E&J Gallo continues its push on premium

Californian wine giant E&J Gallo is continuing in its mission to reposition its portfolio and lead the premium wine sector, having snapped up dozens of new vineyards in the past five years, but there is still plenty of work to do, according to its vice president of winemaking, Scott Kozel.

Stagecoach Vineyard, Napa

Kozel’s focus, who joined Gallo 18 years ago, continues to be the company’s push on premium, which has seen it gradually move beyond big volume sub $10 wines to more premium, boutique labels, such as Orin Swift, J Vineyards and Talbott.

“Previously we have acquired [wineries or brands, or vineyards] and said it’s just part of Gallo,” says Kozel. “Over the years we have learned that we want the brand and the winery to have a personality of its own, and for each team to make their own decisions.”

“There’s certainly more work to be done,” he adds. “It’s a challenge to tell each story to consumers. They are great stories and they are all different. That’s what I’m excited about. Louis Martini has a very different perspective to J [Vineyard] or Talbott. Different approaches, vineyards and grape sources. There are so many great stories to tell, but we have made great progress, no question.”

In the past five years alone, Gallo has snapped up a slew of vineyards with the intention of strengthening its footing in the premium sector while expanding its portfolio.

Last year, the producer acquired Stagecoach, a 1,300 acre vineyard in Napa Valley in California, for an undisclosed sum. Founded in 1995 by Jan Krupp, Stagecoach Vineyard is one of the largest contiguous vineyard in the Napa Valley with more than 600 acres of vines set on red, volcanic soils with boulder-strewn clay loam and solid rock outcrops that were blasted to create a more uniform soil base.

In June 2016, the company announced its purchase of Orin Swift in Napa, following the earlier purchase of Ranch Winery the preceding year.

In 2014 it purchased Talbott Vineyards in California’s Santa Lucia Highlands and sparkling wine specialist J Vineyards & Winery, including the Healdsburg winery and 121 hectares of vineyards in Sonoma and the Russian River Valley, as well as two vineyard sites in the Napa Valley – Cypress Ranch and part of the Palisades Vineyard near Calistoga.

“At J Vineyards our winemaking team will craft wines that range in volume as low as 4/500 cases,” explains Kozel. “They are working on some really boutique stuff that retails for $100 a bottle. But also a Pinot Grigio at $15 a bottle made upwards of 80 to 90,000 cases. Each team is tasked with doing some small things but also some large wines that maybe require a different way of thinking.”

E&J Gallo’s Rancho Real vineyard in Santa Barbara, California

Most recently, the company purchased Rancho Real Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley appellation of Santa Barbara County. The 436-acre property sits 13 miles southeast of the town of Santa Maria, and produces both Burgundian and Rhône grape varieties, including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, Grenache, Viognier, Pinot Gris, and Gamay over 211 acres.

“As we have grown we have taken a three-pronged approach deliberately,” explains Kozel. “In some instances we are looking to purchase just grapes. So we will find a vineyard that maybe has an owner that’s willing to sell and make that investment. Some times we will just invest in a winery as we need more space to crush, and some times we will buy a brand only. Sometimes its all three.

“We are always interested in having a conversation with people looking to sell. Some times things work out, sometimes they don’t. Our strategy is that we are open to any conversation that might end up with a good business opportunity.”

2018 HARVEST 

On the 2018 harvest Kozel is upbeat, noting that while picking started probably two weeks later than normal, quality is on track.

“Last year was a little warmer during the growing seasons and then we had some really high temperatures. We had temperatures of 40 degrees in early September last year which kicking harvest into gear. We didn’t get that this year, but that’s ok. The quality is looking great mainly because we haven’t had any rain at all yet.

“Volume? I think it’s right on average this year.”

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