Ernest and Julio Gallo started their namesake winery 75 years ago, from the modest farmlands of post-Prohibition Modesto.
Today, third-generation winemaker Gina Gallo, Julio?s granddaughter, is carrying on the family tradition from Sonoma County, as well as through her travels around the world as the voice and face of the largest family-owned winery in the United States.
In a recent interview at the historic Dry Creek General Store she bought in 2001, just down the road from Gallo?s Sonoma headquarters, the 41-year-old Modesto native talked about the evolution of Sonoma?s Wine Country reputation, her role in the family business, and what the future holds for the Gallo brand and clan.
Press Democrat: It?s the 75th anniversary of E&J Gallo. When people think of California and our great wine history, do you think they understand Gallo?s role here?
Gallo: We started in 1933 and at that time, where were we with wine? At the beginning. My grandfather was dying to make wonderful blended wines, (but) he knew it was going to be awhile before people would enjoy them, so they started with sweet wines, dessert wines; that was a stepping stone.
I started traveling out to the market 10 vintages ago, and people would say, ?Oh, wine, yes, Napa. Napa, Napa, Napa.? Now they know Sonoma, they get it, they know Russian River. It?s great to see the evolution.
I think they realize we were there from the beginning and probably have a great feel for how our family introduced wine to the United States, and I think they?re starting to understand what we?re doing now... in Sonoma. It started with us and then maybe we lost them for a little bit and now they?re back, trying new wines.
PD: It feels like you?re at the forefront of almost every trend in wine. Maybe that?s part of being among the first in the industry, but by starting in California and then getting more specific in Sonoma and then buying properties like Louis M. Martini so then you?re in Napa. And now Gallo has all these wines from around the world as new regions emerge.
Gallo: To me, wine follows the food trends and the food world started exploding. Being in America you have such an influence from Asia, Europe and all the different food communities from around the world, that it?s not just chardonnay and cabernet anymore, it was a natural evolution to move into pinot noir, a wonderful food and wine pairing, pinot gris, tempranillo, albarino.
The philosophy for our family is, sure, we have our family wines that we produce and create, but we know there?s a thirst out there to try other wines. We have to be sustainable and our way is not just buying, buying, buying but partnerships with families. They?re all family relationships.
PD: You?ve been the face of Gallo for about 10 years. Is that a role you wanted or were you tapped on the shoulder and told, go do?
Gallo: I knew when I discovered I loved wine and wanted to spend more time learning about winemaking and the vineyards that I wanted to be part of the family winery but it was like, which area? When you?re young you?re still trying to figure out your passion. So when I figured it was wine, I went to talk to my mom and my dad because I was living at home at that time, I was in sales.