Alex and Elyseâ€¦sounds like a famous couple, like Jack & Diane or Peaches & Herb. They are famous, but alas, they are not a couple, although for this story I am trying to make them oneâ€¦because I love them both.
Alex Gambal and his then wife moved with their kids to France in 1993.Â They were looking for an experience abroad and a serendipitous meeting with famed wine importer Becky Wasserman led to that experience and then some.Â What began as a stage, resulted in his enrollment in viticulture school, and voila, in 1997, Maison Alex Gambal was born.
Ten years earlier, Ray Coursen and his wife were working on Cape Cod.Â One day, Ray offhandedly asked Nancy when sheâ€™d be ready to move to California to start making wine. â€œTomorrow,â€ she said, and off to the wild west, they went.Â Ray worked his way from the tasting room to the cellar, becoming winemaker in a matter ofÂ a few years.Â In 1987, the Coursens founded Elyse, producing 286 cases of Morisoli Vineyard Zin, still one of their preferred fruit sources today.
Ray is known for Zinfandel and Rhone varietals.Â His wines are extracted, rich and voluptuous.Â Alex deals exclusively with chardonnay and pinot noir, and his style is typically more elegant and restrained.
Alex makes about 5000 cases of wines/year; Elyse makes nearly double.Â Alex makes 18 wines, 60% white and 40% red.Â Of Rayâ€™s 20 or so bottlings, of whites there are only two.
Stylistically, the wines of Alex Gambal and Elyse donâ€™t have so much in common, yet on many other levels they do.Â Both Alex and Ray are negociants with both eyes on the vineyard.Â They each hold long-term contracts with trusted growers to ensure the quality of the fruit.Â They each own a few of their own vineyards.Â Ray went to school to study agriculture.Â Alex tends his own garden.Â They are both artists, farmers and scientists, as that is what is required to own a winery and produce consistently good wine.Â Elyse wines are on all the great lists in Napa.Â Alexâ€™s are on some of the best lists in Beaune.
They are both good friends to the Nantucket Wine Festival and they share a passion for wine, food and life.
These days, countless points and accolades later, Alex and Elyse continue to produce amazing wines:Â Food friendly, fruit-centric, hand-crafted wines from their respective corners of the world.Â They are truly living the dream.
What a nice couple!
â€œI came in frankly not knowing the first thing about Burgundy or how to make wine, but to have an experience with my family, trying to enrich our lives. If things turned out well, that would be great. But if it didnâ€™t weâ€™d go home to our former life.â€â€”Alex Gambal
â€œWhen I first saw how small Burgundy is and how diverse it is I realized that it would take me a lifetime to begin to understand it. Thatâ€™s what I love about Burgundy, because I continue to learn something new about it every day. Thatâ€™s what makes it so wonderful, and also so maddening. Here we have two principal grape types and how can it be so different from one little place to the next. Burgundy isnâ€™t a spectator sport, itâ€™s a contact sport. You really have to be willing to get in and get your hands dirty. Otherwise, forget about it.â€â€”Alex Gambal
â€œIn our winemaking we let nature express each vintage uniquely, by using indigenous yeasts which are naturally on the grapes. We make our wines following Burgundian tradition : our whites are barrel fermented and both red and white wines are matured on their lies with just one racking prior to bottling.â€–Alex Gambal
Re. the 2009 harvest:
â€œWhen one controls all from A-Z, and mother nature provides 6 months of glorious weather, the results are easy to see and taste.â€ Alex Gambal,Â September 2009
“I also recommend Alex Gambalâ€™s 2007 Bourgogne Blanc.Â Itâ€™s another wine that delivers more than its appellation suggests, I suspect because it comes entirely from Cote dâ€™Or Chardonnay (the law allows Bourgogne Blanc to be made from grapes grown throughout Burgundy, including the CÃ´te Chalonnaise and CÃ´te MÃ¢connaise).Â Gambal waited to harvest the Chardonnay in 2007– and it paid off.Â I guess itâ€™s in his nature to gamble.â€â€”Michael Apstein, www.winereviewonline.com, July 2009
â€œA meal without wine is eating; a meal with wine is dining â€“ itâ€™s a conversation, an event. Itâ€™s what wine is about.â€â€”Ray Coursen
“Winemaking is cooking without a flame. Great chefs search for the best ingredients and then carefully prepare them so the layers of flavors in the food all reach the table. Theyâ€™re constantly searching for wonderful fruit to work with. Besides the vineyard at the winery, weâ€™ve been fortunate to find amazing fruit from vineyards stretching from Carneros to Howell Mountain. As a fellow winemaker once said, “The best wines come from the vineyards with the most footprints in them.” â€“Ray Coursen (s2wines.com)
Re. Câ€™est Si Bon:
â€œThis was the favorite wine that we would all take a little pull from in the wine room.â€â€”Ray Coursen
“I like a little oak, but I donâ€™t want it to be overpowering â€“ I want to taste the fruit. I love wines that pair well with foodâ€¦When I make a wine, my tastes and techniques will influence the process, but whatâ€™s most important is the fruit. The fruit dictates what the wine will be. Weâ€™re fortunate to work with an amazing group of growers and vineyards, whose fruit keeps taking us to wonderful places.”â€”Ray Coursen
Re. visiting Elyse:
â€œThis is a MUST Â for all serious wine drinkers. Â It does not have a fancy tasting room, no gross monuments to oneself here, no long driveways with valet parking, Â no cheese-and-figs, Â no members-only library, no bubble room, Â no car collection, Â no tram, no tractor ride, no cablecar, Â no castle, no outdoor sculpture garden, Â no ponds, Â not even pistachios…if you know what I mean.
This is Napa the original way. Â A small tasting room Â with giant, delicious wines that do all the promoting themselves. Â This is THE BEST OF NAPA. â€œâ€”Brenda S., NY, NY, March 2008 (www.yelp.com)
Re. Elyse Wines:
â€œThis excellent winery continues to turn out a bevy of intriguing wines, including both Zinfandels and Rhone Ranger offerings.â€ -Robert Parker (June 2008)
Alex Gambal Blog:
Ray Coursen video:
I first met Ray Coursen in Yountville in 2003 and have been fortunate to dine and lodge with him several times since.Â Most dayâ€™s you can find him lunching at Redd with fellow winemakers such as John Arns and Jim Barbour.Â Alexâ€™s wines I discovered years ago at the Nantucket Wine Festival and I have also enjoyed clinking glasses with him in Beaune.Â His cuvÃ©e is in an historical courtyard just inside the town wall of Beaune.Â I look forward to seeing them both this winter and again at the Nantucket Wine Festival in May.Â Elyse and Maison Alex Gambal wines are available at currentVintage.
Tasting of Alex & Elyse Wines
4-7, Wednesday, September 30, 2009
currentVintage, 4 Easy St, Nantucket.