Time Magazine featured Ernest and Julio Gallo on the cover of the magazine in November, 1972.
Legend has it that Ernest and Julio Gallo began their winery by borrowing money from Ernest's mother-in-law, Teresa Franzia, and finding pamphlets about making wine in the McHenry Library. The legend is true.
It was shortly after Prohibition had been repealed in 1933 when the Gallo Brothers began their winery. As Ernest explains in the book, “Ernest and Julio Gallo: Our Story,” they had made homemade wine that tasted like grape juice in December and vinegar in June.
“Obviously, we did not know anything about commercial winemaking. Though money was tight, we searched for a qualified winemaker to hire. But the wait for Repeal to come about had been too long for many experienced winemakers from the pre-Prohibition times . . . unable to hire experienced winemaking help, Julio and I would be completely on our own.
“I went to the Modesto library to look for a book on winemaking. I told the librarian what I had in mind, but she found nothing on the shelves. After all, we were just ending more than a decade of national Prohibition, during which there had been no call for winemaking. As I turned to leave, she remembered some old pamphlets in the basement. ‘There might be some about winemaking from before Prohibition,’ she said. ‘Why don’t you go down and see?’
“I went downstairs and found a stack of magazines and pamphlets. I went through it, and found a pamphlet on fermentation and one on the care of wine by Professor Frederic T. Bioletti of the Department of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California at Davis, published prior to Prohibition. Bioletti had been in the forefront of research being done in enology around the turn of the century. The pamphlets were among a series published by the university, making results of various enological experiments available to early winemakers. These were exactly what we needed. ‘You’re welcome to them,’ the librarian said.
“This was the beginning of our knowledge about making commercial wine, such as how to have a sound, clean fermentation, and how to clarify the wine. These old pamphlets probably saved us from going out of business our very first year . . .”
The brothers are both gone now, but Gallo Wines are known the world over. The winery is still headquartered in Modesto on Yosemite Boulevard and owns brands and wineries that range from the Central Valley to the North Coast, Sonoma and the Napa Valley as well asl importing wines from Italy, Australia and other regions throughout the world. They also make E&J Brandy along with other types of spirits.
Ernest & Julio Gallo Winery
How It Began in 1933
"They have been involved in every major change in the industry over the past 70 years," said Vic Motto, wine business analyst with Motto Kryla & Fisher. "One could argue that we wouldn't have the wine industry we have today if it hadn't been for the Gallo family," Motto said.
It was the good fortune of Modesto and the San Joaquin Valley to have a climate that many believe is similar to that of the Mediterranean region, especially that of Italy. Both grapes and olives grow in this California location as well as they do in the warm, earthy climate of Tuscany or the Piedmont regions of Italy. Vineyards are plentiful in a stretch of the valley that begins in the hillsides of Amador County and stretches as far south as Fresno. But the richest area can be found nearer to Modesto from Livingston all the way up to Lodi.
It is no wonder then that two young brothers whose parents had immigrated to America from Italy, would find their calling in the soil of Central California and in an infant industry that they would change forever. Whether it was simply creating a brand identity known throughout the world, or refining the way that the fruit of the vine was turned into the beverage of their heritage, Ernest and Julio Gallo would leave their mark on winemaking that indelibly makes them the two most influential businessmen to venture forth from Modesto. Julio became the innovative wiinemaker and Ernest was the expert marketing executive. Their privately-owned winery would become the largest in the world.