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Ernest Gallo's Dream of a Wine Business

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Ernest Gallo's Dream of a Wine Business


Ernest Gallo's Dream of a Wine Business

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris. With a loan from a relative and a recipe he found in the basement of a local public library, Ernest Gallo founded what would become at one point the world's largest winery. The legendary winemaker died Tuesday at his home in Modesto, California. He was 97.

Ernest Gallo and his brother Julio founded E&J Gallo Winery in 1993 with just three employees. From the beginning their goal was to turn American into a wine-drinking country by producing wine the average man could afford. Adam M. Strum is the editor and publisher of Wine Enthusiast magazine. He began his career working for the Gallo brothers, and he joins us now. So glad you're with us.

Mr. ADAM STRUM (Editor and Publisher, Wine Enthusiast Magazine): Delighted to be here, Michele.

NORRIS: Now when the Gallo brothers began their business, did they actually have a vision that California would one day hold this exalted place as a winemaking region?

Mr. STRUM: Well, they had a dream, and they believed in that dream. And their passion is what really drove wine and introduced wine to Americans. And they had a vision that some day America could be a wine-drinking nation. And it's really come to fruition in the last few years, but the building blocks of this wine-drinking nation were really founded by Ernest and Julio Gallo.

It's kind of interesting. These two men who really - their sales-marketing background was pretty much instinctual, but their techniques are today the prototype of sales and marketing textbooks in the best business schools in America.

NORRIS: Their techniques, tell me about them.

Mr. STRUM: Well, the understanding of what's really basic about getting your product in a place where people can see it, the best positioning, and understanding the retail and the dynamics of distributing products. They started with affordable and well-made wines which they believed would find their home on more American tables than any other. And Ernest single-handedly convinced consumers that wine was something they should try and they'd enjoy.

And one of the things they did was they took the risk, and they used television for a product that really wasn't well distributed, which touted delicious flavors of wine such as hardy burgundy and Chablis blanc. Those are some of their earlier wines. And because of this risk, more people would walk into the doors of these heretofore-called liquor stores and they asked for a product called wine.

NORRIS: Now I want to ask you specifically about the tragedy in the Gallo family. His father shot himself?

Mr. STRUM: They claim, okay, that his father shot his mother and his father. But, you know, we don't really know what happened. But when you think about someone like Ernest and Julio taking a personal tragedy like that and parlaying it into a passion, I think that's the real thing to focus on.

NORRIS: Eventually, Gallo did move into higher-end wines. They bought up some of their competitors, they started Gallo of Sonoma, a few other labels, but were they ever able to shake their reputation as a producer of table wines, wine for the common man?

Mr. STRUM: I think yes, and they had a difficult challenge because many people believe you need to build a brand top-down, but Ernest believed that he wanted to establish his brand with the largest audience of people. And they are creating some superb single-vineyards and Wine Enthusiast magazine ratings way into the 90s. So that's their goal and that's their message. They have great wines for people at all price points.

NORRIS: Well Adam Strum, thank you so much for sharing stories about your friend and your mentor. Thanks so much.

Mr. STRUM: Thank you, Michele. I appreciate the call.

NORRIS: That was Adam M. Strum. He's the editor and publisher of Wine Enthusiast magazine.

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