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A Never-Ending Passion for Pinot Noir

Interview with Gina Gallo

For as long as Gina Gallo can remember, wine has always been part of her family experience. Growing up in a tight-knit tribe, she fondly remembers sitting around dinner tables with her family and enjoying vibrant conversations about the winery and vineyards, always over a bottle or two of wine.

Her parents and grandparents instilled in her the value of appreciating the land upon which they worked and harvested. “They showed us how the soil needs to be nurtured and protected,” Gallo recalls. “My grandfather had a saying, ‘the quality of the vineyard is in the footprints of the vineyard’s caretaker.’ That was one of the greatest lessons he gave to us. He showed us how to love and respect the earth beneath our feet.”

And now as she enters yet another harvest season, she’s holding fast to her grandfather’s actions and words - making sure she’s on the ground making decisions, going from vineyard to vineyard, and back to the cellar. She loves the energy during the growing season and through harvest, and the collaboration she has with Gallo’s amazing winemaking and cellar teams. “They strive to excel year after year,” she says. “Because of their hard work, you can trust that our portfolio will never let you down.”

But beyond having extensive knowledge of countless grape varietals from all over the world, there’s one in particular that piques her interest time and time again with its depth, complexity and complement with food - and that’s Pinot Noir. While she has become quite fluent with Pinot Noir from many sources, Gallo prefers the Santa Lucia Highlands because “it grows Pinot Noir of such delicacy and elegance, yet gives us spicy and earthy notes.” And with fall in full swing, she believes that a glass of Pinot Noir is perfect among the season’s rich, tawny colorscape.

I had the chance to connect with Gina on her wine experience, what brings out her affection for Pinot Noir specifically, and advice she has for consumers as we approach the holiday season.

Chasity Cooper: What is your first memory of wine? When did you know that Pinot Noir was your grape of choice, and how has that infatuation grown over time?

Gina Gallo: Around the time I started making wine, I had the opportunity to spend Valentine’s Day with my brother Matt and his wife in Carmel-by-the-Sea. He ordered a Grand Cru Vineyard Pinot Noir from La Tâche. It was a revelation! It opened my world to the breadth of possibilities for Pinot Noir, and especially what we could do with Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley. Pinot Noir is such a fickle, elegant grape; it presents some challenges that keep things interesting. I think I’ll always be charmed by all the ways Pinot Noir expresses itself.

CC: Pinot Noir is a lighter-bodied wine that is usually a great introduction for those who may be skeptical of red wines being too big and bold for their palate. What makes Pinot Noir wines in the Gallo portfolio so unique?

GG: One of the things people enjoy about Pinot Noir is the different expressions it can offer. It is delicate yet also has incredible depth. A Pinot Noir’s style is a reflection of where it was grown. It can be fruit-forward, or earth-driven or have a bit of spice. And even within those general descriptions, there are variations, like earthiness could mean fresh herbs and forest floor or it could mean truffle and mushroom notes. And this is before we get into different clonal expressions! There really is so much to explore with Pinot Noir.

If you try to mold Pinot Noir into what you want it to be, the wines are disjointed. If you look at what the fruit is giving you and let that character and flavor expression come through, that’s when you succeed. That’s what we mean by an authentic wine.

What makes Pinot Noir in the Gallo premium portfolio so unique is that our winemakers let the fruit be their guide. They let the wines be authentic to what they are, an expression of that region, that vineyard, that vintage. Pinot Noir is very individualistic, very expressive of the site. Even within the same vineyard, a difference in elevation or aspect can change the structure and flavor profile.

CC: If you had to pick on favorite within the Gallo portfolio, which would it be and why?

GG: The Gallo Signature Series wines are my passion. These wines honor the extraordinary story of our family winery, which began in 1933. When my grandfather Julio and my uncle Ernest founded the winery, they did so with an entrepreneurial spirit, determination, a commitment to high quality winemaking and a strong belief in the sustainable preservation of our land — these wines honor those legacies.

As a winemaker, it’s my job is to tell the story of the vineyard and vintage through the wine in the wine glass. It’s capturing a moment of history, a moment in a specific place and time.

I create each of these wines to be my pinnacle of varietal expression, crafted with fruit from the best of our family’s vineyards in Sonoma, Napa and Monterey counties. I believe that a good vineyard, when planted to the right variety and tended carefully and thoughtfully, finds its own balance.

CC: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

GG: What I enjoy the most about being a winemaker is that we have a great opportunity to show the world what our estate vineyards can produce. I truly believe that we have some of the greatest land in California, and that our wines can perform on the world stage. If there is a single priority that calls to all of us in wine, it’s that we continue to implement sustainable practices in all aspects of winemaking, grape growing and in our communities. Sustainability is the most important legacy that we can leave for our next generation.