The brothers Ernest (1909-2007) and Julio Gallo (1910-1993) were the sons of Italian immigrants from Piedmont. Their father Guiseppe (Joseph) and his younger brother Michael bought wine from small wineries in California at the beginning of the 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 during Prohibition (1920-1933), which they sold. Because of indebtedness, a tragedy occurred, 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 the sales. The first winery was built on the site of the present huge factory in Modesto. In the beginning, barrel wine was produced and sold to bottlers.
It was not until 1937 that wines were produced under their own label and in 1940 the first own vines were planted. Additionally, grapes were bought. The success story began in 1957 with the "Thunderbird", which was mixed from white port wine and lemon juice and sprayed on 20% alcohol content with the target group poor black people. A quarter litre cost 60 cents at that time. Gallo made aggressive advertising for this, for which the company is still known today. In 1957 alone, they sold 32 million gallons. 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". At that time and until the beginning of the third millennium, it was a widespread custom in the New World to name wines after prominent European regions. The name Gallo became a synonym for cheap mass wines of simple cut. From 1977 onwards, a change in philosophy followed. Instead of generics (generic wines), varietals (varietal wines) were promoted. Starting in the mid-1980s, huge areas of vineyard land were purchased in Sonoma County in the AVA areas 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 individual sites. The image of Gallo was thus improved in the long term. Through the purchase of a total of six wineries, the ownership increased enormously. One of them was the Louis M. Martini Winery in 2002, which also has Italian roots. The vineyard estate in Sonoma County comprises around 2,000 hectares of vineyards. The winery in Dry Creek Valley produces about 300,000 hectoliters of wine annually. But that is only a fraction of the total production. Julio's grandchildren Gina and Matthew Gallo were responsible for the Sonoma project.
The vineyards cover a total of 3,600 hectares. The experimental vineyard alone, where new grape varieties as well as new cultivation methods are tested, covers more than 400 hectares. In addition, large quantities of grapes are also bought in. Around 50 million crates of wine and more are produced annually, or 6 million hectolitres. One in four bottles of wine in the USA comes from Gallo, the world's largest family-owned winery and one of the top five in the world. The 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. There is an own glass factory for wine bottles. The main factory in Modesto is more like a highly technical factory than a winery. In the marble-clad entrance hall, a large waterfall pours into a huge pool.
Julio Gallo died in 1993 in a car accident on the factory premises, he had been the main person responsible for the cellar until his death. His brother Ernest died in 2007 at the age of ninety-eight, and he too had taken a keen 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 generation. In total, around a dozen family members work for 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 executives in the wine trade have worked there for at least a short time.
The Gallo company jealously guards its name. In 2005, after a lengthy legal battle, it was decided that the Chianti Protection Association should 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 name Gallo. See also under Globalisation and the world's largest wine companies.