Gina Gallo’s grandfather Julio Gallo played a major role in her life. He and his brother Ernest — who created E & J Gallo Winery, which has become the world’s largest winery — are credited with shaping America’s wine industry. And after the family’s 80-plus years of producing quality vinos, along with spearheading the Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices with the Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers, Gallo and her team continue to forge ahead.
We sat down with Gallo at Sonoma Wine Country Weekend’s Taste of Sonoma event, which was held at MacMurray Estate Vineyards on August 31. The senior director of winemaking for E & J Gallo Winery shared everything from the importance of sustainability and her new Signature Series line, to her favorite varietal and travel destinations.
Why is sustainability so important to you?
In the ’60s, my grandfather Julio was the largest organic farmer. He was all about learning through his garden. All the fruits, tomatoes and vegetables he grew — he was so proud of them. During this time, he purchased a lot of grapes in Napa. And although he learned a lot of different things in farming, what we’ve grown to evolve into is sustainability. Sustainability is full circle. My father says we have to protect our land. The best vineyards are the footprints of your family.
Tell us about your new Signature Series line.
The Signature Series is all about the family heritage. I work close with my brother Matt, [vice president of coastal operations], and Jim Collins, [senior director of vineyard management], to create the best wine we can make. It’s all estate-grown fruit, all sustainable and very focused on the land. For me as a winemaker, I’ve understood so much from my grandfather Julio, even my great-uncle Ernest, of their belief in wine. I take that as a palette, and now where’s my fingerprint? How am I going to be who I am? So it’s creating what I believe I feel. With this, I ventured out — there’s a 2011 chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast; the 2012 Santa Lucia Highlands pinot noir, which I think is amazing; the 2010 Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon from our William Hill Estate vineyard; and the 2011 Russian River Valley.
It takes a village, though. My niece is going to winemaking school. I think for this Signature Series, it’s always going to be about family, so it’s like you hand the baton over like my grandfather handed it on to me. But you can’t do it without family — like Jim, who we’re so close with. So it’s unity, and again, back to sustainability. It’s about my little fingerprint and the heritage I have and the amazing people I work with.
What is your must-have varietal?
I think we drink wines too young. I love older cabs. I love Bordeaux. I love pinot. And zinfandel is a wine that is so easy; it’s so adaptable to any type of food you put out there — pizza, barbecue, rib eye, hamburger, swordfish. Zinfandel, to me, wraps itself around it.
What is the connection between wine and traveling?
Where you really learn about wine is through traveling. When we started doing pinot gris, I went to where pinot gris is bought. You travel and you understand. I asked, “What are they doing?” Not that you’re going to mimic or copy, but you ask yourself, “How are they planting the grapes? How are they making the wine?” And then, “What can we do?”
What are your favorite travel destinations?
My husband [Jean-Charles Boisset] is French. His family is in Burgundy. I love it there because I love their wines and I learn a lot there. It’s very entrenched, and I find that beautiful. So I love going to that. I also love Mexico. I love that culture. I love Mexican food. I always tie travel in with the food and the people. It goes back to authenticity.