gina gallo on honoring a legacy

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Gallo Signature Series was recently introduced – three small production wines bearing the signature of Gina Gallo. In the letter that accompanied the wines, Ms. Gallo noted that the wines were created “to celebrate the legacy of our founders and showcase my family’s vision for the future. These wines are a deeply personal passion for me, and I am delighted to share them with you.”

Being a cynical old fart, I am immediately suspicious when anyone talks about their passion. But as always, I look to see what’s in the bottle before jumping to conclusions. In this instance, what was in the bottle was surprisingly special.

I have followed the evolution of Gallo since before their first varietal wines were made, just 20 years ago. At about that time the family had made a huge commitment to acquiring vineyards, and vineyard land, especially in Sonoma. Those initiatives have blossomed over the years, to the point where these Signature Series wines seemed to be in danger of being lost in the shuffle. There are already Gallo Family single vineyard wines, reserve wines, etc. What makes these different, I wondered.

In a very pleasant phone call, Ms. Gallo ‘splained it to me, and laid out her vision for the future.

“I adore making wine,” she began. “I love being out in the vintage. When I began learning winemaking in 1991, we were extremely focused on Sonoma, and I was running the experimental area in Modesto, working with wines from all over California. So I had a good foundation and understanding of those wines. Our first vintage wines were in 1991 – I was really green as far as creating wine, I had more of a farming background.”

Over the years, she explained, she spent most of her time working on the estate wines and single vineyard wines. “Understanding the different areas for these three grapes, I wanted to use our estate fruit, sustainably farmed.”

The 2010 Gallo Signature Series Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($30) is sourced from the Laguna Ranch vineyard, the first vineyard purchased by Ernest and Julio, back in 1977. At that time, there was no AVA there – it was vinis unknownis for the most part. I don’t know if the current vines date back that far, but they have undeniable power and charm. This wine, loaded with tropical fruit flavors, moves well beyond the buttery/fruity California style. The alcohol is listed at a comfortable 14.5 percent, and the wine has marvelous poise and balance, exceptional length, and tastes just as good if not better on the second day.

The 2010 Gallo Signature Series Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir ($35) comes from a region widely admired for making some of California’s finest pinots. It’s fruit forward, with strong, sweet candy flavors of berries and cherries, and good focus. To my palate, the wine seems a bit front-loaded, without the herbal earthiness that adds depth and gravitas to the best Oregon pinots. But Ms. Gallo finds it tilting toward a European style, with “some earthiness, dark fruit, and more restraint.”

The 2008 Gallo Signature Series Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($40) includes small amounts of Petit Verdot and Petite Sirah, all sourced from the rather cool William Hill and Monte Rosso vineyards. Cherry and cocoa rule the palate, which is fresh, flavorful, and modestly-proportioned.

A second chardonnay, sourced from the Two Rocks vineyard in the Sonoma Coast AVA is also in the works. This will be more in a mineral/racy style, fermented largely (or possibly entirely) in cement tanks, says Gallo. That will come out next spring.

As part of an ongoing program to consolidate the “Family” offerings, Gallo says the single vineyard Gallo Family wines and the reserves will be eliminated. There will be just two tiers – an Estate tier, and the Signature Series. This latter will be sold principally on-premise and in specialty retailers, not grocery stores.

Given the focus on the legacy of both vineyards and family, I asked Ms. Gallo about plans for the recently-purchased Columbia winery here in Washington. She apologized for not yet having made a visit to the facility, but promised to do so soon.

“The synergy of that acquisition is history,” she told me. “Understanding that history, and how do we bring that back in the wine? As far as what has happened with changing hands, there needs to be a focus on the wines. You’ll see more focus, more understanding of where those wines really are from and what they’re about.”

Certainly there are few, if any brands in the Northwest with a comparable legacy. As I first noted in this blog when the acquisition was announced, there is reason for optimism. I very much enjoyed my conversation with Gina Gallo, and I look forward to a meeting in person as soon as her travels bring her this way.

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