Brothers Ernest (1909-2007) and Julio Gallo (1910-1993) were the sons of Italian immigrants from Piedmont. The father Guiseppe (Joseph) and his younger brother Michael bought wine from small wineries in California in the early 20th century, which they resold. In the early 1920s they bought a small farm near Modesto (Stanislaus County in the Central Valley) and produced grapes which they sold during Prohibition (1920-1933). Due to debt, tragedy struck, Guiseppe shot first his wife and then himself in 1933. The two sons took over the farm and founded the E. & J. Gallo Winery. Julio was the cellar master and Ernest took care of sales. The first winery was built on the site of today's huge factory in Modesto. Initially, bulk wine was produced and sold to bottlers.
It was not until 1937 that wines were produced under their own label and the first own vines were planted in 1940. In addition, grapes were bought. The success story began in 1957 with the "Thunderbird", which was made from white port wine and lemon juice mixed together and distilled to 20% alcohol content with the target group of poor blacks. A quart cost 60 cents at the time. Gallo did aggressive advertising for it, which the company is still known for today. In 1957 alone, 32 million gallons were sold. This wine is still produced today. Other successful products were the sparkling wine "Ripple" and the "Boone's Farm Apple Wine".
In 1964, the production of Jug Wines (cheap wines) was started in huge quantities. These were mainly the brands "Hearty Burgundy" and "Chablis Blanc". This was a widespread custom in the New World at that time and still until the beginning of the third millennium, to name wines after prominent European areas. The name Gallo became synonymous with cheap, mass-produced wines of simple style. From 1977 onwards, there was a change in philosophy. Instead of generics (generic wines), varietals (varietal wines) were now pushed. From the mid-1980s onwards, huge areas of vineyards were bought in Sonoma County in the AVA areas of Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley, and the new company "Gallo Sonoma" was founded.
There, Gallo proved that it could also produce top wines such as "Chardonnay Laguna" from selected single vineyards. The image of Gallo was thus sustainably improved. Through the purchase of a total of six wineries, the estate increased enormously. Among them was, for example, the Louis M. Martini Winery in 2002, which also has Italian roots. The vineyard estate in Sonoma County covers about 2,000 hectares of vineyards. The winery in Dry Creek Valley produces around 300,000 hectolitres of wine annually. But this is only a fraction of the total production. Julio's grandsons Gina and Matthew Gallo were responsible for the Sonoma project.
The vineyards cover a total of 3,600 hectares of vines. The experimental vineyard alone, where new grape varieties as well as new cultivation methods are tested, is over 400 hectares in size. In addition, large quantities of grapes are purchased. About 50 million cases of wine and more are produced annually, or 6 million hectolitres. Every at least fourth bottle of wine in the USA comes from Gallo, which is the world's largest family-owned winery and ranks among the top five in wine production worldwide. Its products are sold in 90 countries. Other beverages such as coolers, fruit wines, sparkling wines and spirits are also produced on a large scale.
In addition to the Gallo or Gallo Sonoma brand, wines are marketed under numerous names. These include Anapamu, Barefoot, Bartles & James, Bella Sera, Black Swan, Carlo Rossi, Ecco Domani, Frei Brothers, Indigo Hills, Livingstone Cellars, Louis M. Martini, Mirassou Vineyards, MacMurray Ranch, Napa Valley Vineyards, Night Train Express, Red Bicyclette, Sebeka, Thunderbird, Tott's André, Turning Leaf, Twin Valley and Rancho Zabaco. It has its own glass factory for wine bottles. The parent plant in Modesto resembles a high-tech factory rather than a winery. In the marble-clad entrance hall, a large waterfall pours into a huge pool.
Julio Gallo died in a car accident on the factory premises in 1993; he had been mainly responsible for the cellar until his death. His brother Ernest died in 2007 in his ninety-eighth year; he, too, had taken a lively interest in the business until his death. The superlative company is still privately owned and is now run by members of the second and third generations. In total, around a dozen family members are active in the giant company. The slogan on the Gallo website is "Three generations - one passion". The sales and marketing department is considered an exemplary model and most of the top US wine trade executives have worked there at least briefly.
The Gallo company jealously guards its name. Thus, after a long-running legal battle, it was decided in 2005 that the Chianti Protection Association could no longer use the Gallo nero part of the name outside Italy. And the half-brother of the two founders named Joseph Gallo was even forbidden to market the cheese he produced under the Gallo name. See also under Globalisation and Largest Wine Companies in the World.