With German and French influences in her family and background, Gabrielle Leonhard credits her mother with being the strongest influence of all.
“My grandfather owned a publishing house, and my mother grew up in very elegant and intellectually stimulating surroundings. Famous writers, such as Kafka and Thomas Mann, would congregate at my grandparents’ literary salons. My grandfather was a gourmand and traveled the world studying food and wine, especially ingredients. He stressed regionality and farm/producer direct. While my mother was educated as a chemist, the family also wanted her to continue the family culinary tradition and sent her to study with a graduate of the Cordon Bleu cooking school.”
Gabrielle cooked with her mother, but even more important than the culinary techniques she learned, she absorbed her mother’s insistence on knowing every ingredient: where it came from, who made it, exactly what was in it.
“She taught me to go to the source,” Gabrielle says. “We visited farms and bought directly from farmers. We picked fruit and made chutneys. She would even go to livestock farms, choose an animal herself and specify exactly how it was to be slaughtered and butchered.”
Gabrielle explains, “What was most vivid in my formation was going to the source and cooking from scratch using the highest quality ingredients, layering flavors, infusing oils. My mother taught me the value of making the effort.”
When Gabrielle and her husband moved to the Napa Valley in 1988, she felt right at home. “People live closer to the land here, and they value premium quality in both wine and food. Here it is simply a natural way to live.”
In addition to Cabernet grapes, their property was planted to create a sustainable growing environment for a variety of food products: olive trees, herbs, lavender, and an orchard of heritage-variety peaches, apples, and plums. “Every planting in our 2-acre garden is a contributor to a healthy organic ecosystem. We practice vertical integration in our farming, so the land can be as completely balanced internally as possible. This includes creating our own compost and carefully selecting plants, which attract bees, birds, and beneficial insects. We want to go beyond organic; we want the diversity of plants to naturally balance the farm. The plants that create this diversity are the key ingredients of GC Napa Valley products.”
In the 1900’s, Gabrielle became intrigued by the renaissance of California olive oils and did extensive research on the origins of mission olive trees. In Lompoc, California, she discovered the last known olive orchard that had not been touched since the early 1800’s. In the restoration effort to preserve this grove, she learned how to propagate the olive trees as they did in the California Mission Era. The process was successful, and her Napa Valley olive grove is an exact DNA match to the trees in Lompoc and the trees planted at the first mission in Loretto, Baja California. The GC estate olive oil is a legacy of California history.
The ranch where all this bounty grows is certified organic. The salts are made with herbs Gabrielle grows, the lavender thrives next to the vineyard, the wild fennel is foraged along the property’s creek banks, and rosemary is planted around a Cabernet block. With daily access to all these ingredients, Gabrielle Culinary products are made fresh continuously.
All of her research and efforts come back to the table to make healthy, simple and delicious meals accented with Gabrielle Culinary products. Enjoyed, of course, with the family’s award-winning O’Connell Family Wines.
Gabrielle has fulfilled her vision of establishing a bio-diverse and organic estate environment that expresses the full circle of wine country living. Giving credit where it’s due, she says, “Thank you, dirt. And thank you, mom.”