California’s Tom Gore – A Winery Profile

A Farmer’s Passion
by David Lawrason

This feature was commissioned by Arterra Wines Canada.

Tom Gore was in tough when he presented his wines at Montecito restaurant at a WineAlign dinner in Toronto on June 13. It was the night the Toronto Raptors captured their first National Basketball Association championship against California’s Golden State Warriors.

“I am a lifelong Warriors fan, so that was pretty hard to take,” he told me later in a phone interview, “but the Toronto fans were going crazy, so I couldn’t be too upset. It was a great night. I had a lot of fun. I really enjoy coming to Canada.”

And he is coming to ‘We the North’ more often these days, as his wines rapidly gain ground across the country, now selling about 50,000 cases annually in virtually all provinces. That is one-third of his production, and Tom Gore has only been in business as a wine brand since 2014.

Tom Gore, winemaker

In the long, often tortured, history of launching brands through Canada’s maze of liquor boards, that is actually quite a remarkable feat, of which Tom Gore is proud. He says it was achieved in part through his association with Arterra Wines, a national importing agency which was able to get his wines into provinces across the country.

“So, we had the horsepower, but not the ego,” he said. “The process was somewhere between slow and steady and full court press. We launched with good wine, good value and a good story.”

The story reels back to when Tom Gore was seven and his father set him up on the crush pad to pluck leaves from bins of incoming grapes. “It was really just a way to babysit me at the time,” Tom laughs “but I can truthfully say that I have had a job every year since I was seven, and it has always been about the grapes.”

His father, also named Tom Gore, was an influential grape grower with a vineyard management company in Sonoma County, based in the Alexander Valley.  Tom Gore, the second, simply grew up in that business – as a farmer of grapes.  And yes, there is a Tom Gore, the third, who might just keep the story going.

Tom credits his success to his father passing on his “intuitive knowledge of grape farming and the importance of value”. Plus, viticultural studies at California Polytechnical in Paso Robles provided “hands on education”.

Today he oversees a total of 1,750 acres of wine grapes (one tenth of Niagara’s acreage), spread out over 14 sites in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties.  Some acreage he owns, some he leases, some he manages, as his father did.

When he decided to launch Tom Gore wines in 2014, he had a particular vision in mind. To tell the farming story.

“So many winemakers were out there talking about all the things they do to layer flavours and balance wines – barrel ageing, fermentation techniques, lees contact, skin contact.  And yes, they are important to the finished wine. But I want people to understand how I build flavours in the vineyard,” he explained. “And when I do, it resonates with them.”

He chose sauvignon blanc, a favourite variety, to demonstrate.

“I like New Zealand sauvignon blanc, but California is warmer and brings out more tropical flavours in the fruit – melon and peach. I open the leaf canopy up (to expose grapes to as much sunlight as much as possible) to produce riper fruit to help create more of those flavours while still preserving acidity. Whereas many will shade sauvignon via the canopy or pick early to preserve its herbal, green notes.”

With Cabernet Sauvignon, he says it’s all about getting ripeness without excessive tannin, especially in less expensive bottlings. For his ‘regular’ $20 (in Canada) cabernet he avoids using “interior, Central Valley fruit”, a route that many others take. And he focuses on clones of cabernet that “push fruit” without tannin.  Indeed, Tom Gore’s 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the better examples in the $20 California cab LCBO sweepstakes that brings ripe cabernet fruit to the equation.

My interest in Tom Gore and its authenticity really peaked when I tried the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley, then the Field Blend. Although not widely available in Canada, they are ripe, well defined wines that elevate Tom Gore into the realm of excellence.  Let’s hope these more expensive bottlings gain some success here as well, because even at $30 to $40 dollars they represent very good value within the California realm in Canada.

Tom Gore wines were recently tasted by the WineAlign crew. Please click on the links for the full reviews.

Tom Gore Sauvignon Blanc 2017, California  ($19.95)
No oak here! It is all about citrus with grapefruit, lime and orange notes, along with ripe peach/apricot fruit and fresh mint and snow pea herbality. It is medium-full bodied and fleshy yet balanced by some CO2 and decent acidity.

Tom Gore Chardonnay 2017, California ($19.95)
Fermented 52% in stainless steel and 48% in barrel, this has a generous nose of ripe peach/melon fruit dusted with nutmeg, vague toast and butterscotch. It is medium weight, a touch sweet and warm but there is decent off-setting acidity and the fruit pushes through to very good length

Tom Gore Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, California ($19.95)
This blends 79% cabernet sauvignon with merlot, petit verdot and other reds, providing a bit more complexity than expected at the price. The nose is fairly generous with ripe black cherry/berry, softened by oak spice, tobacco and vanillin. Not much greenness on display although there is a trace on the finish.

Tom Gore Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County ($29.95)
Sourced primarily from the Hoffman Ranch near Geyserville on the floor of the Alexander Valley, this fairly, full chunky cabernet displays a generous, nicely focused cabernet blackcurrant nose, with evergreen, toast and vanilla from 18 months in oak. It is full bodied, firm and shows excellent fruit concentration. Cellar worthy.

Tom Gore Field Blend 2014, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County ($29.95)
This blends 52% petit verdot, 28% malbec, 14% cabernet sauvignon, 3% tempranillo and 3% carignan. The nose is fairly generous with ripe blackberry/blueberry pie, some toast and spice from 20 months in oak. It is full bodied, fairly dense, smooth, warm and just a touch sweet with fine, drying tannin. I like the mid-palate cohesiveness and energy.

For full details on all the wines, or to order wines, please contact: [email protected]

This feature was commissioned by Arterra Wines Canada. As a regular feature, WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single winery. Our critics independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted on WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in the winery profile. Wineries and wine agents pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, and its content, is entirely up to WineAlign.