There’s a common saying in the wine business, “If you want to make a small fortune in the wine business, start with a large fortune,” Owning a winery is a tough business to crack anywhere. Now envision being an American who decides to “chuck it all” to start a winery in Burgundy, a region where vineyard land and allocations are small and sub-divided by generations of families.

And so begins the dream of vintner Alex Gambal, who in 1993 left his family’s real estate and parking business in the Washington D.C area to move to Beaune to learn the wine business and immerse in the French way of living with his wife and two young children.

Lucky for Gambal, his mentor was Becky Wasserman, the American expatriate wine exporter who championed small Burgundy producers and shippers. Gambal worked with Wasserman for a few years and enrolled in viticultural school. He became a negociant and established his Domaine Alex Gambal in 1997, eventually owning 30 acres of vineyards that included the storied Gran Cru Bâtard Montrachet.

Alex Gambal

After a 20-year run, Gambal sold his business in 2019 to the Boisset family. Pretty good timing given world events. He’s moved to Jackson, Wyoming to be a ski bum in the Tetons (just kidding!) and started a charity for children.  He is still in the wine game in the U.S., partnering with Peter Work to establish Gambal Work in the Santa Rita Hills. Here, he producers his self-decsribed “Gambal style” of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

We have not tasted Gambal Work wines yet but we managed to get out hands on Domaine Alex Gambal Volnay and Puligny Montrachet Both are vintage 2018 whichi roughly his before selling to Boisset in 2019. The Gambal Volnay was characteristically restrained and earthy; the Puligny-Montrachet had layers of fruit and flowers and lots of umami character.

Galmbal also has written a memoir published in 2023 called Climbing the Vines in Burgundy- How and American Came to Own a Legendary Vineyards on France. (Hamilton Books). In it he shares his story of achieving the dream- becoming an American-born winery owner in Burgundy- and living the nightmare of navigating the bureaucracy of French and U.S. wine laws, banks and the “system” of selling wine in the U.S.A. He doesn’t spare words or thoughts on why he feels the system can work against the small and independent wine producer.

The book digs so deep into the precarious world of wine, including living through  weather disasters, navigating play-by-the-book uptight French bureaucracy and negotiating with play-hard bankers and wine buyers. Then there are cantakerous customers, know-it-all critics and starry eyed dreamers who see the world of wine rose-colored wine glasses.

Climbing the Vines in Burgundy

“Climbing the Vines” pulls back the romantic curtains of rolling vineyards and languid afternoons and evenings tasting storied wines over animated conversation and digs into the dirt of the wine business, literally and figuratively.

Finishing the book, I felt many of Gambal’s reveals about running a business aligned with my own roller coaster of a ride running a PR agency  for 22 years during numerous economic highs and low.   I wanted to add the line: Climbing the Vines in Burgundy…….”Tie a Knot and Hang on for Dear Life.” It’s a good read and a reality check on how fine wine is made and sold what it takes to survive and thrive in the business.

Listen to our conversation with Alex Gambal on The Connected LIVE! here.