Named one of the New York Times Best Wine Books of 2023
Named one of the Washington Post's Best Wine Books of 2023
This is a unique tale about the first non-Frenchman to ever own one of the Montrachet Grand Cru vineyards in Burgundy, France. Weaved throughout entertaining stories that celebrate the history of this world renowned region, is the chronicle of an American breaking through cultural barriers to find adventure and success.
After a rather conventional start, Alex Gambal left his family’s real estate and parking business to follow his passion for wine and winemaking. In 1993, he moved to Beaune, France with his wife and two children. For three years he worked with an exporter, to market and sell some of the oldest French family-owned domains in the world. He and his family were welcomed into a community of distinguished winemakers. In 1997, Alex launched a boutique winery—initially buying grapes and eventually owning 30 acres of vineyards that included the storied Grand Cru Batard Montrachet.
Part memoir and part an account of practical business sense, this book is a unique personal story about how an American became a participant in the fabric of this exclusive community and in return gained a profound respect for Burgundy, its unique winemakers, and the romance of its vineyards.
Originally from the Washington, DC area, Alex Gambal moved to France in 1993 and over the course of the next 26 years straddled the Atlantic while creating a boutique winery that included some of Burgundy’s greatest vineyards. A hard-nosed-businessman in a community steeped in tradition, he defeated the odds by buying some of the most coveted French vines and creating a successful brand that was eventually sold to one of the largest wine makers in the region.
Part I: L'Enracinement (Taking Root)
Chapter 1: La Plongée Haute (The High Dive)
Chapter 2: Une Salle Pleine de Bleuets (A Room Full of Blueberries)
Chapter 3: Un Mer de Jaune (A Sea of Yellow)
Part II: Tourner la Sol (Turning the Soil)
Chapter 4: Quel Grand Pays (What a Great Country)
Chapter 5: L’Ecole et les Vacances (School and Vacations)
Chapter 6: Les Samedis (Saturdays)
Chapter 7: La Rentrée (Back to School)
Part III: Le Débourement: Bud Break
Chapter 8: Les Lundis en France (Mondays in France)
Chapter 9: Le Démarrage (Startup)
Chapter 10: Déraillé (Derailed)
Chapter 11: Quelle Façon de Gagner sa Vie (What a Way to Make a Living)
Chapter 12: Je ne comprends tout simplement pas (I am just not getting it)
Chapter 13: C’est Son Sac (It’s His Bag)
Chapter 14: Courbe d'apprentissage (Learning Curve)
Part IV: Floraison (Flowering)
Chapter 15: Le Doigt (The Finger)
Chapter 16: Les Règles (Rules)
Chapter 17: Deux Vies (Two Lives)
Part VI: La Saison Verte (The Growing Season)
Chapter 18: Thrilla à Manille (A Thrilla in Manilla)
Chapter 19: Un Âge d’Or (A Golden Age)
Chapter 20: Les Affaires (Deals)
Chapter 21: Hiroshi rêve de la Bourgogne (Hiroshi dreams of Burgundy)
Chapter 22: Un Loi au Citron (A Lemon Law)
Chapter 23: C’est Pas Possible (It’s Not Possible)
Part VII: Véraison: The Moment in the Growing Season When the Grapes Begin to Change Color
Chapter 24: Terroir – Pouvez-vous jouer de la musique (Terroir – can you play the music?)
Chapter 25: Les Nouvelles Mathématiques (The New Math)
Chapter 26: Un Matin Noir en Avril (A Black Morning in April)
Part VII: La Vendange (Harvest)
Chapter 27: Le Jeu a Changé (The Game Changed)
Chapter 28: Sinking (Affaisement)
Chapter 29: Une Mouture (A Grind)
Chapter 30: La Ligne d'Arrivée (The Finish Line)
About the Author
This is a must-read for anyone who has ever wanted to chuck the office for a vineyard, especially if that dream involves moving to France.
Alex Gambal was leading a successful family business in the Washington, D.C., area in the late 1980s when he became smitten by wine. So ensued an early midlife crisis that resulted in Mr. Gambal, his wife and children moving to Burgundy to experience life in France, first as a wine broker’s intern, then as a wine student. He subsequently built the wine estate of his dreams, but practically exhausted himself trying to make it work. This book documents that experience. It’s an engrossing story that, unlike similar books, focuses not on the romance of vineyards and winemaking, but on the gears and grease of creating and maintaining a business without a vast reserve of wealth in perhaps the world’s most storied wine region.
Written in a very engaging style, Alex Gambal tells the story of how he moved to France and built a highly successful wine business. A compelling read, where you will learn about the challenges, for him and his family, of working in France and discovering the complex eco-system of Burgundy.
Alex Gambal has written a wonderfully engaging book on Burgundy from an insider’s perspective packed with details ranging from making wine in Burgundy and keenly-observed nuggets of life in France to his roots in Washington D.C. and his early years working with Becky Wassermann. Weaving together the deeply-understood strands of French culture, winemaking, and entrepreneurship with the absorbing story of his loves, his triumphs, and his losses, Alex has crafted a work that will have something to charm every reader.
In page-turning detail, Alex Gambal highlights the ups, downs, twists, turns (and weather!) of what so many Burgundy fans only talk about—moving there to make wine. Part adventure, part manifesto, Climbing the Vines in Burgundy shows how Alex became a vinous Indiana Jones—chasing a dream and creating a legacy that reawakens every time one of Alex's wines is uncorked.
Climbing the Vines in Burgundy is both a personal journey and a rare insight into the inner workings of growing grapes and making wine in Burgundy. In it, Gambal provides detailed insight into building a fine wine business, purchasing vineyards in a foreign country, the difficult task of making and selling wine, the dissolution of his marriage and the heart-wrenching loss of his second wife. Gambal approaches his professional career as a négociant and domaine owner with wry humor and pragmatism... Though he claims to have gone into the project with eyes wide open, his mantra became “anything is possible so don’t slow down.” Gambal’s candidness and humor explaining and describing the pitfalls and surprises around every corner make this book such a great read, with plenty of characters and anecdotes.