Wine Enthusiast is proud to give its 2003 Lifetime Achievement Award to Ernest Gallo, with posthumous recognition to his brother, Julio. In so doing, we honor both men for the lasting and significant contributions they made, and that Ernest continues to make, to the wine industry.
Their wine-business beginnings were nothing unusual: The Italian-American brothers started up their winery in 1933. In that fourth year of the Depression, hundreds, if not thousands, of Californians were doing the same thing: Acampos, Adelantos, Albertis, Bandonis, Bargettos, Barlettas, Bartolomeis, Bassos, Borras—and we’re not even through the “B”s yet.
America was about to repeal the Volstead Act—Prohibition—and ambitious entrepreneurs had hopes of making a little money in the wine business. Most of those wineries are long gone, but who could have imagined that, more than 70 years later, one of them would not only be thriving, but also the second-biggest wine company in the world? Only Canandaigua makes and sells more.
Ernest and Julio brought the first modern marketing and sales techniques to the wine industry: They understood the importance of shelf positioning and floor location, and they organized and trained a sophisticated sales force. After Prohibition, their company also helped—and this can’t be stressed enough—teach Americans about wine. It’s almost as if, for three generations, Ernest and Julio Gallo have been conducting a national educational course in wine appreciation. They introduced millions of Americans to the pleasures of wine. And as Americans’ tastes changed, so did the Gallo’s range of wines. Throughout its 70-year history, Gallo has shown an uncanny ability to reinvent itself, and the place of American wine on the world market.
And nothing the brothers ever did was for the short haul. It’s often said that E & J Gallo Winery began going upscale in 1993, with the launch of Gallo of Sonoma, but in reality that effort began much earlier. In 1974, the brothers began putting out varietal wines, and also put a cork in a bottle of Gallo wine. That should have given people notice that things were afoot in Modesto.
In 1978, Gallo entered the Cabernet Sauvignon sweepstakes by putting out its first vintage-dated wine. In the 1980s and 1990s, they made their Sonoma County vineyards into some of the best in the world. When a $60 Gallo of Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon finally appeared, in 1993, nobody should have been surprised. The brothers and their heirs had been laying the groundwork for a generation.
The Gallos’ achievements continue today, in the range, depth and quality of their wines, and the company’s acute sensitivity to the public’s pulse. Gallo is also going global, with efforts in Australia and Italy. Ernest Gallo, at 94, is still active in the business, although he’s less visible these days. More in the limelight are the third-generation Gallos, especially Gina and Matt, Julio’s grandchildren. Their success has been astounding, as Wine Enthusiast recognized last year in honoring Gallo of Sonoma as the American Winery of the Year.
But the grape doesn’t fall far from the vine. Credit to both Ernest and Julio Gallo is due for having inspired their families to push the frontiers of American wine, and to Ernest for the example he continues to provide. The legacy he and Julio long ago established continues today.
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