the center of the valley on an east west axis. The wines from this parcel express quintessential “Rutherford Dust.”

Rutherford’s soils are primarily gravel, sand and loam, and are dominated by volcanic deposits and Franciscan marine sediment. They provide excellent water drainage and ideal conditions. Many well-known wineries have purchased fruit from this vineyard over the years, including Nickel and Nickel and Robert Biali, among many others. Historically, portions of the Paramount Proprietary Red Blend have been grown on CC Ranch, but the site is currently under a replant. This significant replanting led Tom and Jim to explore Mt. Veeder.

Mt. Veeder Vineyard
In 2014, Gamble purchased a 34-acre property with 20 acres of vineyards, which sits at 1,900 ft. elevation on Mt. Veeder. Some portions of the property were first planted in the 1970s. The rugged slopes of Mt. Veeder produce tiny quantities of intensely flavored grapes. The microclimate is very different from the Napa Valley floor, hovering in and above the fog and clouds. During the final days of the growing season, the mountain’s cool days and warm nights result in flavors and textures that are intriguingly distinct from Oakville fruit.

Over time, it will be planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot to support Mary Ann and Paramount and whatever creative urges Tom and Jim develop.

The Wines
Gamble Family Vineyards offers four wines available through wholesale/distribution. These include the Rosé ($22), Gamble Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($32), Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($65), and Paramount Proprietary Red Blend ($90), all of which are wholesale. Gamble offers vineyard-designate wines from its estate direct to consumer only through invitation to the property in Oakville. Wines available for purchase by their members include Heart Block Sauvignon Blanc ($80), Family Home Cabernet Sauvignon ($100), Cairo Cabernet Sauvignon ($125), Cabernet Franc ($85), Old Vine Petite Sirah ($85), Paramount Proprietary Red Blend ($90), Mary Ann Red Wine ($145), and G. Thomas Cabernet Sauvignon ($165).

Visiting Gamble Family Vineyards
Opened in 2014, Gamble’s intimate vineyard and winery location is difficult to find. Tucked behind a long winding road off of Highway 29, visitors will enjoy one of the region’s most exclusive, yet down-to-earth tasting experiences. Upon arrival visitors are often welcomed by Koa, the four-legged Gamble staff member, and usually Tom Gamble himself. The casual nature of the tasting experience paired with the serious pedigree of the Gamble portfolio of wines offers a unique experience in wine country. A visit to Gamble is an experience that not only provides an inside look into Gamble Family Vineyards and its agricultural heritage, but also makes guests feel comfortable and at home within such a private and luxurious environment. Tastings are available by referral from one of their members, winery partners or a select handful of concierges.
For more information, please visit www.gamblefamilyvineyards.com.