Wednesdays with Winemakers – Tom Gamble 6 min read
My most lasting memory of childhood is dirt. Playing in dirt. Walking in dust behind the tractor. Wandering aimlessly on foot, horseback and mini-bike all summer long—enjoying everything the dirt and our climate gives to life.
Tom Gamble’s boyhood days often began before sunrise; herding cattle, working irrigation lines and emulating older ranchers and farmers from the back of the pack.
Tom purchased his first vineyard in 1981. He is the first member of his family to make wine, but hopes he is not the last to work the land. Gamble Family Vineyards is his legacy for future generations, inspired by the hard work of generations past.
Tom Gamble is a farmer first, which is fitting.
Good wine begins on the vine.
Why did you become a vintner/winemaker?
It’s in my genes. I am a third generation Napa Valley farmer—my family has been farming the Napa Valley since 1916. My father and grandfather were both farmers, who instilled in me a deep appreciation for the land, which I followed for years and used as a jumping off point for growing grapes. I learned a lot shadowing them, and to me, winemaking is a natural and important transition to help sustain the land for future generations.
If you weren’t a vintner/ winemaker what would you be and why?
I have no idea, I’d probably go back to just farming grapes, since that’s what Napa Valley is best for.
What is your greatest strength as a vintner/winemaker?
I have a long history with growing grapes, and a familiarity with the long cycles of the industry. Working alongside my dad gave me the opportunity to learn about different soils and their respective nuances. This early education was essential when I decided to begin growing grapes—I learned what vineyards need in terms of soil, rootstock, and spacing.
What is your biggest weakness as a vintner/winemaker?
I’m not a good salesperson. I feel most comfortable farming, and being with my dog in the vineyards.
What’s the one mistake you made in the cellar you would never repeat?
I moved into a custom crush facility without insisting upon a microbial analysis of the facility and high functioning Standard Operating Procedures.
What is your proudest achievement?
My wife saying, “Yes.”
What was your scariest vintage to date?
2011, due to the growing conditions, or 2003, our first vintage.
What is your favorite word or saying?
Those around me might all say something different but when it comes to wine and grapes…“Get the Balance Right” uttered in Depeche Mode cadence.
What is your most prized possession?
My marriage to my wife Colette.
What’s the oddest thing about you?
I’m willing to make sacrifices to succeed, which are strange and annoying to some, but familiar to other entrepreneurs.
What song best sums you up?
My Pandora is always rotating because no genre holds my attention for very long, and as a result, my favorite song is constantly changing. I have no idea. But if I had to take a stab at it in context of continually building this business and working to make things always better…“Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones.
What is your favorite memory?
Youthful, hot dusty summers on the farm being exposed to the related work, with lots of exploring and goofing off.
Which of the five senses is your strongest?
Rock ‘n Roll took away my acute hearing. In farming, my strongest sense is sight, or the power of visual observation in the vineyard. Just looking around and seeing how your vineyard is behaving leads to the best decisions for vine care. In winemaking, the sense of taste supports me most when it comes to wine. It helps me in evaluating the taste and texture of the wine upon the palate. A close second would be aromatics which can create such a profound anticipation for tasting the wine.
What is your biggest motivation?
Broadening the familial shoulders, I stand on for the next generation. Given my family history, I’m intent upon following in the footsteps of my father and grandfather, and continuing the legacy that my family has created in Napa.
Which bottle of wine would choose to be stranded with on a deserted island?
Since I think of deserted islands as being hot, and as a shameless self-promoter, I would say my Gamble Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc. And if something else…A Corton Charlemagne, a DRC or LeRoy, a LaTour, or a Silex. All aged to perfection of course.
What is the difference between a good and great wine?
A great wine is one that makes you stop talking, eating, as you attempt to contemplate it intellectually, before surrendering to the sense of wonder and other emotions the wine is stimulating.
Name three individuals you would like to have dinner with.
My grandfather, Baron Rothschild, and any of this country’s founders.
Who is your winemaking hero?
Andre Tchelistcheff and Lee Stewart are my winemaking heroes, because they were both pioneers in Napa Valley winemaking, and pushed the envelope of winemaking in post-prohibition Napa Valley. Andre brought scientific method and a sophistication to winemaking that hadn’t been around in the post-prohibition era, instrumental in establishing the post-prohibition winemaking industry, and brought initial fame for the quality of Napa grapes. On the other hand, Lee Stewart was basically Napa’s first cult winemaker in the post prohibition era. He took small lot winemaking to new heights in the late 50s early 60s, and was an iconoclast in Napa who inspired and trained many in the upcoming generation who helped blow the door open on Napa’s fame…
What does the concept of “balance” mean to you?
A wine wherein all aspects are seamlessly integrated. It is very difficult to tease one quality apart from another and you succumb to just enjoying it on an emotive level.
What is the one thing you want people to remember about your wine?
I want our wines to evoke positive memories of enjoying it over several hours, with good food and great company. I want people to have our wines be the centerpiece to a special occasion, a comforting dish, or an important celebration. I want people to want to buy more of our wines because they enjoyed the wine so much over several hours with good food and those they love.
Best comment made about your wine? Was it by a consumer, trade or press?
A consumer once told me “We are naming our child after you.”