Ernest Gallo, 97, Dies

Legendary Wine Marketer Boosted Small Agencies

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SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- Ernest Gallo, founder of the E&J Gallo Winery and a legendary marketer, died yesterday at his home in Modesto, Calif. He was 97.
Ernest Gallo had a reputation as one of marketing's most tyrannical clients, terrorizing ad agency executives he would call to his vineyards to pitch the account or various wine brands.
Ernest Gallo had a reputation as one of marketing's most tyrannical clients, terrorizing ad agency executives he would call to his vineyards to pitch the account or various wine brands. Credit: Scott Manchester

Ripple, Bartles & Jaymes
After Prohibition ended in 1933 Mr. Gallo, with his winemaker brother Julio, started making wines he marketed with aggressive low prices. Over more than 70 years, he helped convert Americans into wine drinkers, and made California wines famous worldwide. His family-owned enterprise, long the world's largest winery, lost that position in 2003 to Constellation Brands following a merger.

Among the dozens of brands Mr. Gallo developed were high-alcohol drinks such as Thunderbird, fruit-flavored wines such as Ripple, and late wine coolers, such as Bartles & Jaymes. Most recently, the winery has moved its brands upscale with its Gallo Family Vineyards premium wines.

A natural salesman
Mr. Gallo crafted the winery's marketing using his own natural talent for salesmanship. Over the years, however, according to a tribute posted on the Gallo website, he evolved the company's marketing to include development of a national sales force and a powerful distribution system, introduction of brand management and modern merchandising to the wine industry, and using TV advertising to build his empire.

With a reputation as one of marketing's most tyrannical clients, Mr. Gallo long terrorized ad agency executives he would call to Modesto to pitch the account or various wine brands. After the long, dusty drive to the farmland outside San Francisco, agency teams told tales of being greeted by aggressive peacocks on the lawn and unnerved by screeching birds inside the headquarters building. Mr. Gallo presided over a large conference table where there was a portrait of a rooster (Gallo is the Italian word for "rooster").

Jerry Gibbons, former exec VP of the American Association of Advertising Agencies Western Region, said he pitched Mr. Gallo twice over the years, once as an executive at Dailey & Associates and once at N.W. Ayer, never successfully. "Mr. Gallo was as good as any client I've ever pitched," Mr. Gibbons said. "He knew what he wanted and made agencies work hard. He hired relatively small agencies and gave them a chance." Among those small agencies was a shop run by Hal Riney.

Relationship with Riney
Mr. Riney put himself, and Mr. Gallo, on the nation's map with TV ads for the winemaker that included the popular 1986 campaign for wine cooler Bartles & Jaymes, featuring two geezers on a porch thanking viewers for buying the product. Many consumers did not realize the brand was produced by the mammoth winery, not the hayseeds Frank and Ed.

But all that ended after lunch one day when Mr. Riney, in a fiery letter, resigned the then $60 million to $75 million account, a risky move considering it was a cornerstone of Mr. Riney's 2-year-old agency, Hal Riney & Partners. The two, however, later made up and Mr. Riney, buoyed with the Saturn car account, did further work for some Gallo products.
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