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It was shortly after Prohibition had been repealed in 1933 when the Gallo Brothers began their winery.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.
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.