Gabrielli Winery continues to pick up medals for their wines
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 studying 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 is the company’s 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. After combing the area for the ideal site, 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, which is a wonderful blend of no less than five white grape varietals. “Don’t expect to find a European counterpart for the Ascenza,” says Sam. “Right from the start our goal has been to make the best California wines possible,” he continued. “We did not want to simply emulate the French.”
Over the last five years the winery’s offerings have steadily broadened in scope. The line up now also includes a Reserve Chardonnay, Reserve Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Reserve Riesling and Sangiovese. In 1997 they will release a second bottling of Sangiovese which will be blended with substantially more Syrah. Each year the winery culls grapes from over 20 different Mendocino vineyards to create their blends. This month features two outstanding examples of Mendocino county wine from Gabrielli Winery. Their 1995 Estate Grown Sangiovese, blended with a small percentage of Syrah, is made from just the second harvest of their own 13 acre vineyard. If this wine is any indication of Sangioveses to come, watch out! It’s a beauty! The 1995 Chardonnay is sure to be a crowd pleaser too. This is a rich and creamy style wine, with just a hint of sweetness and moderate oak.
Total production is currently around 8,000 cases a year. Plans call for the winery to reach 12,000 cases over the next few 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 think the Sangiovese is an exceptional wine. And our Chardonnay is made in a style we believe consumers will find much to their liking,” he adds.
Sam Gabrielli and Jeff Hinchcliffe - 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.