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Gold Medal Wine Club
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Santa Barbara, California 93111
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Gabrielli Winery - Redwood Valley - Mendocino coun

Gabrielli Winery takes White Blend to New Limits

It’s not difficult to understand how Sam Gabrielli ended up in the wine business. It’s in his blood. His grandfather made wine for the village of Capradorsso in Italy before emigrating to America in the early 1900’s. They settled near Philadelphia where every year Sam’s father and grandfather would go to the Farmer’s Market in the city to buy grapes that had been shipped in from California. They made wine from Alicante Bouchet, Zinfandel, Muscat, Grenache and even Thompson seedless grapes. Sam grew up helping his family make wine. It’s part of his character and make-up. It’s part of who he is.

On a converging path was winery partner Jeff Hinchliffe. Wine is in Jeff’s blood too, only his was through transfusion. He was at U.C. Davis to study the science of brewing. “It wasn’t until I took a couple of winemaking courses that I realized this is what I wanted to do,” recalls Jeff. The two met at U.C. Davis in 1980 and initially planned a combination brewery/winery operation they would someday operate.

That plan came to life in 1989 sans brewery. Gabrielli Winery was set up as a multi-family privately owned corporation. Founders include Sam, his wife Bernadette, Jeff, and Bernadette’s father, Tom Yamada. Sam serves as President while Jeff performs as Winemaker and Vice President. The winery and vineyard is located in Mendocino county’s Redwood Valley. Jeff lived in the nearby town of Willits for quite some time and knew the region well. He knew about the quality of grapes being grown in the valley and understood the potential as well. The group purchased a 200-acre parcel of property of which 13 acres are now planted. Another 25 acres is earmarked as future vineyard land.

The following year was their first crush. While the winery building was being constructed, they used the facilities of three different neighboring wineries. In 1991 they were able to use their own winery exclusively. They came right out of the starting blocks that year releasing about 1,500 cases each of Chardonnay, Zinfandel and a proprietary white blend they call Ascenza.

Ascenza is Gabrielli’s showcase wine, their flagship. Oh sure, they make a great Chardonnay and an outstanding Zinfandel too. But Ascenza is destined to set Gabrielli Winery apart from other wineries. It is a wonderful blend of no less than five white grape varietals, carefully crafted together offering rich, buttery, toasty oak flavors with tons of fruit. This is about as complex as a white wine can get without falling apart. What is both interesting and surprising is the mix of varietals that go into this delightful wine. In fact, we thought it would be entertaining not to divulge the varietals until you have had a taste of the wine. (For those of you who can’t stand the suspense, we’ve given you the answer on page 7, upside down.)

Gabrielli’s Ascenza has been so popular that the winery is working on a proprietary red blend using grapes from their newly planted Syrah and Sangiovese vineyards. This upcoming wine promises to be just as unusual as its counterpart. Scheduled release is in 1996. Also coming is a Pinot Noir to be released in 1995. Mendocino county is proving to be an ideal growing climate for this fickle grape. They will also continue to make small lots of Reserve Chardonnay, Reserve Zinfandel and a bit of Dry White Riesling along with their regular offerings. Plans call for the winery to reach 12,000 cases over the next five years.

Meanwhile, Gabrielli Winery continues to pick up medals for their wines. “We want to make wines with finesse, focus and balance,” says Sam Gabrielli. “We’re proud of our Acsenza and people love it, but it’s more difficult to sell a proprietary wine than a varietal specific wine.” “But as palates mature more people will look for the kinds of wine we’re making,” he adds. We agree. All it takes is a taste of Ascenza to know they are on to something.

Sam Gabrielli and Jeff Hinchliffe winemaking duo

When Sam Gabrielli was a teenager living in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, he wrote to the University of California at Davis asking them to send books and information about their winemaking program. Sam was working as a carpenter at the time but like most teens had still not decided on a career. It was natural for him to be drawn to winemaking though. His Italian grandfather made wine in the old country, and throughout his childhood Sam and his brother used to help their dad make wine. ‘We were brought up with a strong work ethic, a love for family and respect for the land,” says Sam. ‘We always were growing things in the garden and every year we made wine,” he recalls fondly.

Off he went to California in 1977 to attend school. The following year, after gaining residency, he entered Sacramento City College to get ready for U.C. Davis. At City College Sam met his future wife and winery partner, Bernadette. In 1979 he transferred to Davis and worked in the school’s pilot winery program making experimental wines with Professor Ann Noble. While at U.C. Davis, Sam met fellow work/study student Jeff Hinchliffe who at the time was studying the academics of brewing. They oftentimes studied together and schemed about starting a business someday that combined both a brewery and winery.

After graduating in 1984, Sam worked for several wineries before being offered a position at pharmaceutical company, Genentech, Inc. There he worked in their biochemical engineering research division. Simultaneously, he attended business school in the evenings at the University of San Francisco studying for his MBA. In 1988 the four founding partners converged to develop the Gabrielli Winery business plan.

Jeff Hinchliffe was to be an integral part of the plan. Shortly after he and Sam met at Davis, Jeff dropped his plans for a brewery and finished his education pursuing the winery direction. ‘The creativity and inevitability of winemaking won me over from the monotony of brewing,” says Jeff. The plan called for Jeff to head up the winemaking role which he was well prepared for after gaining the experience he needed at Christian Brothers and Hidden Cellars.

Jeff was born in San Francisco and grew up in nearby Sausalito and Mill Valley. In 1970 he and his parents ventured out on a year-long around the world trek. Upon their return to California, they settled in the small town of Willits, a rural lumber town in Mendocino county. He attended Humboldt State University where he studied a pair of unlikely subjects, Journalism and Geology. It wasn’t until after college and immersed in a home beer making hobby that a friend acquainted him with the fermentation science program at U.C. Davis.

Jeff graduated a year before Sam and immediately went to work for Christian Brothers as a production research enologist. In 1985 he landed a job closer to home at Hidden Cellars as their assistant winemaker. He was promoted to Hidden Cellar’s winemaker two years later. Before moving on to his own venture at Gabrielli, he orchestrated their 1989 Reserve Chardonnay that ended up being rated the fourth best of the year by the Wine Spectator.

As Jeff has already shown, he can make outstanding wine. Look for even greater things to come from this promising winemaker over the next few years. We guarantee you’ll be hearing his name and that of Gabrielli Winery again soon.