March 18, 2007
A little more than a week after the death of industry icon Ernest Gallo, his granddaughter Stephanie shares some very special personal moments with her grandfather. Read on for an insider understanding of the measure of the man.
He was a grandfather, first and foremost. In reflection, I can say he gave us a lot of great life lessons. I often like to say he had a tremendous zest for life—he lived life to the fullest. Whether it was work or his personal life, he made the most each and every day. The gifts he gave us weren’t material—they were life experiences. He would take us on these amazing trips, and I would think, “What is he thinking?” I mean, we’d go on these dangerous boat rides when we were under the age of 8. Fishing up in Alaska, or going to Turkey, or the Galapagos Islands. But he wanted us to experience life. He definitely wanted us to go out and see the world, and recognize that the world is much larger than California.
Part of it was his upbringing. If he read about something or someplace, he wanted to see it firsthand. He would read the local paper and San Francisco Chronoicle voraciously, and if he read an article that struck him, he would invite that person to lunch. When he was in his 90s, there was a young professor visiting from China, teaching at Stanislaus State. She had written a paper on economic development in China. He called her up and invited her to his house for lunch. He just wanted to learn more about what she was studying. Was there any possibility of us selling more wine in China, ultimately was the question. He had this quest for knowledge, but it wasn’t just always business-related. He had a real intellectual curiosity. He would have celebrated his 98th birthday [March 18], and up until the very end he wanted to learn, and I think that’s why he lived so long: He always wanted to learn. He told me once, “When you stop learning, that’s the day you stop growing.”
The last 2 years of his life were some of the most special. The reason I say that is, I would bring my daughter, Amelia, who’s now two—she was named after his wife, who died in ’93—[to see him]. Ever since Amelia was able to sit up in a high chair, when she was probably 10 months old, I’d bring her to his house almost every Saturday for lunch. We would either eat his favorite pasta or risotto. He loved it! If the weather permitted, we would walk in the garden after lunch, feeding the squirrels and his fish. He enjoyed new life, and the energy young adults or children provided.
One other thing, the last major trip we took was in 1998, to Turkey, when he was 89 years old, and this is so typically him. We were in our mid, late 20s, my brother, cousins and I—we’d go canoeing, kayaking, snorkeling, and he was right there with us! I remember jumping into the ocean with my snorkel and there he was, next to me. The only thing he did not do on that trip was water ski, for obvious reasons. And that’s him, again, living life to the fullest. Even when he was close to 90, he had to be in the middle of the action, because he enjoyed it. He did slow down, quite dramatically, in the last two years. But until then, he would go for a walk, and he was a visionary even when it came to a healthy lifestyle. He always ate right and exercised religiously, and he always worked wine into a healthy lifestyle. He would walk briskly, and swim, every day. He just took care of himself. He intuitively knew that’s what you needed to do to stay healthy and live a long life. Now, that’s all the media talks about, but he did that before people knew it was good for you. So those are some of the memories I’ve had, on a personal note.