Gina Gallo: Eleven questions, eleven answers
SH: What kind of year was 2009 for E&J Gallo?
GG: We came through it, thank goodness, due to the planning of my father [Bob] and [Uncle] Joe. Obviously, international is having a tough time, but when you look at domestic, we’ve never lost focus. So the portfolio being diverse [helped]. Maybe someone wasn’t willing [to spend] on a higher priced wine, but was for Gallo of Sonoma at $14. We certainly saw the high-priced wines slow down. Also, it goes back to the structure of the company. We’re at a good place, and that’s helped tremendously.
What were your strongest performing brands last year?
Louis M. Martini is rocking — the Sonoma [County] you can get for $14. Barefoot on fire. Alamos Malbec [Mendoza]. And Frei Bros. is hot.
Weakest performing brands of 2009?
Some of the hardest sells were the international — Red Bicyclette, Europe, because of the exchange [rate]. McWilliams [Australia]. And our top end Australian, Clarendon Hills Syrah. It gets fabulous ratings, but at $100, tough tough tough.
Any information on whether 2010 will bring improvement?
Before it gets worse, or stays the same? [laughs] That’s the big question. Nothing educated, but we’re going to be riding it a little longer. We’ve seen the percentage of per capita drinking wine [in America] is still growing, so in that regard, we’re supposed to be up 9% this year, speaking in general for the industry. That’s a positive thing. So we’re anticipating good growth in 2010.
Is it a seller’s market or a buyer’s market for bulk wine and grapes?
It’s more of a buyer’s market, although it’s complex with different varietals and regions. In general, there’s more grapes than mouths to feed — that’s just basic supply and demand. Not necessarily in Napa-Sonoma, but in Central Coast you can get decent prices.
Gallo hasn’t purchased any wineries for a while. Anything going on?
There’s nothing to announce. We’re always looking, as you know. William Hill was the last one. So nothing new.
How come the company never went public and will it ever?
Our biggest strength is staying private. We can move faster and invest in the long term, and we’re not accountable to paying back money to elsewhere.
As the family gets bigger, is everyone assured of a decent job?
Well, not everyone wants to work for the business. You’re always looking at who’s the best person for the job, and if it’s someone who’s not a family member, they get it. That’s been drilled into our heads. That’s what we believe and how we work. But it does get more challenging as family gets larger. It takes more planning.
The company has largely depended on MacMurray Ranch for Pinot Noir, in addition to a little from Gallo Family, Frei Bros. and maybe a few others. With Pinot so hot in the market, do you have plans to launch new brands or regions?
Well, MacMurray Pinot could be [about] finding the best pinot in Oregon or Santa Rita, so we want to expand into different areas. Frei is, as you know, about Sonoma County. And we have some small production from Gallo Family.
What wine did you drink last night?
One was [Gallo of Sonoma] Laguna Chardonnay, 1998 …awesome! Russian River ages extremely well. More of that terroir, the acid was still great. And the other one was an old Bordeaux, 1972, Pichon Lalande.
How’s married life? [Ms. Gallo married J.C. Boisset last September]
Awesome! Still smiling.