Celebrating Women's History Month with Gamble Family Vineyard's Mary Ann (#Winophiles)

The wine in this post was provided as a media sample. No other compensation was received.


Almost exactly a year ago I shared a post called Napa History with Gamble Family Wines & a Lamb Feast with Friends about a wonderful dinner party we’d had in the Before Times. I invite you to take a look at that post to get to know the winery, but there was one piece of Gamble’s story that I didn’t get to share in that post that I’ve been wanting to come back to since then, and it seems perfect to share during Women’s History Month. 

Mary Ann McGuire, owner Tom Gamble’s mother, played an integral role in the history of Napa Valley as a driving force in establishing the 1968 Napa Valley Agricultural Preserve. I had the chance to speak with Mary Ann a couple of years ago, and then recently had the chance to participate in a virtual tasting with Tom and Mary Ann to delve even deeper into the story. I found her incredibly inspiring. 


Mary Ann was born in Oakland – where I currently live – and grew up in the East Bay. In 1960, she married George Gamble, a Napa County cattle rancher, and moved to the valley. The Gambles felt a strong responsibility to be good stewards of the land.

Circumstances would soon galvanize that feeling of connection and duty to the land into action. One has to recall that in the 1960s Napa was not the bucolic yet posh destination it is today – it was still very rural, full stop. However, modernization was coming, but perhaps not in ways that kept an eye on conservation. The US Army Corps of Engineers and the California Department of Transportation were laying down plans that in combination would strip Napa Valley’s waterways and construct a six-lane freeway through Mt. St. Helena that would destroy hundreds of acres of farmland and wildlife. They began to see the negative effects of these plans on the land when in 1965, the Army Corps of Engineers stripped all living vegetation from the banks of Conn Creek which runs through the Gamble Ranch in Oakville.

Mary Ann went to work helping to organize a sizeable coalition to protest the freeway plans and the further river paving. The efforts from Mary Ann and the other participating families (among them, several other famous names tied to historic wineries) were extremely grassroots relying on phone trees and using up shoe leather:

"When we arrived in the Napa Valley, we saw it as a bountiful garden. For 10,000 years, this sacred land was historically cared for by the indigenous inhabitants of Napa, including the Onasatis (Wappo) Peoples. We felt we had the moral imperative to preserve that legacy. We drove house to house, we’d load the kids up and knock-on doors trying to convince people to create a good future for this land,” says Mary Ann.

Saving the land also required grit, determination, and audacious courage. Mary Ann adds:

“One day I looked out my car window, and I saw these huge earth movers had returned and were tearing up the land by the river. I reacted instinctively,” says Mary Ann. “I parked right in front of the bulldozers and I said, ‘I'm not moving my car and if you don’t leave, I will call every newspaper and every mother in this valley and they are going to bring their babies down here and we're going to sit in front of your bulldozers.’ They left pretty quickly.”

Photo credit to Napa Valley Agricultural Preserve's website, via Jarvis Communications.

Their efforts were successful but additional threats to the valley were soon to follow. On the plus side, the families in the valley now had a framework for how to proceed, and the group she had helped form would become the core behind the establishing Napa Valley’s Ag Preserve. After their experiences with the river paving and highway initiatives, the group began to pay careful attention to how development was transforming areas of Los Angeles and the Santa Clara Valley, and several key figures in the group, including Jack and Jamie Davies of Schramsberg, began championing the idea of an agricultural preserve in 1967.

The group got to work writing a zoning proposal, petitioning the community, and speaking at meetings of the Napa Valley Board of Supervisors. The work came to fruition when the Napa Valley Agricultural Preserve was enacted with the passage of Ordinance # 274 in 1968.

Photo credit to Napa Valley Agricultural Preserve's website, via Jarvis Communications.

The landmark set of zoning laws that formed the Ag Preserve, as well as the Ag Watershed lands, established agriculture as the highest and best use of the land in Napa County, with the goal to protect agriculture in the region for future generations. It was the first zoning ordinance of its kind in the US.

Here are a few other points shared by Napa Valley Growers pertaining to the importance of the Ag Preserve:

  • Planted vineyard land makes up 9 percent of Napa County land totaling around 45,000 acres 37,100 acres of land (7.3% of the County) are protected in perpetuity through Conservation Agreements between landowners and the Land Trust of Napa County
  • Nationally, we lose nearly 40 acres of farmland every hour due to urban sprawl; however, not one acre of Ag Preserve zoned land has been lost to urban use since its adoption
  • According to the American Farmland Trust, an acre of agricultural land on average produces 58 times fewer GHG emissions than an acre of urban use.

The Ag Preserve celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2018 and Napa would definitely not be the same without it. It has not been without controversy throughout its history for the restrictions it places on landowners, business, and development. It is also gets chipped away at fairly regularly, so it does regularly need defending. However, while visitors to Napa might find it frustrating that there aren’t more hotels available and other similar inconveniences in which the Ag Preserve does have a part to play, we can also thank it for making sure those beautiful views of vineyards and other farmlands weren’t long ago paved over for other uses.

Mary Ann, who is now 81 years old, continued to remain involved in the Napa Valley community in the decades after the Ag Preserve was established, getting involved not only in preservation efforts, but also in the arts, as well as religious and cultural efforts. She was on the founding board of the Napa Valley Performing Arts Center and was  a driving force in restoring and reopening the historic Opera House in downtown Napa, among many other projects.
As you can probably imagine, Mary Ann’s work couldn’t help but influence her son, Tom. He, and by extension Gamble Family Wines, has continued to be involved in sustainability efforts in Napa as well. He helped draft both Napa Green and the Fish Friendly Farming Initiative. He is also incredibly active in the Napa Valley Vintners and the Napa Valley River Restoration Project, taking up the mantle of stewarding the land he grew up on.

Tom Gamble. Photo courtesy of Jarvis Communications.

In a time when it’s really easy to be cynical about the difference one person or even a small group can have on their community and the world around them, hearing Mary Ann’s story left me feeling inspired and hopeful. I’ll leave you with one more quote from Mary Ann:

“You have to see the planet as one, as interrelated,” says Mary Ann. “What happens in the South Pole is happening to us, what happens in the rain forest happens to us. What happens in the country affects the cities, what happens in the cities affects the country. It cannot be us and them, we are interrelated, interdependent, we are one.”

Flowers outside of May Ann Gamble's house.

The Pairing

I’ve had the chance to taste and enjoy many of Gamble’s beautiful wines, but the perfect wine to showcase in this post is the one dedicated to her,  the Gamble Family Vineyards Mary Ann Mt. Veeder 2016. Tom Gamble describes his inspiration for the Mary Ann bottling on their website:

“It is with great pride that I name this wine after my mother, Mary Ann. She lives her life with loving elegance, which belies a firmness of resolve. In the face of life’s challenges, both attributes have been tested. Neither has wavered. Wine inspires and evokes memories. Marrying Merlot’s femininity and opulence with Cabernet Franc’s firm tannins and structure creates a wine that will only grow more elegant with time. As has my mother, Mary Ann.”

The Cabernet Franc and Merlot grapes (there’s also a splash of Cab Sauv) for this wine were grown on Mt. Veeder, which enjoys a very different micro-climate than the valley floor. The vineyards are about the fog line and as a result grapes get lots of sunshine while maintaining acidity thanks to the elevation, as well as lots of minerality from the rocky slopes. Wines from this area tend to be powerfully structured, and I often get a hint of a pine note from wines from this area.


All of this held true for this wine, which I don’t think I’d have pinned as Cab Franc and Merlot in a blind tasting given that structure. I asked Greg what he thought the wine was before revealing the blend, and he guessed Syrah because it reminded him a little bit of the Northen Rhône. I could absolutely see what he meant as the wine’s structure, stony minerality, herbal profile, and black pepper notes all were a bit reminiscent of the French region, but with that ripe California fruit character.


On the nose, the wine showed notes of black cherry, currants, red plums, espresso, and black pepper. These were joined on the palate by that pine note I often get from Mt. Veeder, olives, bay leaf, chocolate, spices, and lots of hard stones like granite. The wine was medium+ to full bodied, with medium + tannin, and plenty of acidity to buttress the structure. I think this wine could age for a quite a while yet. While it was lovely now, it almost seemed a little too young, even after allowing it to open up and breath for a while.

In my mind, I had plans of making a beautiful handmade pasta topped with a meaty sauce to go with this wine, but life, time, and laziness got in the way. Moreover, once I opened and tasted it I was struck by that Old World earthiness as well as the herbal notes, and thought I'd steer the dish in that direction instead. I decided to create a one-pot lentil dish using lots of veggies, herbs, mushrooms, and shredded pork, since we had quite a bit on hand after our recent Pork Showdown. You can easily swap in any other protein you have available or leave it out altogether for a hearty vegetarian dish (be sure to swap in mushroom or veggie stock in this case as well). 

This is definitely a filling dish on its own that doesn’t need anything else, but I decided to serve it with some potatoes roasted with rosemary and Parmesan, and roasted carrots, which I like to get really roasty-toasty so that they’re all caramelized on the outside and super sweet on the inside.

The food and wine matched really nicely, and the homey, nurturing dish seemed appropriate to go with a wine inspired by one really impressive mother and activist.

The beautiful iridescent Aura Wine Glasses in these photos were provided by Dragon Glassware as samples. I've partnered with Dragon Glassware as an ambassador. Click here to get the glasses for yourself and use the code "NICOLE10" for 10% off. (I might receive commission through the links at no cost to you.)

Geeky Details

Taken from the wine’s tech sheet.

Average Price: $75.  

Composition: 54% Cabernet Franc, 35% Merlot, 11% Cabernet, Sauvignon
Appellation: Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley
Vineyard and Winemaking: The south-west facing Cabernet Franc slope was harvested on October 4. The northeast facing Merlot slope was left hanging a few days longer. Fermentations peaked at a moderate 80 F helping to preserve the delicate mountain flavors, balanced with gentle tannin extraction. The Merlot and Cabernet Franc were blended together just prior to bottling. The Merlot’s opulent dark fruit is a perfect foil for the Cabernet Franc’s firm tannic structure and red fruit character. A splash of Cabernet Sauvignon added even greater complexity.
Cooperage: 45% new French oak
Cellaring: 20 months in barrel
Alcohol: 14.2%
TA: 0.60 g/100ml
pH: 3.69

Servings: 6 to 8
By: Nicole Ruiz Hudson
Lentil Pot with Mushrooms and Pork

Lentil Pot with Mushrooms and Pork

Prep Time: 10 MinCooking Time: 45 Mininactive time: 30 MinTotal Time: 1 H & 25 M
I used leftover pork here, but feel to swap in any other protein of your choice or leave out completely for a vegetarian version.


  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 to 3 medium carrots, sliced
  • 1 celery stalk, finely minced
  • 3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 ½ cups sliced mushrooms
  • 1 cup lentils, rinsed
  • 2 ¼ cup chicken stock or water, or as needed
  • 2 to 3 rosemary sprigs
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 ½ cups cooked shredded pork
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper


  1. Season onions, carrots, and celery seasoned with salt and pepper and sweat in a large pan or pot (I used a 3.5-quart braising pan) with a generous pour of olive oil over medium to medium-high heat until vegetables are starting to soften – about 10 minutes. If at any point the vegetables start to brown, add a little water to slow down the cooking. Add the garlic and the mushrooms, toss, and continue to cook for another couple of minutes.
  2. Mix in the lentils followed by the chicken stock or water, rosemary, bay leaf, and another generous pinch of salt and pepper. Raise the heat and bring it to a boil, then immediately turn down the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook uncovered for about 30 minutes, or until the lentils are cooked through. Add more water or stock as needed to the pan.
  3. Add the pork (or other protein) to the pan and continue to cook for another few minutes until warmed through and the vegetables and lentils are all tender. Season with additional salt and pepper as need.
  4. Remove the rosemary and bay leaf, then serve warm.
Did you make this recipe?
Tag @thesommstable on instagram and hashtag it #sommstable
Created using The Recipes Generator

The rest of the French Winophile Blogging Group (#Winophiles) are exploring French Grape outside of France, hosted by Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla, you can read her invitation post here . I love the idea of the topic, and I admit that I've been meaning to share posts exploring Malbec, Carignan, and Mourvedre (among others) around the world, but given that it's Women's History Month and we'll soon be celebrating Earth Day next month, I couldn't resist sharing this story, even if the wine is made up of the more classic French Grapes we already know and love. Be sure to check out the rest of the group's posts:
  • Allison & Chris at AdVINEtures share French Grapes Around the World: Chardonnay in BC's Okanagan Valley .
  • Andrea of The Quirky Cork declares Ooo la la! French Grapes in Turkey!
  • Gwendolyn of Wine Predator pours West Coast “Bordeaux” Blends with Beef Bourguignon.
  • Jeff of FoodWineClick! takes A Reluctant Look at French Grapes Outside of France .
  • Jill of L'Occasion features Rhône Grapes in Paso Robles .
  • Lauren of The Swirling Dervish goes Beyond Champagne: Pinot Meunier Shines in a Varietal Wine from Two Shepherds .
  • Melanie of Wining with Mel offers French Grapes Around the World: Spotlight on Niagara Gamay 
  • Pinny at Chinese Food and Wine Pairings examines Elevating French grapes outside France at Texas's William and Chris Vineyards .
  • Robin of Crushed Grape Chronicles looks at Roussanne 9009 km from Home .
  • Susannah of Avvinare posts Petit Manseng Flourishes In Virginia .
  • Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm is Exploring Malbec Outside of France Paired with Pineapple Teriyaki Salmon .
  • And host Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla surveys Gamay Around the Globe: From Burgundy to the Willamette Valley + Mussels, Pici, and A Bottle from New Zealand .


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    1. Wow, what a story! She sounds like an amazing woman and this wine is a beautiful tribute to her.

    2. Thanks for the great post, Nicole. Loved learning about the Gamble Family Vineyards. I know a Gamble family in ag...but with almonds in the central valley. And your lentil pot looks delicious, too. Thanks for joining the fun.

      1. Thanks and thanks for hosting Camilla! I would love to do versions of this topic again so I can get into some of those other grapes I mentioned.

    3. Great stories -- didn't know the role she had! sounds like fabulous wine too... PS so wierd the related products: jungle waterfalls for kids; the house?

      1. Thanks Gwendolyn. And I have no idea about why the odd things Amazon's algorithm comes up with show up in there. Ha!

    4. The stories behind wine are always so interesting and this one ranks right up there. What an incredible sounding woman (and a lovely homage).

    5. What a treat to hear Mary Ann's story - she's a force of nature! I'm always inspired by women who act on their instincts to protect what is right. Thanks for sharing your tasting notes and pairings, too. Yum!

    6. What an amazing story! Mary Ann was a trail blazer. I would see the movie, I can picture the scene of her stopping the bulldozers!
      The wine and your dish sound delicious. In fact...I'm really hungry now!

      1. Thanks so much Robin! And you're so right! I can totally picture the movie scene now as well.


    Thanks so much for leaving your comments and questions. I always love to hear from you!