The passing of Ernest Gallo at nearly 98 years of age closes a chapter in American wine history. Sure we still have Robert Mondavi but he, and his brother Peter, are more emblematic of the second wave of wine growth which happened in the 1960’s with the introduction of modern technology and single varietal production.
Ernest and his brother Julio made a dynamic team with each knowing their own strengths and not getting in each other’s way. Julio grew the grapes and made the wine; Ernest sold it. Starting with only $5,900 in seed money borrowed from their family just after the repeal of Prohibition, the brothers build one of the largest family wineries and most powerful wine brands in the world. Over the years they innovated in the marketing of wine and created several brands based upon consumer trends. Their famous Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers are an example of this. Like a lot of wine lovers, I started drinking Gallo jug wines (chablis blanc and hearty burgundy, mostly) then graduated to other brands. The Gallo’s recognized this hole in their product line and started premium brands to extend the customer relationship further. I still pick up a bottle or two of Gallo’s Sonoma wines every once in a while.
Today it takes a lot of money and knowledge to start a winery and such rags to riches stories are rare. So it’s with great respect and admiration that I look at a life well lived here for inspiration as I continue to make a living marketing wine.
Rest in peace, Mr. Gallo.