Gina Gallo, Chris Jackson team up to chair Sonoma County Wine Auction

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Sonoma County Wine Auction

When: Thursday, Sept. 19 through Saturday, Sept. 21

Where: Live auction at 1 p.m. Saturday will be held at La Crema Estate at Richard’s Grove and Saralee’s Vineyard, 3575 Slusser Road, Windsor

Cost: $2,500 per person for three-day package, including Best. Party. Ever. On Thursday. Vintner’s Dinners on Friday and wine auction on Saturday.

Information: www.sonomacountywineauction.com

40-lot auction highlights include:

An evening with country music band Lady Antebellum hosted by Christopher and Ariel Jackson of Stonestreet Estate Vineyards.

A tour of northern Italy curated by Gina Gallo of E. & J. Gallo Winery.

A pregame dinner with the San Francisco 49ers teaming up with vintner Merry Edwards.

A stay at Francis Ford Coppola’s Coral Caye private island behind the Belize Barrier Reef.

Gina Gallo and Christopher Jackson are united on a goodwill mission. As co-chairs of this year’s Sonoma County Wine Auction, they intend to raise millions for the underserved in Sonoma County.

For most readers in Wine Country, the duo — heirs to the largest wine empires in Sonoma County — need no introduction. Gallo is the granddaughter of the late Julio Gallo, who co-founded E. & J. Gallo Winery with his brother, Ernest. Jackson is the son of the late Jess Jackson, the lawyer- turned-vintner who founded the company that became Jackson Family Wines, a portfolio that now includes 40-plus wineries and vineyards in California, Oregon and across the world.

The collaboration between Gallo and Jackson is intriguing because two decades ago, their iconic wine families were locked in a contentious legal battle over a wine label design. But over the years, philanthropy has seemed to shift the tectonic plates of fierce competition, giving rise to a new relationship, as friendly peers.

Interviewed earlier this month, Gallo said Jackson is like a brother to her. Jackson smiled and said, “We’ve been friends for a while, and it’s fun to enjoy a glass of wine with Gina and Jean-Charles (Boisset, Gallo’s husband).”

Furthermore, both seem to agree the founders of both companies “would be happy about the collaboration,” Gallo said.

“I know my grandfather and my great-uncle Ernest and Christopher’s father are looking down and are very proud,” she said. “They don’t have any bones to pick.”

The live charitable auction, hosted by the Sonoma County Vintners and now in its 27th year, will be held Saturday at the La Crema Estate at Saralee’s Vineyard in Richard’s Grove outside Windsor. A crowd of paddle-holders will be under the white tent, vying for 40 lots to raise money for Sonoma County nonprofit organizations.

This year’s Fund-A-Need lot is dedicated to helping build a Boys & Girls Club in Santa Rosa’s Roseland neighborhood. Organizers said the Fund-the-Future initiative for Children’s Literacy will be paid for from the auction’s general contributions.

“What industry do you have where two major competitors come together on a common initiative, a philanthropic cause?” Jackson asked. “We are farmers, and there’s a common perspective that the trials and tribulations of dealing with Mother Nature are imparted on all of us.”

The collaboration is easy, Gallo said, because both family-owned businesses have “generational thinking” when it comes to farming sustainably, as well as raising money for the community.

The long-term approach in fundraising, Jackson agreed, is embraced by both families.

“The Sonoma Auction isn’t just about this year,” Jackson said. “There has been a development over the past couple of years of putting this effort on the map, of which the Gallo family has been instrumental, as well as my own.”

There has been a steady increase in the live auction totals, from $4 million in 2014, to $5.7 million raised last year.

“We want to propel this wine auction forward with a long-term vision of it becoming one of the most successful on the planet,” Jackson said.

In holding this vision, Gallo and Jackson believe that goodwill and competition pair well.

“My grandfather always said, ‘If you don’t have competition, who is there to help you become better?’ ” Gallo pointed out.

Sonoma County Wine Auction

When: Thursday, Sept. 19 through Saturday, Sept. 21

Where: Live auction at 1 p.m. Saturday will be held at La Crema Estate at Richard’s Grove and Saralee’s Vineyard, 3575 Slusser Road, Windsor

Cost: $2,500 per person for three-day package, including Best. Party. Ever. On Thursday. Vintner’s Dinners on Friday and wine auction on Saturday.

Information: www.sonomacountywineauction.com

40-lot auction highlights include:

An evening with country music band Lady Antebellum hosted by Christopher and Ariel Jackson of Stonestreet Estate Vineyards.

A tour of northern Italy curated by Gina Gallo of E. & J. Gallo Winery.

A pregame dinner with the San Francisco 49ers teaming up with vintner Merry Edwards.

A stay at Francis Ford Coppola’s Coral Caye private island behind the Belize Barrier Reef.

Jackson agreed, adding, “I view competition as a very positive thing. I think it forces you to elevate your game.”

The two have clearly put the Turning Leaf court battle behind them and likely consider it ancient history. Jackson was about 8 and Gallo 30 in 1997 when Kendall-Jackson and E. & J. Gallo squared off in federal court in San Francisco. Jess Jackson claimed that Gallo copied K-J’s Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay package design with its Turning Leaf label. Gallo ultimately won the case after a jury concluded it did not infringe on Kendall-Jackson’s trade rights.

With Jackson, 30, and Gallo, 52, the co-chairs are one of the youngest teams on record. To reel in a younger crowd, they said, there are auction lots that include tickets to events with country music stars like Lady Antebellum and Brad Paisley as well as the three San Francisco sports franchises — the Giants, the Warriors and the 49ers.

“I thought it was great of Katy Perry to show up in support of the Napa auction, but once again, there’s a little difference in vibe there,” Jackson said. “Katy Perry. Big pop star. Very successful. Very Napa. I love the fact that we have Lady Antebellum and Brad Paisley with the Sonoma Auction. I love it that we have the country music scene supporting in a major way. That feels a little more in keeping with the country farming ethic of Sonoma County.”

When Gallo and Jackson aren’t moonlighting with charity events like the auction, they’re busy producing wine and beer.

As vice president of estate winemaking for Gallo, Gallo collaborates with the winemakers of six of their wineries in California. Gallo is the winemaker for the high-end Gallo Signature Series, which makes up to 20,000 cases a year, and Gallo Estate Wines, which makes roughly 3,000 cases a year, according to winery spokesman Lon Gallagher.

“Growing up, I always heard my grandfather talking to my father about the business,” Gallo said. “I just felt in my heart, even at a very young age, everything they were doing was for our generation. I knew I wanted to be a part of it.”

As for Jackson, German pilsner is what convinced him to share his palate, giving equal time to craft beer and wine. Today he’s co-proprietor of Healdsburg’s Stonestreet Wines and proprietor of Sebastopol’s Seismic Brewery in Sebastopol.

“What attracted me to craft beer was I saw a lot of common perspective with the wine industry in Sonoma County,” Jackson said. “I saw the love and the passion. I saw the individual energy and individual expression.”

While passionate about producing beer and wine, Gallo and Jackson said balancing their careers with family life is definitely their priority.

Gallo’s and Boisset’s twins — Honorée-Josephine and Grâce-Antoinette Gallo-Boisset — are now 8 years old.

“You want to be hands on, so how can you have that fingerprint, that involvement?” Gallo asked. “It doesn’t have to be 24/7 but it’s that quality time … you can do it all, as long as you balance it out.”

Jackson agreed. He and his wife, Ariel, have three sons: William, 4; Avery, 2; and Clive, 8 months.

“Given the choice between answering a couple of emails or getting in my car to go see one of my boys play a baseball game, I’m going to get in my car and watch a future generation of Jacksons do that.”

The Great Depression is in both the Gallos’ and Jacksons’ family tree, inspiring them to give to the less fortunate.

“It’s mind boggling to me what my dad went through as a kid,” Jackson said. “I’m inherited wealth. I’m second generation.”

Jackson and his father both worked hard to graduate from UC Berkeley with a law degree. “My dad also worked graveyard shift as a police officer every single night as the sole breadwinner for his family,” Jackson said. “This is a guy who was really an example of the American Dream, from rags to riches, from nothing to something.”

The elder Jackson founded Kendall-Jackson in 1982, which is now known as Jackson Family Wines, and produces 6 million cases a year in the U.S., according to the February 2018 issue of Wine Business Monthly

Jackson Family Wines’ most popular wine continues to be its Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay, which is slighter sweeter than most chardonnays on the market.

Gallo’s grandfather and great uncle founded E. & J. Gallo in 1933, and today it produces 80 million cases a year worldwide, 70 million in the U.S., according to the February 2018 issue of Wine Business Monthly.

Later this year E. & J. Gallo is expected to close on a $1.7 billion deal with Constellation Brands, buying roughly 30 brands, according to spokesman Gallagher. But the company already calls itself the largest family-owned winery in the world.

Over the years, E. & J. Gallo and Kendall-Jackson have contributed millions of dollars to the auction benefiting Sonoma County charities.

“My grandfather and great-uncle lived through the Great Depression, too, and we’ll never understand how they survived,” Gallo said. “Definitely the American Dream.”

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