E. & J. Gallo deepens its roots in SLO County

jlynem@thetribunenews.comJune 30, 2011 

Modesto-based E. & J. Gallo purchased Edna Valley Vineyard.

JAYSON MELLOM — jmellom@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

With its purchase of Edna Valley Vineyard, E. & J. Gallo Winery may be a new player in the Edna Valley wine scene. But the Modesto-based company, a global winemaking powerhouse, already has roots planted in San Luis Obispo County soil.

E. & J. Gallo owns Sunnybrook Ranch, which boasts 700 acres on the east side of Paso Robles. The ranch, which Gallo bought in 1996, has several varietals, including cabernet, merlot and grenache. Gallo also owns Bridlewood Estate Winery in Santa Ynez and the Olson Ranch in Monterey County.

For years, Gallo has had a partnership with Cal Poly’s viticulture program, helping students gain hands-on experience at a vineyard planted by the company. The university’s partnership with Gallo began in 1999, with the first crop harvested four years later.

Beyond its relationship with Cal Poly and its ownership of Sunnybrook Ranch, the company’s latest local venture broadens its premium wine portfolio, said Roger Nabedian, senior vice president and general manager of Gallo’s premium wine division.

“Edna Valley Vineyard Winery and brand is a good fit for us because the majority of its business is the super premium price point, which is between $10 and $15 in the retail store,” he said. “That is one of the fastest growing categories in the wine business today.”

Nabedian added that Edna Valley is also known for its chardonnay, the largest consumer segment in the wine business, he said.

Gallo has had an interest in the Edna Valley Vineyard for several years and decided to buy “many months ago” when it discovered that Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines, in a joint venture with Paragon Vineyard Co., was interested in selling, Nabedian said.

Terms of the deal to buy Edna Valley Vineyard were not disclosed. The purchase is set to close in a few weeks.

Gallo, which was founded in Modesto in 1933, has become the world’s largest winemaker. It has built or acquired wineries in Napa, Sonoma and Santa Barbara counties.

E. & J. Gallo Winery’s purchase of Edna Valley Vineyard is welcome news to several local winemakers.

Clay Thompson, co-owner of Claiborne & Churchill, said Gallo is a nice addition to the Edna Valley area.

“Gallo is huge, but it is in a sense a family winery,” he said. “It’s obviously giant, but it does have family values and high-quality wines. It’s not just a jug wine company.”

Nancy Greenough, an owner of Saucelito Canyon, said, “It says a lot for the Edna Valley that someone with such resources would come and focus on an area that is famous for its chardonnay and pinot noir.”

“It’s nice to have such famous neighbors,” she said. “We’ll miss the Nivens, but they’ll be right down the road. It’s a tribute to the area.”

Gallo will continue to be a partner with the Niven family, originators of the Edna Valley Vineyard brand and founders of the Paragon Vineyard Co.

“The Niven family is no longer part of a joint venture, but they are by far the largest grower of grapes in the Edna Valley,” Nabedian said. “We will partner with them to provide us with world-class grapes they grow to go into the Edna Valley brand.”

Nabedian does not foresee any immediate changes to Edna Valley Vineyard.

“We think the wines are well made and the brand is well positioned,” he said. “We are hoping with the winemaking expertise and marketing expertise, we will be able to amplify what we’ve done in the past.”

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