We’ve become so accustomed to Napa Valley wines that stain our teeth and deplete our finances that it’s disorienting to find some we can actually drink. Even more surprising is a vintner who is a farmer at heart, rather than a retired hedge fund manager or dot-com billionaire.
Tom Gamble’s story is more typical of Sonoma than Napa. His family came to the area over a century ago and prospered by planting agricultural crops and raising cattle, which was where the money was back then. Over time the Gambles became grape growers, selling most of their harvest to Beringer. Tom, the third generation, expanded the vineyard holdings and finally put his name on the label in 2005.
Gamble Family Vineyards today is a complex operation. The majority of the grapes are still sold, leaving an annual production between 8,000 and 10,000 cases. Nearly half of that goes to a mailing list of members who are more like family: they visit when they’re in Napa, and Tom drops in on them when he’s traveling around the country. There’s a trio of commercial releases for the public, but the members get to buy wines made from the choice sections of Gamble’s vineyards, with one wine (the Paramount red blend) that straddles both categories.
Selections on the open market begin with the 2018 Sauvignon Blanc ($28) from Napa’s Yountville appellation. The nose yields aromas of grapefruit and fresh herbs; the wine is forceful and assertive on the palate, with mouthwatering acidity highlighting citrus flavors against a strong mineral underpinning. By the time you get to the long, herbal finish, you’ll be looking for oysters.
Gamble’s 2015 Napa Cabernet ($55, or “an exercise in relative affordability,” according to Tom) has a charming, forward nose with aromas of ripe black fruits. It’s medium bodied in the mouth, cool and composed, with attractive flavors of black plum, cassis and menthol. More importantly, it’s atypical for Napa in both price and style: nicely balanced at 14.1% alcohol, the wine is rich in texture and persistent both on the palate and the finish.
The 2016 Paramount Red Wine blend, a mix of nearly equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, has a recessed nose that gives up whiffs of black fruits and anise with coaxing. Medium to full-bodied, it has a meaty mid palate with menthol-infused flavors of currants, cherries and red berries; like the Cabernet, it is concentrated without being overripe or overbearing.
What are the benefits of becoming a member? You get access to treats like the 2016 Heart Block Sauvignon Blanc, harvested from 12 acres in the center of the Gamble vineyard in Yountville. This unusual Napa Sauvignon Blanc was planted with clones from the Loire Valley and Bordeaux. Aged in 50% new oak, it is round and ripe on the palate, with flavors of apples, citrus, fresh herbs and minerals. It displays considerable depth and amplitude along with a long, juicy finish—more than enough reason to take the leap and join the family.
Mark Spivak specializes in wine, spirits, food, restaurants and culinary travel. He is the author of several books on distilled spirits and the cocktail culture. Friend of the Devil, his first novel, was released in 2016; his second novel, The American Crusade, a political thriller set during the invasion of Iraq, is now available on Amazon.