Gallo Be Thy Name: The Inside Story of How One Family Rose to Dominate the U.S. Wine Market
The “inside story” of the Gallo wine empire and its progenitors, brothers Ernest and Julio, Gallo Be Thy Name is an engaging and thoughtful look at the making of the world’s largest privately held, family-owned winemaker. Jerome Tuccille, author of more than two-dozen books—including respective biographies of Donald Trump and Alan Greenspan, four novels, and several how-to guides—mostly succeeds in the endeavor. While readers of true crime and celebrity tell-alls will no doubt revel in Tuccille’s tales of murder, familial rancor, deception, and mafia dealings, devotees of wine economics will appreciate Tuccille’s faithful recounting of the Gallo family’s saga as a story of two sons of an Italianimmigrant family rebuilding the American wine market, one jug at a time. From exposing the Gallo family’s well-guarded successes during Prohibition to its post-Prohibition expansion and subsequent boom as the result of savvy marketing and distribution decisions, Tuccille shows Ernest and Julio together possessed a unique ability to respond to the demands of the American wine consumer across more than seven turbulent decades.1
Tuccille presents his work in five roughly chronological “books,” each of which—in keeping with the reference within the book’s title—borrows its name and theme from the Bible. Book One, “Our Father,” tells the story of Gallo wine patriarch Joseph Gallo and the family’s emergence from poverty during—and because of—its concurrent strategy of legal grape growing and land acquisition coupled with its illegal winemaking and distribution during Prohibition. Tuccille reminds readers that Prohibition, in spite of its aim to ban consumer sales of alcohol, had the effect instead of giving rise to an underground economy of bribery and illicit sales in which only the strong, daring, and ingenious survived. Since wine—unlike beer or hard liquor—could be used legally for religious purposes during Prohibition, demand for “sacramental” wine jumped by 800,000 gallons over a two-year period in the mid-1920s, and wine consumption doubled. Right in the thick of the wine trade during Prohibition was the Gallo family. W.C. Fields, the great showman, could never blame the Gallo family for the dreadful period during Prohibition when, he claimed, he “was forced to live for days on nothing but food and water.”
Tuccille paints Gallo patriarch Joseph as a cruel authoritarian who, in partnership with his mob-connected brother Mike—“the Al Capone of the West Coast”—thought nothing of sending an adolescent Ernest, riding a train packed with grapes and vine-glo, a “jellied ‘wine juice’” that magically transformed into wine once mixed with water and allowed to ferment, to Chicago to sell to mobster Al Capone and his henchmen. Both Ernest and Julio, who made similar trips to the East Coast, hated the travel. But these trips taught Ernest business acumen, and allowed Julio to befriend expert winemakers, who shared with him the secrets of raising quality grapes. Thus, while both brothers would have preferred to remain in California, the travel helped settle the brothers into what would become their lifelong roles: Ernest the tough and savvy businessman, and Julio the inventive and gifted winemaker.
Book Two, “Thy Will Be Done,” opens with the winding down of Prohibition in 1933, and takes the reader through the 1940s. The repeal of Prohibition followed on the heels of the deaths of Joseph and matriarch Susie Gallo, who perished at the hand of a gun, under mysterious circumstances, at the family’s Fresno farm earlier that year. Their deaths left
1 For those whose interest in beverage economics runs beyond wine to distilled spirits, Tuccille’s work should whet the palate for an upcoming book by Daniel S. Pierce on the origins of NASCAR, the auto-racing sanctioning body. The success of NASCAR, which came into being thanks to the automotive feats of bootleg liquor supplymen in the South during Prohibition, shares many common themes with the early accomplishments of the Ernest and Julio Gallo Winery.
See DANIEL S. PIERCE
Real NASCAR: White Lightning, Red Clay, and Big Bill France
The University of North Carolina Press
Chapel Hill, 2010, 352 pp.
Ernest and Julio in charge of both the wine business and of raising younger brother Joe. The brothers were well positioned to succeed in the post-Prohibition market, having been one of but a few winemakers to weather temperance. Still, the re-legalization of wine quickly devalued their product. They needed both to grow and to streamline their operations. After formally establishing the Ernest & Julio Gallo Winery in 1933, Tuccille recounts how the brothers capitalized on their existing contacts—often those still in the underworld, or those who (like the Gallos themselves) had crossed over from the grey economy to legitimacy—and used both their ingenuity and drive to revolutionize the wine business. The brothers purchased a winery space next to a rail line to make shipping more efficient, and snatched up a competitor in order to expand storage capacity. They traveled to meetings by airplane, saving valuable time, while their competitors still traveled by train. And the winery also focused on vertical integration, creating its own distribution channels when existing distributors rejected their overtures to supply Gallo to an everexpanding audience. On the marketing end, Ernest introduced a series of innovations, including placing promotional displays in stores that sold Gallo products and creating an aggressive, carrot-and-stick-driven sales force.
Perhaps the most interesting competitive advantage Gallo Winery enjoyed was the result of familial competition between the brothers themselves. It’s a story of specialization Adam Smith himself would love. Ernest’s goal, writes Tuccille, was to sell more wine than Julio could produce, while Julio’s aim was to produce more than Ernest could sell. When Ernest outdid Julio in this respect, the brothers began to buy grapes from other Napa growers so that supply could keep up with demand. While Tuccille makes clear that Ernest was a businessman nonpareil, it’s possible Julio, the expert winemaker, lost the competition because his heart was elsewhere. From early on in their venture, Julio had hoped that the American wine palate—dulled by the strong liquor and sweet wine prevalent during Prohibition—might recover its senses so that he could make the dry, high-quality, varietal wines he preferred. Still, the market forced Julio for decades to produce a stable of cheap, sweet, nondescript reds and whites. Julio’s lifelong wish would not come to fruition until near the time of his death several decades later.
Book Three, “Thy Kingdom Come,” explores the Gallo Winery’s innovations during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. If the period immediately following Prohibition was about fortifying the company’s position in the marketplace, the next three decades were the story of the Gallo family’s viticultural manifest destiny. During these decades, writes Tuccille, the brothers would not rest until their wines covered the whole of the country, which set the stage during subsequent decades for their global expansion. Though in 1955 Gallo was still only sold in twenty states, Tuccille writes, by 1960 it was the number one winery in the country. The winery’s continuing growth was fueled by just the sort of cheap, sweet plonk Julio hated—Thunderbird, Ripple, and Boone’s Farm—but that America loved. It was because of the latter, Boone’s, that Time dubbed Gallo the “kings of pop wine.”
Fitting for a privately held, global corporation operating in a highly regulated market, the history of the Gallo wine empire is rife with legal, familial, and political struggles.
As Book Three closes with Ernest and Julio effectively sacking younger brother Joe Jr. from his position as a winery employee, under the guise of giving him the freedom to spend more time operating his own farm, Book Four, “Deliver Us From Evil,” begins with the Gallo winery’s damaging battle against Cesar Chavez and California’s grape pickers. While Ernest at first backed the rights of workers to organize, his failure to yield to all of the workers’ demands led Chavez to urge a boycott of Gallo wines. As the dispute dragged on, the California Agricultural Relations Board sided for Chavez and against Gallo. The Federal Trade Commission, meanwhile, issued a consent order against Gallo after having reviewed the company’s vertical integration for antitrust violations. But it would be a mistake to look at Gallo Winery as merely a recipient of so much judicial and regulatory bombardment. The Gallo empire—dating back to its early days, as Tuccille recounts—was adept at using litigation and lobbying to achieve its own ends. The Gallo family was a frequent political contributor, and had succeeded in using its clout to earn special tax dispensations and to push back against efforts to open U.S. markets to cheap foreign wines. Gallo had also trademarked its name in the early 1940s, and scrupulously protected the trademark in a series of court cases over the years.
The most famous and acrimonious of the trademark cases, by far, and which is the focus of Book Four and a good portion of Book Five, “Gallo Be Thy Name,” was Ernest and Julio’s decision to sue younger brother Joe Gallo. Ernest and Julio first told Joe, who had founded “Joseph Gallo Vineyards” after being fired by his brothers, and who was selling cheese under the name “Joseph Gallo Cheese,” to desist from using the Gallo name—his own name—on his products. When Joe balked, and negotiations broke down, Ernest and Julio sued Joe. After the youngest brother learned during the course of the litigation that his parents had left a will entitling him to one-third of their winery— something his older brothers, who had raised him after their parents’ deaths, never told Joe—he countersued. The case wound through the courts from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s, and was ultimately decided in favor of Ernest and Julio. Joe, his relationship with his brothers broken, was forbidden to use the Gallo name, and renamed his product line “Joseph Farms.”
Book Five closes with the deaths of Ernest and Julio and a consideration of today’s Gallo Winery. While Gallo’s growth throughout the twentieth century had rested on the making and selling of pop wine, and cut-throat business tactics, Tuccille shows the new generation of Gallos who now run the company, including foxy young executive Gina Gallo—with whom Tuccille is clearly smitten—have a more modern view of the wine business. From its EPA-recognized environmental stewardship, to its embrace of globalization, to its production of quality wines—long Julio’s dream—that have won acclaim and awards from critics in the U.S. and Europe, Gallo today is a company respected not just by industry and economists, but by environmentalists and wine journalists as well. So while it’s still possible to walk into nearly any wine seller in America and buy a 1.5L bottle of Carlo Rossi Paisano for about seven dollars, domestic and foreign Gallo-owned vineyards are producing high-quality, in-demand 750ml varietals for only a few dollars more.
At least two noteworthy accounts of Ernest and Julio Gallo preceded Tuccille’s. The first, Ellen Hawkes’s 1993 Blood & Wine: The Unauthorized Story of the Gallo Wine Empire, presents many of the same facts as does Tuccille, though in a sometimes-melodramatic and overly wordy manner. (Hawkes describes Gallo brother Joseph, in the span of two pages, as a man who “sometimes lost his temper,” “was so upset that he phoned Julio,” and “was so distraught … that he phoned Julio”.) (312–313)2 Blood & Wine, as Tuccille writes in his book’s acknowledgments section, focuses more on the “dark side” of Ernest Gallo. In doing so, notes Tuccille, Hawkes fails to give Ernest his proper due as a “genius … who created the largest and most powerful wine empire in the world.” It is that consideration of genius that, ultimately, is what distinguishes Tuccille’s work from that of Hawkes and makes it an important study of American wine and capitalism. The other account of the Gallo Winery, which followed a year after Hawkes’s, Ernest & Julio: Our Story, was written by the brothers themselves (with author Bruce B. Henderson), and presents, writes Tuccille, “the brothers’ version of their family and business history as they wanted the public to see it.” Tuccille no doubt noted the gap in what the public knew about the Gallo story—some of it too dark, some of it too maudlin—and sought to fill that gap with Gallo Be Thy Name.
If Tuccille’s work has any glaring weaknesses, one is its lack of an index and notes— both of which are strengths of Hawkes’s work. Tuccille also fumbles in his treatment of the death of Joseph and Susie, the parents of Ernest, Julio, and Joe. While the book opens with a consideration of their mysterious deaths, which is often referenced later during the litigation between Ernest and Julio, on the one side, and Joe, on the other, Tuccille never gives the reader a clear vision of his beliefs about the cause of their deaths. Throughout his book, Tuccille neither embraces the official police version of the events, one also sanctioned by Ernest and Julio—that financial difficulties led Joseph to first shoot his wife and then himself—nor does he adopt the view of some that the parents were both victims of a mob hit. It is confusing, then, when in the acknowledgements section of the book Tuccille twice refers to the “murders” of Joseph and Susie.
From seed to vine, and cellar to seller, and with their own sweat and muscle, Ernest and Julio Gallo shaped and dominated the wine business in America. Gallo Be Thy Name is a worthy tribute to the Gallo brothers because, though billed as an “inside story,” Tuccille writes in fact as an admiring though even-handed outsider given access to the Gallo family. By focusing on the Gallos as American entrepreneurs and wine pioneers, while eschewing the fawning Tuccille saw in the brothers’ autobiography and forsaking the emotional verbosity and single-minded focus on the dark underbelly sometimes evident in Ellen Hawkes’s work on the Gallo family, Gallo Be Thy Name stands out as an important contribution to the study of the American wine sector.
Baylen J. Linnekin
University of Arkansas School of Law
2) ELLEN HAWKES: Blood & Wine: The Unauthorized Story of the Gallo Wine Empire, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1993, 464 pp.