Alex Gambale climbs vines in Burgundy

Alex Gambale climbs vines in Burgundy

Have you ever thought about packing up your day job and heading to a famous wine region to fulfill your wine-making dream? That’s exactly what Alex Gambale did in 1993, moving his wife and two school-going children from Washington, D.C., to Beaune, in the heart of quiet Burgundy, to explore the wine business. Now, after nearly 30 years of winemaking in the region, he has written a book about his experience.

Climbing vines in Burgundy (Hamilton Books, 272 pages, $25) is a personal journey and a rare look at the inner workings of grape growing and winemaking in Burgundy. In this book, Gambale provides a detailed look at building a fine wine business, purchasing vineyards in a foreign country, the difficult task of making and selling wine, the dissolution of his marriage, and the traumatic loss of his second wife. Gumball approaches his career as a trader and domain owner with a sarcastic sense of humor and pragmatism.

like Wine spectatorA master connoisseur of Burgundy, I’ve reviewed Gambal’s red and white Burgundies, from the 2002 vintage to the 2016 vintage, released in 2019, the year Maison Gambal was sold to Burgundy giant Boisset for an undisclosed sum. During that period, more than 150 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay received premium scores of 90 points or higher, with seven receiving classic ratings of 95 points or higher.

Gambale fell in love with wine through a local D.C. retailer. Although he had never been to France before, his first visit in 1992 took him to Burgundy, where the aforementioned retailer connected him with the late Becky Wasserman, a wine broker whose company represented a group of small growers.

After three years of working as an intern with Wasserman and getting a great introduction to Burgundy wines through her company, as well as developing relationships within the local wine community through his children’s schools, Gambal decided to study winemaking in Beaune.

Climbing the Vines in Burgundy“/>Winemaker Alex Gambale’s New Memoir, Climbing vines in Burgundypublished by Hamilton Books

He details the ins and outs of French bureaucracy and the challenge of purchasing grapes, wine, and ultimately vineyards, while trying to stick to a business plan and live on two continents. His first winemaking facility had no heat, fluctuating electricity, and an outside toilet.

If fine white red and Burgundy wines were difficult enough to ferment, age and bottle, they were even more difficult to sell, especially in the context of fluctuating crop sizes, grape prices, economic cycles and regulations imposed by export markets.

Although he claims to have entered the project with eyes wide open, his motto has become “Anything is possible, so don’t slow down.” Gumball’s candor and humor as he explains and describes the pitfalls and surprises around every corner (some of which he recounted in a 2004 guest blog on our site) make this a great book to read, with lots of characters and tales.

I have always thought that Gumball is a businessman deep in my heart. He loved making deals, even when they became more expensive, more complicated, and more difficult. His biggest achievement was acquiring 0.93 acres in Batard-Montrachet in 2011. By the end of 2015, Gambal controlled 30 acres of vineyards, grown organically or biodynamically, accounting for two-thirds of his winery’s production of 6,000 cases .

For anyone who thinks winemaking is “living the dream” – all glamorous, Michelin-starred dinners – this is a reality check: 25 years of in-house expertise in making fine wines. For Burgundy lovers looking for a different look at the region, this book is a must-read.

Gumball reports that a second edition with corrected typos will be released in the next few weeks (so act fast if you’d rather get your hands on one of those “unique” first editions).

Climbing vines in Burgundy ($25, 272 pages)
Written by Alex Gambale, published by Hamilton Books
Online at

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