Thousands mourned passing of industry giant Julio Gallo – wine industry

Thousands mourned passing of industry giant Julio Gallo – wine industry – includes related article

Philip Hiaring

Thousands of employees, friends and admirers paid homage to Julio Gallo at services at St. Stanislaus Catholic church in Modesto, Calif., May 6-7. The 83-year-old president of the largest winery in the world died May 2 when the jeep he was driving veered off a steep embankment on a family ranch near Tracy, Calif.

About 3,000 persons assembled at the church in an open-casket visitation May 6 and offered condolences to family members. At an evening rosary at a Mass of the Resurrection in the church, Julio’s widow, Aileen arrived with her son, Robert, and daughter, Sue Coleman. The widow was recovering from injuries suffered in the accident (two grand-daughters were in the auto, one suffering minor hurts and the other escaping injury. She walked three miles to summon help.) Ernest Gallo and his wife, Amelia joined the family before entering the church as a group.

This year is the 60th anniversary of the founding of E. and J. Gallo Winery in Modesto. Julio was only 23 in 1933 and Ernest 24. They made a deal–Julio would concentrate on wine production; Ernest was the marketer. The story is that, with the guidance of winemaking recipes at Modesto, public library, they shipped 6,000 gallons of wine in bulk to a Chicago distributor without knowing whether he would accept the shipment. When his check arrived the Gallos were on their way. A long standing joke was that Julio would make more wine than Ernest could sell and that the latter would market more than Julio could make.

That they mastered the problem of combining quality with low price is seen in the facts that Gallo furnishes up to one-third of the wine marketed in America, that the winery sold a reported $849 million worth of wine in 1991 and the Gallos have a fortune estimated by Fortune magazine in 1992 at $1.3 billion.

As their hometown newspaper, The Modesto Bee, put it–“Julio Gallo’s winemaking and viticulture talents were a key to their success. He was a leader in all aspects of production, from the land to the grapes to the finished product. He enjoyed experimenting with grape varieties, constantly improving his wines and pleasing consumers.” He was quoted as saying: “Only if the grapes are good can the wine be good.'”

Julio, with Ernest’s concurrence, prodded California growers to raise better wine grapes like Barbera, Ruby Cabernet, Chenin blanc, Sauvignon blanc, Petite Sirah, Colombard and Sylvaner.

Until the Sixties, aperitif/dessert wines outsold table wines almost 10 to one. Then in the Fifties Gallo made the first special natural wines. Like Thunderbird (the story was that the drink’s popularity was discovered in New Orleans, where consumers combined lemon juice with White Port; the Gallos saved them the trouble; they combined it in a wine bottle).

In the Sixties and Seventies pop wines were popular–low-alcohol, fruit-flavored drinks like Ripple and Boone’s Farm apple wine.

The demand for Boone’s Farm was so vast that the Gallos imported apple juice concentrate from all over the world and planted the first large commercial orchard that far south near Livingston, in the San Joaquin Valley.

In 1969 table wine outsold aperitif/dessert wines for the first time and the Gallos were ready. In 1974 the brothers released the first varietal wines under the Gallo labels. Gallo varietals are now the top sellers in the world, as are the enterprise’s champagnes and brandy.

In 1985 Gallo introduced Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers and took over the market. An amusing TV commercial featuring two homespun characters supposedly the real Bartles & Jaymes sent demand soaring.

Of late, under the slogan “It’s Time You Changed to Gallo” the emphasis has been on premium varietal wines. Julio added more than 1,200 acres in Sonoma County, making a family-owned total of 17,000 acres primarily in vineyards.

Among other “firsts” attributed to Julio Gallo included an experimental vineyard based on 2,000 acres near Livingston, in the San Joaquin Valley, integrated pest management, unprecedented long-term contracts offered in 1967 to growers who would plant recommended varieties and meet quality standards. Another first was the first Growers Relations staff in 1967 and a whole building-full of (20) Ph.D.s involved in research and winemaking. A special micro-winery was established in 1947 to convert promising vineyard experiments into wine. Six to eight winemakers, including Julio and his son, Robert, tasted the wine daily to see if it was of superior quality.

Julio Gallo was a pioneer in the use of centrifuges and in making the wine in vats up to one million gallons at a time. He was a leader in the use of stainless steel tanks.

In 1975 he was honored by the American Society for Enology and. Viticulture as its Merit Award winner. The same year he was Wines & Vines’ Wine Man of the Year. He shared with his wife, Aileen, the 1991 annual Service Award of the Association for Retarded Citizens of Stanislaus County. In 1990 he was named Man of the Year by Fresno State’s viticulture department and the American Legion Modesto Post 74. He held the Paul Harris Award from Rotary International, 1983 Gold Vine Award from the Knights of the Vine, and he and his wife were recognized by the Salvation Army in a rare award.

The foundation organized in his name gave $500,000 to the city of Modesto for purchase and restoration of the Mc Henry Mansion and contributed $517,000 to Modesto’s Community Hospice-Via, which serves terminally ill patients. Last year the hospital named a community service award in his honor.

Julio Gallo’s two loves: soil and family

Wines & Vines presents some of the statements eulogizing Julio Gallo on the occasion of his May 2 accidental death.

Wine giants from California and elsewhere paid tribute. Two threads were prominent in their comments: Julio’s love of the soil and his love of family.

Former San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto delivered what he said was the greatest compliment: “The Gallos are the greatest Romans of all time.”

A member of the old winemaking guard and a contemporary of Julio’s, Joseph S. Vercelli, said he met the Gallos after starting in the trade in 1933, the year of Repeal: “They helped me many times along the way. Julio was very devoted to winemaking . . . he made jug wine, but he gave you value. And he had gotten into the premium wine arena, probably the only time he was not first with a product.”

John DeLuca, president of the Wine Institute, said Julio personified the link between the soil and winemaking. “He said that you could not make a great wine without great soil. First and foremost, he was a family man.”

Robert Mondavi, founder of the Napa Valley winery of the same name, said Julio helped elevate California wines into world-class. “He opened the door for the rest of us . . . as a winemaker, I had a great respect for him. As a friend, I had great love for him.”

Andre Tchelistcheff of the Napa Valley, 91-year-old dean of American winemakers, included Ernest in his tribute to Julio, saying: “Here were two gentlemen with tremendous thoughts, persistence, stubbornness and loyalty to the industry. After they won the game, they were the controlling voice in the wine industry of the world.”

John Giumarra, Jr., chairman of the Wine Institute, said: “More than anyone else, Julio, and his brother Ernest, introduced millions of Americans to reasonably priced, high quality wine and thus helped create the wine industry of California.”


At presstime, no realignment has been announced for E. and J. Gallo following the May 2 accidental death of Julio Gallo, 83.

Robert Gallo, Julio’s son, and James Coleman, his son-in-law, were continuing operational duties; it was well known that in the past several years Julio had increased their responsibilities in the vineyards, wineries, truck lines, and bottle-making plant that were in his charge.

Ernest Gallo, older by one year than Julio and chairman of the family-owned enterprise, pursued his overall direction, especially in marketing.

COPYRIGHT 1993 Hiaring Company

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