You’d think someone with almost 40 years of owning over 30 acres of Napa vineyards would call himself a winemaker, or a winery owner, or a vigneron (the sophisticated way of saying “I grow grapes”). But Tom Gamble likes going against the grain. He’s had a Napa vineyard since 1981. He’s the first in his family to make wine. But his roots (literally and figuratively) go deeper and are longer lived than merely 37 years. No, Tom fundamentally is more than a winemaker. He’s a farmer. That’s his self-selected title on the Gamble Family Vineyards website. I was invited to sample some of Tom’s handiwork, tasting three Gamble wines – 2017 Gamble sauvignon blanc, 2014 Paramount, and Gamble’s 2014 cabernet sauvignon. Not wanting to drink alone, Terry and I invited Debbie and John Heys, Debbie and Tim Burkhardt (yeah, I know, one Debbie too many), and June and Ed Poulin to join us in judging Gamble’s wines. None of us had much history with Gamble, so this was an excellent opportunity to see how they fare with those new to the winery with no preconceived prejudices for or against the winery. Well, Gamble hit it out of the park with the sauvignon blanc. Tim was a little ambivalent about our initial wine. After a few sips, he declared, “This is the best wine I’ve ever had!” He rated it a perfect 100. Not a bad first impression. I enjoyed the bright, gold liquid, with its tropical flavors. Debbie Heys cited the almost honey bouquet and the fruity, lemon and mango flavors in giving it a 94. With an average score of 92, common comments included good balance of aromas and flavors, pear notes, and fruit strong enough to mistake it for sweetness when it’s actually fruit flavors coming through. The 2014 Paramount came next. A true Bordeaux blend with 32 percent cabernet sauvignon, 32 percent cabernet franc, 28 percent merlot, and 8 percent petit verdot. All it was missing was malbec to hit all of the varietals allowed in Bordeaux.
This was my favorite of the evening. I liked the garnet, ruby red hue of the wine and its smells of chocolate and leather. The raspberry and other red fruit flavors were a highlight. My rating: 92-93. Both Ed and June wrote about the burgundy color and “oaky” tastes. They gave it an 85 and 88, respectively. Debbie Heys gave this one the best rating of the three wines, enjoying the “nice little funk” present and rating it 94. Terry was on the fence on this one, identifying the black fruits in the bouquet and flavors but was put off by the strong tannins. At this stage in its life, this robust wine is best drunk along with some bold food, like a rare ribeye. The last was the 2014 cabernet sauvignon, which is actually a blend of 86 percent cabernet sauvignon (in California, so long as one varietal has at least 75 percent of the composition, it can be called by that varietal despite the fact that other grapes are also present), 8 percent malbec, 4 percent cabernet franc, 1 percent merlot, and 1 percent petit verdot. This was both Ed and John’s favorite wine. John liked the good finish while noted the plummy aroma and the distinct raspberry tastes. John gave it a 92. Ed wasn’t bashful about his feelings, awarding a whopping 99. All of the scores were in the 90s, unlike the Paramount which had a few in the 80s. The overall judgment of the evening was that Tom should stick to making such tasty wines. I don’t know how well he raises vegetables but his wines are a success.