Tom Gamble of Napa’s Gamble Family Vineyards wins Wine, Beer & Spirits Industry Awards environmental restoration category
The winner of a special award for environmental restoration in North Bay Business Journal’s alcohol beverage industry awards is a third-generation Napa Valley farmer.
How did you get into the industry? And what has been your career track since?
My forefathers began farming in the Napa Valley in 1916 and I am a third generation Napa farmer.
I purchased my first vineyard in 1981 and have farming vineyards for nearly 40 years. I am the first in my family to grow grapes commercially. I care deeply about the land and sustainable agriculture.
While I continue to farm for many small producers, I started my own winery, Gamble Family Vineyards, in 2005. In 2013 we completed a small winery and hospitality space at our Yountville property.
Today we have 175 acres of planted vines spanning Oakville, Yountville, Rutherford and Mt. Veeder. Our primary focus is on white and red Bordeaux varieties, which are made by our winemaker Jim Close. All of Gamble Family Vineyards’ wines are produced in small quantities, with consistent consideration to regenerative farming.
How have you or your company influenced the industry in the last five years? What are key accomplishments?
We believe we pioneered the growing of and the making of high-end, high-margined sauvignon blanc grapes.
The Gamble Vineyard is home to four distinct clones of sauvignon blanc, which is rare given California Sauvignon Blanc vineyards are typically the least diverse in terms of clonal selections among the major grape varieties.
We are proud of our reputation for high-quality and terroir-expressive fruit, shown in the bottlings of many of Napa’s top producers, including Marston, Riverain, Realm, Sinegal, Covert Estate, Anthem, Bucella and Hourglass.
In the early 2000’s I helped draft the original programming for both the Napa Green and Fish Friendly Farming certifications. My family and team have led in the restoration of Napa River, not only with land donations but with over more than 20 years advocacy for our community’s watersheds.
We have also encouraged our neighbors to participate in these vital environmental programs.
As a result of these communal efforts, the banks have been laid back and river alcoves have been recreated. More than 4,000 trees have been planted in just one mile along our property.
The Napa River is the most intact river system in the Bay Area as demonstrated by increasing populations of Chinook salmon and steelhead trout.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, we began widening the definition of direct-to-consumer sales and hospitality, steadily increasing our sales reach beyond the tasting room.
We host wine dinners across the country, and in 2020 these gatherings of friends and wine club members have continued in the virtual realm.
What changes have you noticed in your industry in the last five years, and how have you and/or your company moved to capitalize on or adjust to those changes?
The wine industry is saturated with brands. Traditional routes to market, always constrained by the 21st Amendment to the U.S. constitution, have accelerated a 40-year consolidation trend. Entrepreneurial disruptors finding creative and legal alternate routes to market are nascent but appearing and we are involved with those efforts.
How have you responded to growing competition from craft spirits and alternatives such as hard seltzer?
We are diversifying our wine portfolio. Being technically and economically creative in how we make new wines to fit the demands of younger consumers has been a priority. Younger drinkers are the most confident and demanding of both quality and value of any generation of wine consumer since World War II.
How has the pandemic affected your business? What has been the impact of restrictions on visitors, closure of restaurants and bars, surge in online shopping, and rise in digital consumer experiences and marketing?
Mentioned above is our efforts to broaden our direct-to-consumer and wholesale routes to market pre-Covid. We noticed patterns of decreasing tasting room traffic during past recessions and chose to begin risk diversification efforts.
Thus, although we have been impacted by COVID, the impacts have been significantly mitigated by previous diversification decisions.
How have you responded to the challenges and opportunities of the virus-influenced economic downturn? How much are these measures making up the difference in sales?
The risk mitigation and route to market initiatives undertaken haven’t yet made up all the differences in sales affected by COVID, but our earlier adoptions have allowed us to be in relatively good shape today, we are thankful to be forecasting an accelerating growth rate.
Which of your adjustments and initiatives do you think you’ll continue past the pandemic, and why?
Although COVID-19 has accelerated trends, many of the challenges we face today are challenges the wine industry was already facing.
Prior to 2020 we had already begun adapting, broadening our DTC efforts and increasing our digital presence. We will continue to adapt and grow with an ever-changing world.
How the North Bay wildfires and power shut are-offs affecting the outlook for your business?
Our public utility company has a decades-old trend of declining power supply reliability. When we constructed our winery in 2013 we incorporated onsite power generation to assure power during disruptions. Although expensive to install at the time, the decision has paid for itself many times.
I continue to advocate for traditions used by my father, who practiced vegetation management and other fire mitigation techniques.
We are thankful that the LNU Complex Fire and Glass Fire did not cause any physical damage to our vines or structures. Vintage conditions in 2020 prior to the August fires were near-perfect and all of our sauvignon blanc was picked before any threat of smoke taint. Expect an outstanding year for Gamble Family Sauvignon Blanc!
The challenges of the fires faced in 2020 will not be unique to this vintage.
Well-meaning but misguided environmental regulations have led to unsustainable fuel loads of dry brush and dead trees. I, like my father before me, advocate that these restrictions on fire control efforts be reconsidered and that we restore ancient and modern variants of vegetation management practices. This will help to ensure that what happened in 2020 doesn’t become the new normal.