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Good-bye, Mr. Gallo

by David on March 10, 2007

It’s hard to believe he’s gone. He’s one of those people who appears to be indestructible. And yet, the services take place this very day.

As so many have said, regardless of what you might think of his business practices or the wines, you have to admire what he and his brother built from virtually nothing. I was very lucky to get a rare peek at Gallo headquarters in Modesto many years ago. One thing you can never forget is a tank (not in use at that time) that holds a million gallons! And when is the last time you toured a winery in a van? The compound is so massive that walking it is impractical. How many wineries are so large that they find it best to make their own bottles???? Part of the tour was a run through the dizzying blur of activity in their bottle factory. And now that behemoth is only one of a number of facilities around California and the globe.

With very little money or knowledge, using winemaking books they borrowed from the Modesto public library, they created what became the largest winery in the world. Constellation passed them up recently, but you can’t really compare the two companies. Gallo is a privately held, family company that built dozens of brands as opposed to a large, public company that became a colossus mainly by way of acquisition. We used to always say “If the label says Modesto, whether or not it says Gallo, it’s Gallo!”

Many view Ernest Gallo as the single most influential figure in California wine history. His good friend, Robert Mondavi, summed it up nicely: “Ernest was a visionary. He was committed to making America a wine-drinking country.” That’s reason enough to honor the passing of a perhaps controversial businessman, but ultimately, someone who contributed immeasurably to re-building the industry following prohibition and to the success we all enjoy today.

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