Adam McClary and Gabrielle Shaffer grew up in Minnesota—decked out in snowmobile suits, chasing after the school bus in frozen temperatures, and living a small-town, Midwestern lifestyle. McClary took a major interest in art and was particularly passionate about comic books, music and film. Shaffer loved her pet goats and her horse; she was a country girl at heart. McClary went on to study film at school and while doing so, found himself tending bar and managing restaurants in Minneapolis. Shaffer was a sommelier who worked for a distributor in the area and called on McClary’s restaurant regularly. One day, McClary asked her to accompany him to a Yeah Yeah Yeahs concert and their relationship began.
Wine was a large part of both of their lives. McClary describes his first encounter with wine as, “It’s as alive as an oil painting and as simple as a whittled stick—even when I was focused on a different project, wine had its place in my thoughts.” Then, one Sunday morning, while playing Dominoes and drinking Bloody Marys, McClary and Shaffer had their pivotal kitchen table conversation of how they wanted to spend their next few years.
After a long discussion, they were both ready to pack their bags, move to Napa Valley, and make wine. Shaffer immediately pulled out her laptop and enrolled in the Enology extension program at University of California, Davis.
McClary attained internships at Mayacamas Winery and Harlan Estate while Shafer began work as the viticulturist for Stagecoach Vineyards. “Her experience farming 218 individual blocks of 17 varieties is unparalleled. If she were an Olympic diver, it’s like she chose the highest degree of difficulty and slipped into the pool with barely a ripple,” said McClary, “She’s pretty damn smart—and has a literal dynamite guy [for blowing up blocks to plant vineyards] in her phone contacts.”
They started making wine together once they arrived in Napa Valley in 2008. Gamling & McDuck was born, a combination of pseudonyms of each one of their names. They decided that their focus area would be on Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc. “We knew before we got to California that it was going to be Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc. We quickly decided to lean in hard on those two and skip the more common development as a winery which is working with more varieties,” said McClary.
Throughout the past eleven years, their biggest strategic focus is to maintain the integrity of the brand. “We forge ahead with great bursts of enthusiasm and then try to shut up and listen for missteps in our philosophies,” said McCary, “We love it, it’s invigorating, and we’re beyond lucky to come to work in this wobbly Jell-O mold of a business that we hatched ourselves. Continuing to exist is our biggest accomplishment.”
They make small-production wines and source grapes from a wide geographic array of vineyards. Shaffer’s viticultural background has been a tremendous help in assessing the overall integrity of the vineyards and the farming practices that their vineyard partners are using. Farming remains at the core while in the cellar, it’s about keeping things clean and getting out of the way. “We’re not dogmatic (or try not to be), but in our experience, every step we take is a step away from that wine’s potential. We’re about native fermentations, cool temperatures, and gentle extraction,” said McClary.
Due to the tough business environment of the pandemic, they are in a challenging position as their wines are typically priced lower than their contemporaries in Napa, but fall outside the attractive retail shelf price point of $18 to $20. “I can’t tell you how crazy that is for a winery of our size to take on, and truthfully, there won’t be any profit in the immediate future. Looking at the big picture, we want you to drink our wines and this pandemic has made that harder,” said McClary. They also started producing wines in Oregon last year.
As they look to the future, McClary noted, “David Bowie said something about doing your best work when you’re deep enough in the ocean that bouncing on your toes barely keeps your head above water. Covid’s just another riptide keeping us out there.“
2016 Pickberry Vineyard Cabernet Franc
The Cabernet Franc grapes for this wine are sourced from a rolling hillside plot on volcanic soil on the northeastern slope of the Sonoma Mountains near Glen Ellen where the climate offers warm days and cool nights. The result is a wine that has black-cherry aromas on the nose and flavors of blueberry and raspberry with subtle black pepper. At 12.7 percent abv, this herbaceous wine offers a versatility with food—whether it is a grilled steak or a whitefish.
2018 Henry Vineyard Chenin Blanc
These grapes are sourced from the Henry Vineyard in Pope Valley and the wine has citrus aromas on the nose with tropical fruit flavors mingling with notes of pear and apricot. The wine is medium-bodied wine and has an abv of 13.7 percent, while staying bright and crisp.
2016 Mangels Ranch Chenin Blanc
The Chenin Blanc grapes are sourced from Mangels Ranch situated in the southeast corner of the St. George range in Suisun Valley. The vineyard gets both late-morning and afternoon sun with cool breezes rolling off the San Pablo Bay. There are lemon, peach, and pear flavors that showcase a decent amount of acidity. At 13.2 percent abv—crack this open on bright, summery Tuesday.