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Q&A: Gina Gallo, Winemaker

Q&A: Gina Gallo, Winemaker
© Tyler Colman
Gina Gallo, granddaughter of Julio Gallo, is the winemaker of the Gallo Signature Series, based in Sonoma. She is married to Jean-Charles Boisset, from the family that is Burgundy's largest wine producer. They live in Robert and Margrit Mondavi’s former hilltop property in Yountville with their twin daughters, born in 2011.

How old will your daughters be when they have their first wine?

When they were three minutes out of my tummy they had some JCB Rosé. Jean-Charles insisted. I didn’t get an epidural, so I almost said, 'Give me that bottle!'

Do you want your daughters to be in the wine business? 

I want them to find their passion. If you ask my husband, he says they will definitely be working in the wine business. He has already designed a wine for them.

What would you do professionally if you weren’t in wine?

Something with children. Child development – their minds are like sponges. I also like the issue of balancing work and family life and might be involved in that somehow. 

What’s the wine you’ve most enjoyed in the past week (not your own)?

JCB#3. It’s a wine that blends Burgundy pinot noir with Russian River Valley fruit.

If I stopped by your place on a Tuesday night, which wine would likely be on the table?

Bubbles. Or maybe a Two Rock Chardonnay. Or Racer Five [a beer from Bear Republic].

What do you enjoy most about living in the hilltop estate that formerly belonged to Robert Mondavi?

Being back in nature. After being in the city, I didn’t realize how much I missed the country. The house – which is a large one-bedroom – blends indoor and outdoor living. It’s Zen-like.

What’s the most important factor for selling your wine? (e.g. critic scores, point of sale, brand name)

Definitely recommendations from friends, since this wine is about bringing people together with their family and friends. Hopefully it’s a wow wine! Third-party recommendations are important and this wine is 65 percent in restaurants, so the opinions of sommeliers matter.

Sommeliers: the new gatekeepers or overrated?

The good ones are extremely powerful and very helpful for people. I don’t like the word gatekeeper, though! The whole waitstaff is important – it’s so valuable for the restaurant to have someone who can represent wines properly.

L-R: The winery was founded by brothers Ernest and Julio Gallo; Gina's wines were served at this year's Screen Actors Guild awards in L.A.
© AFP | L-R: The winery was founded by brothers Ernest and Julio Gallo; Gina's wines were served at this year's Screen Actors Guild awards in L.A.

Did you ever think about a different name for the Gallo of Sonoma wines?

No. Then we would be any other wine company. I’d never be able to make these wines if it weren’t for my family. It’s a natural progression. Definitely there are brands you can create, but for me it’s about who’s behind that wine. It differentiates us from the rest of the wine world.

Has the role of critics increased or diminished in recent years?

The internet is increasing – it’s huge. Critics are holding their own, not going up in influence. Power to the people is a powerful trend right now.

The 100-point scale: love it or hate it?

I don’t hate it by any means. I respect other individuals’ ratings. Do I want a 100? Sure. An interesting question for wine in America is: Do you think we’d be farther if we never had critics?

What do you think would be the key component of your legacy?

Hopefully, our little girls are happy and love each other and find their passion – that alone would be a great legacy. On the wine side, I’d hope people would remember me as fun, honest, and someone who loved making wine and her community.

If you could eat one last meal at a restaurant anywhere in the world, which would it be?

Sushi-hana in Sonoma. He could go up against Morimoto!

Oak and chardonnay: what’s the right blend?

What the person across from you likes! Balance is important and I like the Chablis style – racy. We ferment the Two Rock Chardonnay in concrete eggs. I never want to finish a wine with oak or sweetness.

Autumnal vines in California's Russian River Valley
© Wikipedia | Autumnal vines in California's Russian River Valley

What’s the future of Sonoma for wine?

Huge. If we’re climbing to 6,000 feet we’re still at the beginning, near 1,000 feet. There’s tremendous potential.

A recent study on climate change suggested that the map of American vineyards could be radically redrawn in coming decades. What are you doing about that?

In Napa and Sonoma we’re not seeing that dramatic change. Now, we’re seeing [a] cooler climate. It depends on where you’re located. We’re not going to wake up in 100 years and Napa and Sonoma are like the Mojave Desert. 

The same study suggested a conflict between vineyard development and wildlife. How do you strike the right balance?

We have a one-to-one giveback plan. We would never go in and just develop a vineyard entirely: we set aside one acre for every acre of vineyard developed. In Santa Lucia in Monterrey we planted 1,200 oak trees. We’re working on re-establishing the Laguna watershed coming off the Russian River: over the years it’s been forgotten about and wasted. 

We’re also involved with the Wine Institute in their Code of Sustainability that balances nature and land. Everything we do in developing a vineyard is extremely cautious – not just for me, but also thinking about my kids and the future. It’s the way we do business.

America: a great country to be a wine consumer in or the greatest?

The greatest! I love London. They have a lot of great wines there. But this is the greatest marketplace – you can find everything here.

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  • Comments

    Aileen Robbins wrote:
    23-May-2013 at 16:58:07 (GMT)

    Great questions, and equally great responses, typical of Gina: direct, honest, full of intelligence and humanity. Loved that the twins had their first taste of wine within 3 minutes of birth. Gina and Jean-Charles are a great example of American Wine royalty, especially with the French connection. It is also so refreshing to see how involved she is (as is J-C), not only with her family and her community, but with the health of the planet. Vive Gina!








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