The forecast for E. & J. Gallo is bubbly and bright as wine still proves to be one of the world’s most recession-proof businesses.
Gallo’s latest milestones include the sale of 1 million cases of red wine to China, top honors for CEO Joe Gallo in January and expansion into Washington state, California’s Central Coast and numerous world markets.
Gallo offers 60 brands of wine, spirits and beverage products, owns nine wineries on the West Coast and has distribution rights for a host of wineries around the world. Do you know that Alamos, Miguel Gascon, Las Rocas, La Marca, Louis M. Martini, William Hill and MacMurray Ranch are part of the Gallo portfolio? Even Barefoot and Apothic Red.
And for being such a giant company, it still makes personal time for writers. There is probably not a wine columnist in the country in a major market that has not had a visit from Carmen Castorina or Kristina Kelley, communications/public relations chiefs for the world’s largest family-owned winery.
About 18 years ago, Carmen had lunch with me over a glass of Gallo’s Sauvignon Blanc at the Traffic Jam & Snug in Detroit, where he unfurled giant maps that showed locations for the future Sonoma vineyards for labels such as Gallo of Sonoma, Frei Brothers Reserve, Rancho Zabaco and Dancing Bull. Carmen is still regaling wine writers and Gallo has expanded far beyond the borders of Sonoma County.
Recently, I sat down with Gallo’s fine-wine anchor for the media, Kristina Kelley. We had lunch at Tria restaurant in The Henry Hotel in Dearborn, and she didn’t bring maps but a boatload of news on what’s happening at Gallo today.
Here’s the checklist:
Honors: Wine Enthusiast magazine named Joseph E. Gallo, 71, president and CEO, its 2012 Person of the Year, with honors coming Jan. 28, in New York City. Joseph is a son of the late Ernest Gallo.
Biggest area of expansion: That would be spirits thanks to Joe Gallo. Looking beyond the popular E&J Brandy, there are four new products and they are selling like hotcakes: New Amsterdam Gin and New Amsterdam Vodka, both made in the U.S.; Familia Camarena Tequila from Mexico; and Shellback Caribbean Rum from Barbados — all reasonably priced.
Pacific Northwest/California wine expansion: Gallo has acquired Columbia Valley Winery and its spin-off Covey Run in Washington. In the Central Coast appellation of California, it has purchased more vineyards in Monterey and a large winemaking facility in San Miguel along with a famous old brand, Edna Valley Vineyards. It already owns Bridlewood in Santa Barbara County.
Expansion in Italy: Gallo acquired U.S. distribution rights for Italy’s Brancaia wines made in Tuscany. They are available in the Detroit market.
Sales to China: Gallo’s old chestnut, Carlo Rossi, is the top imported wine brand in China with sales of 1 million cases in 2011. The inexpensive red wine sells for under $6 in the U.S. and about $11 in China — remember it has to be shipped there from California. Part of the appeal is said to be the name “Carlo Rossi,” which creates good vibes in the Chinese language.
Top selling wines in North America: Gallo’s sweet blend Apothic Red is the largest selling wine in Canada (it’s big in the U.S. too) and the Barefoot brand is the smash hit in the U.S.
And what wines did we sample with our arugula salad and caramelized onion and spinach risotto at The Henry? The dry, minerally, palate-cleansing La Marca Prosecco ($15 in stores) and the 2010 William Hill Napa Valley Chardonnay ($25 in stores) with its oak-kissed flavors of green apple, Bartlett pear, tropical fruit and lemon zest. Both are sold locally and are part of the amazing portfolio of Gallo wines.