Gina Gallo is American wine royalty, yet as unpretentious as one could imagine. Raised on a family farm in Modesto, California, she fondly recalls the camaraderie of her childhood. Her grandfather Julio Gallo was her mentor.
“We all lived on the same farm—close, but in different houses,” she tells me while in town for the recent Vancouver International Wine Festival. “It was so very important to learn from, to be surrounded by famiglia growing up.”
Of course, as a child hanging out at the family vineyards, Gina had no inkling of the trajectory California wines would take, or her pioneering clan’s participation in that success. In 1933, the brothers Ernest and Julio Gallo founded a winery in Modesto, California; Julio made the wine and Ernest sold it. They started small, but grew quickly. By 1966, E. & J. Gallo Winery was the largest (by sales volume) winery in the United States. Today, it’s the largest family–owned winery in the world, with over 70 products, including Barefoot Wine, La Marca Prosecco, and Apothic.
Gina hadn’t planned on working in wine, but after college, ended up in wine sales. She decided to go back to school at the University of California, Davis. “I needed to know the science behind wine,” she explains. “I was 20 or 21, I knew red, white and rosé. At home we drank it in goblets.”
And it was during a wine sensory class at UC Davis when things all clicked into place. When her grandfather found out she had excelled in the class he told her: “Gina, I would love to invite you, whenever you want, to join my tasting panel.” For a man of few words, his overture held great weight and so, in 1990, Gina was employed at their Modesto winery. A couple of years later, she began working on E. & J. Gallo’s smaller production premium estate wines.
Her timing on switching paths was ideal: “The [California] wine industry changed so fast, the iconic Napa cabs of the 1990s, those really changed things,” she notes. And, as the E. & J. Gallo empire continued to grow, so did the family.
Gina met Frenchman, Jean-Charles Boisset—also a titan of wine: The Boisset Collection is one of the world’s leading family–owned luxury fine wine companies, whose holdings spread from France to California, and from England to Canada. The couple married in 2009 and, while their main residence is in Napa Valley with their twin daughters, they spend about a quarter of the year in Burgundy, location of the Boisset family domain.
Today, Gina is vice-president of winemaking for both Gallo Estate Wines and her own creation, the Gallo Signature Series. While living a bicultural life within two of the world’s most famous wine families seems glamorous, Gina says she is most at home in the vineyard. “My father and grandfather, they loved gardening—that’s why I do what I do, why I love to be there,” she says. “My grandfather would say, ‘the richest goods are the soils beneath our boots.’
“He was a great man,” she adds. “I miss him.”
Undoubtedly, Julio (who passed away in 1993) would be proud of her. Now the face of the family business, Gina, who calls herself a “trained extrovert”, takes the most joy from her wines, and especially the four Gallo Signature Series wines, which bear her name.
In Vancouver, she pours a precise and crunchy Russian River Valley chardonnay, a fleshy and spicy Dry Creek Valley zinfandel, a silky and fragrant Santa Lucia Highlands pinot noir, and a fresh, but savoury Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon. “Make wines you like, and someone else out there will like them,” Gallo insists. And she’s right, there’s a powerful legacy of proof behind her words.