Gallo is one of the first names in American wine. Depending on who tells it, the family business was either started by Ernest and Julio in 1933 or by their father during the prohibition. Either way, this family business has been wildly successful – especially in the lower end of the market.
Names like Bartles & Jaymes, Barefoot Cellars, Carlo Rossi represent good quality at the very lower end of the market. In fact, according to Impact Databank, “about 75% of E&J Gallo’s U.S. volume is comprised of below-$10 brands.” They also have a huge presence in the levels above that with brands like Mirrassou, Alamos, Apothic, DaVinci, Turning Leaf – to name a few.
About forty years ago, the Gallo family started looking at Sonoma County for the quality of its grapes – especially Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. This led to them create higher-end wines from well-known sites such as Laguna and MacMurry Ranches in the Russian River Valley, as well as Frei Ranch in Dry Creek Valley.
A few years back, Gina Gallo decided she wanted to create a series of wines with her personal stamp or signature, hence Gallo Signature Series. She chose what she felt were the family’s best vineyard sites for the grape varieties she wanted to utilize. The relatively small production wines each have her signature on the label.
Of these wines she says: “Our entrée into the $20 and over category began with our Gallo Estate wines in 1991. Two decades later, the ultra-premium market remains a vital, growing part of our business. Over the years, we’ve gained access to some of the most sought-after vineyards throughout California, giving us the opportunity to select extraordinary grapes for our fine wines, most notably our Gallo Signature Series.”
Kristina Kelley, Director of Public Relations at Gallo, also told me that the planning for Gallo Signature Series really started with the 2008 vintage. She said: “With the addition of the William Hill Estate Vineyard into the Gallo portfolio in 2007, there was an opportunity for Gina to showcase a Cabernet from the Napa Valley along with a Chardonnay from the Gallo family’s estate vineyards in the Russian River Valley and a Pinot Noir from their Olson Ranch in the Santa Lucia Highlands.”
I’ve tried each of the wines several times and was very impressed by them all. Most recently I had them at lunch with Gina at Rouge Tomate. I didn’t know what to expect when I met her. Pascaline Lepeletier, the restaurant’s sommelier, told me she was very down to earth and a really nice person.
Pascaline was absolutely correct. Gina is the kind of person who would be so easy to hate, if she weren’t so easy to like.
Gina is energetic, smart, funny and very interesting. She is obviously passionate about her wines and her young family. She has twin girls, Honorée-Josephine and Grace-Antoinette, with her husband Jean-Charles Boisset, head of the family that is France’s fifth largest wine producer. Even though the girls are heirs to an amazing and huge international wine patrimony. Gina says that “most of all we (she and Jean-Charles) want them to follow their own passions and always find a way to give back to their communities and the world.”
Please “view the list” to see my reviews of these wines.
2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Most of the grapes for this wine come from the William Hill Estate Vineyard in southern Napa. With a southwest exposure, it is set above the valley floor but below the mountain tops – so it’s sunny but not very windy. The temperature drops at night help the grapes maintain excellent acidity. The wine displays that acidity as well as dark fruits and chocolate notes. The tannins are supple, and the finish long. The 2009 vintage can be found for $35 at K and D Wines in Manhattan.
2011 Gallo Signature Series Chardonnay
Most of the grapes for this wine come from the family’s Laguna Ranch Vineyard in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley. The cool Pacific Ocean fog is instrumental to grape growing here as it drifts into the valley through the Petaluma Wind Gap. This helps temper the sunshine and heat to produce a longer growing season. The wine itself shows excellent balance of fruit and acidity, and the oak does not dominate. It’s creamy and clean on the finish. Varmax Liquor Pantry in Portchester carries it for $25.
2011 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
The grapes for this wine are grown on the family’s Olson Ranch in the Santa Lucia Highlands, which is part of Monterey County. As Napa is known for its Cabernet, this region is known for its Pinot. The elevation is high with sunny mornings and cooling afternoon breezes. The grapes on the sunny side of the vineyard are picked first, destemmed, and the stems are allowed to dry in the sun. Ten days later the rest are picked and blended with the dried stems for added complexity in the wine.
The wine is interesting and complex with notes of berries and lavender integrated with sweet oak spices. It is medium bodied and with a lovely mouthfeel and long length. Bedford Wine Merchants has the 2010 vintage for $29.
Gina Gallo enjoying her Signature Series Chardonnay
Gina is the kind of person who would be so easy to hate, if she weren’t so easy to like. She is energetic, smart, funny and very interesting. She is obviously passionate about her wines and her young family. She has twin girls, Honorée-Josephine and Grace-Antoinette, with her husband Jean-Charles Boisset, head of the family that is France’s fifth largest wine producer.