+1 855.946.3338
Story of Hourglass a winning wine tale

Story of Hourglass a winning wine tale

I recently met Jeff Smith of Hourglass Wines in Napa Valley and was intrigued by his background and the winery’s remarkable story.

Smith is a Napa Valley native, growing up in the valley next-door to many of the families who have transformed this wine region into one of the most elite in the world.

The family moved to St. Helena from San Francisco in 1964, where Ned Smith, Jeff’s father, became Napa Valley’s second ever real estate agent. But the family’s wine story doesn’t begin until 1976 when his parents, Ned and Marge, bought a six-acre parcel with the ambition of opening an inn, planting a grove of fruit trees and building a house. The inn thrived but the fruit trees didn’t.

As fate would have it, his neighbor happened to be Dan Duckhorn of the famed Duckhorn Vineyards. His father saw his steadfast success with grapes and decided to join in the planting with his favorite varietal, zinfandel.

Jeff Smith went on to college in San Francisco and then, for a streak, to play in a successful rock band. He returned to Napa Valley to work at the Robert Mondavi Winery where he would learn directly from Robert Mondavi. He also spent some times in the spirits industry, as SKYY Vodka’s second employee. During his five years at SKYY, it grew from a tiny business to producing 600,000 cases in annual volume, making it one of the fastest brand growths in American distilled spirits history.

After Ned’s death in the 1990s when a widespread phylloxera epidemic wiped out the zinfandel vines, Marge considered selling the family’s vineyards, but Jeff believed there was something truly unique and rare in them. Jeff, after consulting with Mark Kliewer, dean of viticulture at the University of California, Davis, replanted, but this time with cabernet saugivnon and christened the newly planted vineyard with the name Hourglass — a nod to the area’s unique geography.

His deep roots in Napa Valley and those iconic neighbors may be part of his story but it is Jeff’s profound knowledge of wine and his creative dedicated approach to winemaking that make his brand Hourglass one of the most sought-after in the valley.


  • 2015 Hourglass Estate Sauvignon Blanc, California (about $43 retail)
  • 2013 Hourglass Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $132 retail)
Farmer first policy guides Napa winemaker

Farmer first policy guides Napa winemaker

Note: Wildfires have ravaged California’s wine country in recent weeks. I want to have all of the facts before I write about it. It’s still too soon to say how the fires will affect wine production. The good news is most of the winemakers I’ve talked with had harvested about 90 percent of their grapes before the fires.

When I meet winery owners I am always listening for the story behind their wines. Over lunch with owner Tom Gamble of Napa Valley’s Gamble Family Vineyard, his unique story resonated with me when he said, “I’m a farmer first.”

(My own family is rooted in Arkansas agriculture, which was the seed for my adventurous passion for wine study.)

Gamble’s story confirmed one of my firm beliefs: The essence of a great wine starts with the guiding hand of agriculture.

In 1916, Gamble’s grandfather Launcelot Gamble first began cattle ranching and growing crops in Napa County. He passed not only his land but his fervor to his sons, Launce and George (Tom’s father.) As a third-generation Napa Valley farmer, Tom bought his first vineyard in 1981, taking on the task of farming some of the valley’s most sought-after grapes. The meticulous detail to agriculture and respected farming practices resulted in the opportunity to sell his grapes to vintners.

More than 20 years later, Tom founded Gamble Family Vineyards with the goal of producing wines that express the epitome of grapes coming from the distinct Napa Valley terroir. His shift from farming grapes to bottling his own wines was not an easy decision, “I didn’t know much about winemaking or wine sales, but I knew I had the land to work with.”

Tom practices a holistic approach to farming and winemaking focusing on the specific soil and climate of the Napa Valley. His wineries are certified Napa Green and Fish Friendly. With over 175 acres of grapes growing in some of the most sought-after regions (Oakville, Mount Veeder, Rutherford and Yountville) his grapes come to the winery ready to be made into astounding wines.

As we sampled his wines I could taste his commitment to his craft.


  • 2016 Gamble Family Vineyards Rose, California (about $22 retail)


  • 2012 Gamble Family Vineyards Paramount Proprietary Blend, California (about $90 retail)