GINA GALLO Winemaker, Gallo Vineyards of Sonoma, CA
1999: Gallo's 1995 Estate Chardonnay wins the "Best Chardonnay Worldwide" award at the International Wine & Spirits.
Whether talented winemakers are made or born, Gina Gallo has the credentials to fill the bill. As the granddaughter of California wine pioneer Julio Gallo, Gina has wine making in her blood. As one of the bright young (32) stars of the "Sonoma style" of crafting wines to delight the senses, Gina has the training, the experience, and the resources to make landmark wines for the millennium.
Gina now lives in Sonoma County, near the winery on Dry Creek Road in Healdsburg which, among the Gallo California holdings, is dedicated to producing the finest wines in the world. But she grew up as the farmer's daughter on the outskirts of Modesto, where the Gallos set up their first winery and vineyards more than 60 years ago. Gina recalls those Central Valley vineyards as both school and playground. "You didn't grow up Gallo and not work," Gina says. "The basic work ethic is very strong. By the time I was in grade school I was used to tagging along behind my older brother in the vineyard right by the house. He was pruning, which was his job, and my job was to help. I thought my job was to bug my brother. But we were both learning, both preparing, even when we were just hacking around in the vines."
Gina's brother Matt, now 35, is head of vineyard operations for the Gallo of Sonoma estates and for the winery itself. There are eight vineyard estates in Sonoma County, and the wine is blended, aged, and bottled at the Frei Winery, one of the oldest properties in the Gallo of Sonoma portfolio. "Matt doesn't do much pruning anymore," Gina says, "but I still bug him to give me better grapes. We still hack around. Family is important to all of us, a very strong tradition for the Gallos."
A newer tradition for Gina has her climbing out of her work boots and jeans and into a dress to accept a continuing array of international awards for the wines of Gallo of Sonoma. "Wine critics and judging panels have been very, very generous in their praise of the Gallo of Sonoma wines," Gina says. "When we win gold medals at the big international wine competitions, I go along with the team to accept the awards. I've been on stage in England, all over Europe, face-to-face with legendary winemakers. It's a long way from the streets of Modesto. It's pretty humbling to be in that kind of company, representing the family and the crew in Sonoma. I try to get back to the vineyards as soon as possible. Then we have a party."
After studying business at college in California, Gina tried out different aspects of the wine industry in the larger Gallo universe. "I went into sales for a while, to learn the business from the ground up. Then I signed up in the UC Davis wine making program. It was pure magic for me, a real self-discovery. I went to work in the research winery we use for exploring different grape varieties and growing regions, and I started bugging my grandfather instead of my brother." Gina was apprenticed to Marcello Monticello, one of the most respected of the Gallo winemakers, a trusted friend of her father and grandfather.
"Marcello is my mentor, and I still learn something from him every time we talk," Gina says. "I get my winemaking soul from Grampa Julio, but Marcello is my strong, silent partner behind the scenes.
With Matt keeping her supplied with the finest grapes that can be grown in California, Gina is developing a bold, sensual style of winemaking. "Wine is pleasure," Gina says. "It has to be beautiful to look at, beautiful to smell, and astonishing to taste. I don't make obvious wines. I like depth. I like a little mystery, but I want some 'wow!' in there somewhere, too. Wine should make you smile."
As for her goals as a winemaker, Gina admits she has no short slogans that sum up her aspirations. "How many vintages make up the life of a winemaker?" she asks. "I will have maybe sixty harvests in my life that I can use to make fine wines. I want to get better each time. I want to give good value. I want to make everyone who is associated with Gallo of Sonoma proud of the wines, proud of their contributions and proud to be part of our story."