They moved from Minnesota to Napa to launch their own winery just as the recession started slamming the industry. They set out to make varietals that are more favored in France than here. They concocted a what's-up-with-that brand name and a rococo label.
So as they take on such a Sisyphian task, it's tempting to place Gabrielle Shaffer, 34, and Adam McClary, 39, into the "oh, you crazy kids" category. But they are so doggone charming and disarming, not to mention resolute, that it's a short path to "hey, this might just work."
That's especially evident after tasting their first wines, a delicious chenin blanc (see Wine of the Week) and a wonderful cabernet franc.
The proprietors of Gamling & McDuck met when Shaffer, then a wholesale rep, called on McClary, wine buyer at Craftsman restaurant in Minneapolis. They moved to Napa in 2008 and started working at wineries and vineyards. Shaffer's first job was with cab franc maestro Gary Wooton (Smith-Wooton), and she took wine classes at Napa Valley Community College and Cal-Davis.
All along, they knew what they wanted to do: craft wines from two stalwart grapes of France's Loire region, and in a more Old World style.
"What we're trying to make is not Napa but Loire," McClary said. "No Kool-Aid or candy flavors. There are so many products that people use to get the 'green' out of cabernet franc. I want that."
A wine that works
Mission accomplished. Their cab franc has beautiful dried-herb notes on the nose and palate, plus plenty of bright red fruit. This year they're making a small lot of rosé from the cab franc, which they source at the same site Wooton uses, Gallagher Vineyard in southeastern Napa.
McClary spends a lot of time there. "Part of our deal was that we could do the pruning, work with the canopy. It's hands-on in every aspect. Cab franc is very finicky."
They also put a lot of TLC into the fermentation process. "You're in there 24/7, smelling it and hearing it," Shaffer said. "It's like your own child."
She even played music, mostly classical, for the fermenting juice. When McClary asked about it, she said, "I just want to keep all those little yeast guys happy and multiplying."
Shaffer, a native of Mora, Minn., and McClary, a native of Austin, Minn., make their wine at Miner Family Vineyards, co-owned by Chaska native Emily Miner.
Oh, and about that name: It's their pet names for each other. Shaffer became Gamling "because that was part of her name in a secret spy club when she was 5," McClary said. "And when we were moving out here, I bought a lot of books, including some comic books, and was waxing poetic over Scrooge McDuck."
Which certainly fits neatly into this perhaps not-so-crazy endeavor.
Bill Ward • email@example.com