Gina Gallo recently was the first woman to give a keynote luncheon address at the Unified Wines and Grape Symposium, the largest wine industry meeting in America. She’s the senior director of winemaking for E. & J. Gallo, but also a wife and mother to two young children, and a breast cancer survivor.
E. & J. Gallo was founded by her grandfather Julio and grand uncle Ernest 85 years ago. It has become the largest wine company in America, if not the world; but it remains nimbler than most of its smaller competitors.
Gallo’s family and company were intertwined. “I can remember gathering around the table every night. There was never a family dinner without a bottle of wine,” she recalled.
The children were fully involved in the process. “With my parents and grandparents, my siblings and I would help grow and pick fresh fruits and vegetables in our family garden,” she said. “It is where I began my love for the land and of fresh, interesting flavors. I was learning the cycle of a growing season, the importance of flavor development and of trusting your instincts. I was learning the patience of waiting for the fruit or vegetable to fully ripen, and in waiting for that perfect moment to pick. I was learning how to take our knowledge and make future harvests better and more flavorful.”
It was through the family meals and gatherings that they built a camaraderie between brothers, sisters and the many cousins—those who would become her company as well. The community included grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles.
“At these meals, we shared memories and laughed—there is truly no better story teller than a grandparent. Through these stories, I learned about our family history in a very special way, as well as our family’s values, including compassion, hard work and integrity.
“There aren’t heated moments or disagreements—after all, we’re a big, passionate, Italian and multi-cultural family filled with people with strong opinions. But we always work out our differences because we have the same goals and the same values.”
She added, “We have a set of values to guide our family winery: integrity, respect, humility, innovation, commitment and teamwork.”
She led Gallo’s move into better wines starting in Sonoma County, and continues to lead winemaking.
Her personal life has changed dramatically, too. Still passionate about work, Gallo insists on spending time with her family. She is married and a mother of young twin girls. Her husband is flamboyant and outgoing Jean-Charles Boisset of one of the largest wine families in France, as well as owner of Raymond, Buena Vista, de Loach and more in California.
Gallo admits that finding time to balance her work and personal lives is her greatest challenge. On top of those challenges, she was struck with cancer; and fortunately, her communities—led by Boisset—supported her.
One of the most important women in the wine business, Gina Gallo remains modest and even a bit shy, but warm and friendly. Her big family brought her up well.
Paul Franson lives in Napa Valley, CA.