On Rejuvenating Wine in America: Abridged

This is an abridged version of a story because they were many more events than these. It’s also part 3 of the series: Part 1 (the industry’s start), and Part 2 (the link between wine and temperance). For Part 4, the post following this one, click here.

The end of prohibition was not a good time for the wine industry because most wineries closed, growers replaced wine grapes with domestic grapes, old equipment, and a lack of knowledgeable winemakers. So, reclamation for the industry would be years away – but two names would lead the way to fine wines in America – Gallo and Mondavi – but they will do it in different ways.

Nearly broke, family members loaned two brothers $5000 to start a winery. With Ernest as the idea generator and marketer, and Julio as the winemaker, the Gallo brothers set their sights on returning wine to the America by producing wines for daily consumption through modern production methods.

Going into Prohibition, 25% of wine sales involved sweet, fortified wines. Interestingly, following Prohibition, a sweet, fortified (high alcohol) wine actually led wine’s comeback. That’s right – a wine called Thunderbird, the one associated with town drunks (winos), was an early Gallo success! After all, they could produce it quickly and with low-quality grapes.

Unlike Nicholas Longworth’s ambition of bringing culture to America through wine, Ernest had the knack of visioning new products for an untapped market, thus Julio developed the wine to meet those needs. Gallo ultimately achieved successful through names as Livingstone California Burgundy and Paisano. Popular labels as Boone’s Farm, André Cold Duck, and Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers helped grow Gallo’s profits.

By the early 1990s, Gallo (now the largest winery in the US), one of every four wine purchase was a Gallo brand. At this time, to grow into finer wines, the corporation started purchasing land in Sonoma County.

Today, after 75 years of wine making, Gallo wines remain a powerful force. With the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of Ernest and Julio involved in the company, Gallo claims to be the largest family-owned winery in the world, plus the largest exporter of California wine. Grocery stores with large wine selections carry many Gallo labels, most of which consumers don’t know. After all, Gallo now offers over 6o brands/labels.

Enjoy this report from NBC about Gallo.

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Previous posts in this series

Part 1: Wine in America (the start)

Part 2: Wine and Temperance (leading up to Prohibition)

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32 thoughts on “On Rejuvenating Wine in America: Abridged

  1. I once visited their HQ in Modesto, CA. Quite an amazing place even in the mid- 1970s. And when we were in Switzerland/France, Gallo was the only American wine we could get. Turning Leaf was on our table for every holiday while we were overseas!

    • Elyse,
      Wow … I didn’t realize they shipped Turning Leaf to Europe. Now you got me wondering about their exports. :) … I just read they export to 90 countries!

      • We would get it in a special duty free shop we had access to for special occasions — but the crap Gallo was the only American wine sold in either the Swiss or the French stores. We didn’t bother!

  2. This is really interesting, Frank. I didn’t know a thing about the Gallo family, except the obvious, that yes, their wines are everywhere! 60 brands and labels is quite an industry. I remember their major advertising on television when I was a child and the actors who portrayed Ernest and Julio. Such an interesting post, Frank. :-)

    • Debra,
      Before this, I knew they have an empire, but I really didn’t know the role they played in helping the wine industry recover from Prohibition. Simply huge. Plus, being that my parents owned a small-town tavern, I knew the town drunks who bought the fortified wines as Thunderbird and cheap port.

      A couple of extra notes for you. In 2008, Gallo had 7 wineries in California (only bottling in Modesto), plus 14 wineries across the world!

  3. My two conditions for trying one of Gallo’s red wines are that (1) it has you personal recommendation, and (2) it’s in my price range of under $32.

  4. I remember Boone’s Farm (and Pagan Pink Ripple). That’s a nice series, Frank. Today, there is an abundance of quality wines from around the world. It is a pleasure to try as many as possible. Apparently, they are doing the right things in creating their wines.

  5. It’s amazing to hear how many labels one company might own. Locally, we have had an explosion in wineries. Some are rather good, others not so much. I love walking through the vineyards in Europe. They’ve had so many years of experience in doing it right.

    • Renee,
      I’ve been to many of the wineries near Charlottesville. Impressive … and Virginia is an fast-rising wine state. The locals impressed me by how they supported the wineries. As for Gallo, make no mistake about this, they are one big company!

  6. Pingback: On Fine Wines in America: Abridged | A Frank Angle

  7. Pingback: On Wine and Temperance in America: Abridged | A Frank Angle

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