Once upon a time, wine was enjoyed only by wealthy and archetypal connoisseurs who were fascinated not only by the aroma, flavour and consistency of the drink, but also the intricate history behind it. They knew exactly what went on at a particular wine estate in a particular year _ from soil conditions, weather patterns to who the winemaker was.
E&J Gallo’s highlysustainable headquarters with its own vineyard, state-ofthe- art winery, fullcapacity glass factory, bottling plant and logistic line.
They used descriptions such as "melted tar" and "pencil lead" as oenophilic compliments, insisted on calling a wine aroma a "bouquet" and were willing to spend an astronomical price for a specific bottle of fermented grapes. During the past 158 years since its launch, they've loyally taken the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855 as a hierarchical bible of wine culture.
Yet, we cannot say the world has evolved around wine more briskly and smartly than now.
Over the past few years, wine appreciation has been experienced more often and in a more casual, more affordable and less intimidating manner. Wine is no longer a divine beverage of rich Francophiles, but a popular drink enjoyed by keen connoisseurs and amateur gastronomes alike.
This may be to thanks to the "Judgement of Paris", the blind tasting of French and American wines by discerning French judges in Paris in 1976 that gave high praise for a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon from CAlifornia's Napa Valley. There was also the launch of Wine Advocate by American lawyer-cum-oenophile, Robert Parker, at the end of the decade. These two happenings have since introduced to the audiences a new frontier with much more varieties of noble wines outside Europe, especially the United States.
Today the largest winery on the planet, which spreads over 16,000 acres of vineyards and produces more than two million bottles a day, is located not in France or Italy, but in California.
Established in 1933 by two brothers, Ernest and Julio Gallo of Modesto city in Northern California, E&J Gallo Winery is a family owned business now run by the second, third and fourth generations. It is a producer of the popular Carlo Rossi, Barefoot, Louis M. Martini, MacMurray Ranch, William Hill, Ecco Domani, Frei Brothers and Bridlewood labels among 60 others available in 90 countries, including Thailand.
It would take half-a-month for a visitor to tour the company's eight wineries and more than 20 vineyards (half of them are owned by the Gallo family) in Sonoma and Napa counties.
Its headquarters in Modesto is highly sustainable with its own vineyard, state-of-the-art winery, full-capacity glass factory, bottling plant and logistic line. Each of the winery's 600 meticulously maintained wine tanks can store up to 4 million litres of grape juice. Its ultra-spacious warehouse is the only privately owned stockroom in the US where trains come in to pick up merchandise daily _ a total of 80 million wine cases a year.
Following the mindful initiation by Ernest and Julio, the winery has a longstanding commitment to sustainable winegrowing. Over the years, the company has developed new environmentally-friendly practices to minimise the use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides in the vineyards.
Peter Vella, the company’s vice-president of winemaking.
It has created new wetlands in Northern and Central California and has restored spawning grounds for the steelhead trout in Sonoma County in an effort to protect and preserve existing wildlife habitats. It uses sheep and falcons, along with other alternatives, to control weeds and protect against pests while reducing chemical use and soil compaction. Meanwhile, the company also ensures that it builds and maintains productive relationships with neighbours and local communities. While the company ensures its viticultural practices are environmentally sound, economically feasible and socially equitable, it also is attentive to changing trends.
"In today's winemaking, it's important to know what customers like and let them dictate," Peter Vella, the company's chief winemaker, said.
As a pioneer in the customer's sphere of thinking, the company tries to offer various types of wine to cater to a wide range of wine consumers of different ages, palate sensibilities and income brackets. One of E&J Gallo's new approaches is "24/7", meaning the bottle is worth US$24 but priced only US$7.
The winery's newly launched label, Peter Vella, now marketed in Thailand in Fresh White (Chardonnay), Rose (white Zinfandel), Smooth Red (Cabernet Sauvignon) and Rich Red (Shiraz) at 299 baht per bottle, is a good example of fine wine that's absolutely affordable.
"Many people around the world find California wines very good and very reasonably priced.
"All of these could not happen without the innovation in the vineyards to make sure that we grow better grapes and make better wines, while keeping the cost under control," said Vella.
The 73-year-old viticultural master explained that the improved quality of grape growing contributes most to the great value of Californian wines. This is the result of non-stop scientific research, good intuition and innovative improvement of the wineries, of which E&J Gallo Winery is a leader.
"As a winemaker, we try not to look at the cost. But we have to admit that the increasing volume of wine consumption plays a greater role in keeping the wine quality on par," he added.
Vella grew up in a winemaking family whose story dates back to 1906. After earning a bachelor's degree in food science with an oenology concentration from the University of California at Davis in 1962, Vella secured a position as an assistant winemaker at Gallo Winery.
After 23 years, he was promoted to vice-president of winemaking at Gallo. And from 1997, he has been responsible for overseeing all winemaking at the company. During this time, many people around the country were introduced to the Peter Vella wines, which honour his family's winemaking history and its commitment to quality.
"Each region has its own unique wine character. What I find about California wines is that they are as approachable and as easygoing as the Californians themselves, which is ideal for a casual meal. And because they're sweet and fruity, they can go well with any kind of food, especially Thai cuisine. The sweetness of California wine will help cut the strong spice taste and fieriness of the dish," said Vella.
The day has come, apparently, when wine appreciation is done at as relaxing an occasion as a yard picnic, a birthday party or a quick lunch. And now a wine half-wit can simply and confidently describe the character of her favourite wine as "yummy".
About the author
- Writer: Vanniya Sriangura
Position: News Reporter