As an avid fan of California wine, I feel it is very appropriate to mark the passing of Ernest Gallo, who died this week. He and his brother Julio were the founders of Gallo wines, the wine making conglomerate that is estimated to currently produce about 80 million cases of wine a year. He died in Modesto, CA at the age of 97.
There are those who tend to look down on Gallo wines. They have something of a "jug wine" reputation. They produce Thunderbird, for goodness sake! You can't get any lower than bum wine.
Yet, as with so many things, that is not the whole story. I think every wine lover in the country owes Ernerst and Julio Gallo a debt of gratitude. Why? By the middle of the 20th century, the United States was a beer drinking nation, not a wine drinking nation. The efforts of the Gallo brothers did a lot to change that. Yes, they started out making inexpensive blended table wines, not chic vintage varietals. Everyone agrees, however, that they were always excellent wines for the money. Wine critic Robert Parker recalled drinking a bottle of Gallo Hearty Burgundy in college and remarked that "there are inferior bottles of wine for ten times the price." The Gallo brothers got a good, entry level wine on the tables of middle class America, where one had not existed before. This helped to create an environment where Miles Raymond can say "No, if anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am NOT drinking any fucking Merlot!" in Sideways and Merlot sales to slump while Pinot Noir sales to soar.
The Gallos now evidently also produce some excellent vintage wine in the Sonoma region of California. I must find some to sample. If I do, I will raise a glass and mark the passing of a Gallo family patriarch. Goodbye Ernest Gallo, and thank you.
on 2007-03-11 at 9:23 a.m.
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