Gamling & McDuck. Twenty years ago, it probably would have been difficult to focus on any sort of plan entailing a move to Napa Valley by Gamling & McDuck founders Adam McClary and Gabrielle Shaffer. Furthermore, it would have been a reach at that time for them to imagine being a Napa based producer focusing almost exclusively on two varieties, neither one of them involving Napa’s ubiquitous Cabernet Sauvignon.
Adam and Gabrielle grew up in small town Minnesota, Gabrielle in the center of the state and Adam in the south. Conveniently as often happens with young Minnesotans, both met while working in Minneapolis – he at a restaurant and she as a wine importer/exporter/distributor.
Prior to moving to Napa, Adam and Gabrielle decided they needed to get away and explore the world. With a tiny nest egg saved – they were able to travel and live cheaply abroad – visiting the Loire Valley for 10 days (both love wines from this region) followed by a 6-month trip to Troncones Beach, a very remote part of western Mexico. Soon after returning to Minnesota, they jointly decided to move to the Napa Valley without really knowing anyone in the valley or yet having jobs lined up.
However, both soon found themselves working in the wine industry – Adam was in the cellar at Mayacamas Winery (when the Travers family still were owners) followed by time at Harlan Estate. Gabrielle is the viticulturist at Stagecoach Vineyard on Atlas Peak. Both began following their dreams of making wine together almost as soon as they arrived in the Napa Valley.
They made their first wine in 2008 (a Cabernet Franc from Oak Knoll but was never released to the public) with the intent to create a style of wine that mimicked what one would find in the Loire Valley while preserving the varietals’ typicity. Eventually they learned not to stylistically create these types of wines in the winery, but rather source from specific cooler weather sites and terroir more similar to what one would find in the Loire Valley. As Adam says, “finding vineyards that are more willing to be European in style”.
So how does one create a name such as Gamling & McDuck? The answer is somewhat convoluted and certainly esoteric; reaching back far into Gabrielle’s childhood, Gamling is a name traced to when she was 5 years old. Creating a childhood spy game, Gamling comes from a similar name her friends gave her as a secret name used during their games. And with Adam’s interest in Scrooge McDuck comic books and a last name that begins with Mc, invariably it was only a matter of time before he earned his nickname, McDuck.
Both Adam and Gabrielle share the wine making duties although with Gabrielle’s full time viticulture job, Adam often handles more of the wine making. What is highly unique for a Napa Valley based producer is their focus on Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc (using both Napa and non-Napa sources). Chenin Blanc is highly challenging to find in Napa – only 7 planted acres of this variety are listed in the 2017 Napa County Crop Report. They have worked with vineyards for this variety from Suisun Valley to Napa. Their Napa Chenin Blanc comes from a historic vineyard in Pope Valley with probably the oldest Chenin Blanc vines in all of Napa (the original vines date back to the 1940s).
The 2016 Gamling & McDuck Mangels Ranch Chenin Blanc (Suisun Valley) is sourced from 4 long rows of vines each year. The wine went through 100% malolactic fermentation. One immediately notices the beautiful aromatics showing baking spices, an orange marmalade nuance and notes of lemon lime. Nicely balanced on the palate – offers a pleasing roundness of texture, a waxiness if you will, but is not heavy. Offers intense flavors along with a sweetness of fruit and a minerality note especially towards the finish.
Adam’s 10-year-old niece created a line drawing of a creature 1/2 stag and 1/2 swan. So naturally her drawing made the front of the label and as one would expect, this mythical creature is called a Stwan. And for those who need some creative help writing tasting notes – simply use the customized Mad Libs paragraph listed on the bottle that Adam specifically wrote for this wine.
Stagecoach Vineyard is some 600 planted acres organized into 200+ blocks; due to Gabrielle’s work with this vineyard, she is intimately familiar with this now iconic Napa Valley property. The grapes for their Stagecoach Cabernet Franc are sourced from the smallest block within the entire vineyard complex – block I-5 at only .32 of an acre. Adam loves working with this fruit, as he says, “this wine makes itself” – it comes into the winery in perfect condition. The wine is fermented using non inoculated yeast (indigenous) in a new French oak puncheon. The grapes are fermented cold and slow.
The 2012 Gamling & McDuck Stagecoach Vineyard Cabernet Franc immediatley offers bright aromatics, red cherry, a hint of rosemary and olive and subtle notes of mocha and cedar. Very balanced across the palate with flavors of red cherry and currant – shows a pleasing acidity and a mouthwatering finish (slightly tart) anchored by slightly course long lasting tannins. Very food friendly. A wine worth seeking out for its limited availability and ageability.
And Adam often assigns a play list to match a particular wines’ temperament. Such is the case with the 2014 Sonoma Mountain Pickberry Vineyard Cabernet Franc. Some customers have even informed Adam they follow his playlist exactly, every time they open a bottle of this wine.
A wine that gives Adam and Gabrielle total flexibility every time they make it (and it’s not every year) is the label Hyparxis. It is a red California table wine produced in quantities of no more than 100 cases at a time. Varietally flexible they build and blend this wine based on availability of what is in the cellar. It is a non-vintage wine only identified by the number of each bottling (IE the latest bottling of this wine at the time of our review is the Hyparxis #3).
In late June 2018 Gamling & McDuck opened a tasting room in downtown Napa. Tailored to locals previously, the space was most recently home of Cervone & Son Tailors (a local fitter operated by Nick Cervone operating in Napa for more than 60 years before closing in 2016). Upon the opening of Gamling & McDuck’s space, the tasting room was sandwiched between a massage parlor and an adult store called Pleasures Unlimited. Both of these neighboring businesses have since closed.
Not able to bring vineyards directly to downtown Napa, they opted for an alternative experience – live streaming video camera feed from select source vineyards are projected onto a large screen within the tasting room. The cameras in the vineyard are solar powered. And a conversation piece for sure, is the original painting hanging behind the tasting counter titled the Death of Socrates. Astute visitors will notice Plato is holding a cell phone. Adam commissioned Minnesota artist, Matt Franzen to paint this in conjunction with a graffiti artist simply known as River (who arranged a covert conversation with Adam so as not to reveal his true identify). The painting offers a bit of dark history as Socrates is depicted being poisoned by hemlock – a noticeable contrast to visitors enjoying good wine and conversation at the bar.
And a unique handmade exhibit comprising of some 320 bottles with programmable led lights will be installed in the front window, hopefully by the end of 2018. Private tastings with Adam are available upon request – in the evenings the space becomes more of a lounge with wines poured by the glass. Outdoor seating is also availble weather permitting.
Note the large cartoon prints hanging on the wall. Adam designed these from scratch – a humorous and pictorial way to tell their story. If you ask about their story in the wine business or how they met, invariably Adam will walk you over to these images.
Total production is around 1,800 cases a year. For the most unique and eclectic Napa Valley based winery website (no arguments here please), visit: www.gamlingandmcduck.com
Josh A. Luhn says
People need to get on these wines! It’s an amazing space, where you usually meet Adam and or Gabe, but the proof is in the pudding. They make remarkable Cab Franc and Chenin. I have a hard time letting the Franc age because I can’t keep my hands off of it.
Thanks for stopping by Josh – you are absolutely correct. I hope the tasting room is not to far off the main action for people to find. There are some 35 open to the public by walk-in tasting rooms in downtown Napa by my last count (I’ve been to all of them) – put this one on your list 🙂