Gallo’s not spinning its wheels

Gallo’s not spinning its wheels

Larry Walker

It’s very easy to see the downside, to criticize when something goes wrong. That’s second nature to journalists. After all, we have a license to second guess.

But it is also important to turn up when something is done right. In the past, I’ve done my share (maybe more) of beating up on E. & J. Gallo. So it is only fair to step up and mention it when the Modesto team does something right.

I’m here to tell you that Red Bicyclette, Gallo’s southern French import introduced in the U.S. last fall, is a winner. Gallo came up to the plate and hit a Barry Bonds-size home run, both in promotion and in the wine itself.

When the marketing wheels at Gallo decided to introduce a wine from France, they didn’t just buy up a couple of tankers of cheap French bulk, price it at $5.99 and flood the U.S. market. They sent a team to France to do some homework.

The idea is said to have come from Joseph Gallo, and he wanted to do it right. The Gallo team spent weeks in southern France, tasting wine and taking pictures. According to a report in the Modesto Bee, they took at least 5,000 photographs, looking for an image that would say “France” to American consumers.

One image kept turning up again and again: a guy on a bicycle. Having spent three weeks in Roussillon and Languedoc in October, I can testify to the truth of those bicycles. They are everywhere. And I’m not talking about men and women in candy wrapper colors and fancy helmets freewheeling down the center of the road. These bikes were manned by crusty old guys in berets and faded denim, pumping down to the corner for a glass of rouge and a chat with the neighbors.

So Gallo came up with the name Red Bicyclette. Then, they created a label and promotional material showing a guy in a beret on the bicycle, with a basket of bread in front and a pooch trotting along behind. Sheer genius. They got it in one. I can’t think of a single image that would better represent village life in southern France. (Well, maybe if the guy had been smoking.)

OK. Brilliant image, good graphics. Job done, right? Wrong. Gallo didn’t stop there. They decided the wine in the bottle was important. (Now there’s a marketing concept for you.) They created a panel to taste wine–Chardonnay, Syrah and Merlot for openers–from all over the world. What they were looking for was a “map” of a particular varietal. What do wine consumers think a Syrah really tastes like, for example?

They ended up with varietals that successfully combine the fruit-forward, easy-drinking New World style with a sense of place that is characteristic of Languedoc, where the wine is made. Yes, that’s right. The folks at Gallo actually paid attention to the T word–terroir. That doesn’t mean Red Bicyclette is a typical southern French wine. There’s enough of that on the market as it is.

What Gallo did is create a New World wine (intense fruit flavors, clean profile) that has a French accent: a touch of minerality, a hint of some depth behind the fruit.

Well done, E. & J.!

Well, to be honest, I do have one gripe. For the next Red Bicyclette tour, bring out the rose, OK?

COPYRIGHT 2005 Hiaring Company

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