Family committed to giving something back

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  • Aleutian geese: helped by Gallo family

    Aleutian geese: helped by Gallo family

I should tell you that this is the first article I have ever written that will not share specific reviews or tasting notes. I am heartened to see that many of our customers are now asking for wines that reflect a commitment to safe environmental practices by producers. We represent so many but let me share the story of our world’s largest family-owned winery and, as a matter of fact, it was them that offered to take me under their wing in the 1970s and introduce me to the wine trade.

Committed to the production of good, everyday wines, the Gallo family added the Barefoot winery to their portfolio some years ago, but they are also on a mission to expand into what we often call “the fine wine department”.

They own the historic Louis Martini winery in Napa Valley (wonderful cabernet sauvignons) and very recently acquired the iconic Stagecoach property that covers 1,100 acres on the eastern side of this valley. Gallo is honouring grape supply contracts for 30 wineries that bear the name Stagecoach on their labels, a veritable who’s who of names.

Also new for them are J Vineyards & Winery in Sonoma (lovely pinot gris) and the highly praised wines of Orin Swift in Napa Valley (wines like Abstract, Palermo and Papillon). The overall list is of considerable length.

The idea of enhancing the land and wildlife habitat through sustainable agriculture originated with Ernest and Julio Gallo when they founded their winery in the late 1930s, and it has grown in importance ever since. Julio introduced his 50/50 Give Back and, still today, for every one acre planted to vineyard, another is set aside for wildlife.

Gallo was the first winery in the US to receive ISO 14001 Certification, which was created to assist companies throughout the world to reduce their impact on the environment. They also took the lead and collaborated with the Wine Institute of California and the Association of Winegrape Growers to develop and implement the Code of Sustainable Wine Growing Practices.

Gallo installs owl and kestrel hawk boxes on their land throughout California, so the birds serve as natural predators against rodents (no poisons) and even use falcons to chase starlings away from ripening grapes.

Populations of predatory insects are maintained to feed on harmful ones and reduce the use of pesticides. Greenbelts of natural grasses, old growth oaks, lakes and wetlands provide not only beauty, but a habitat for the beneficial insects. Cover crops between the vines prevent soil erosion during the winter rains and also provide a nourishing habitat for beneficial insects to breed. Gallo viticulturists have experimented with 23 different types of cover crops as they search for the right beneficial blends.

Around 2,000 acres has been set aside by the family on the major winter migration route for Aleutian geese, a species that has been on the endangered list, and a variety of other birds. They have restored spawning grounds for steelhead trout on their MacMurray Ranch property in Sonoma (lovely pinot noir).

With municipal landfills rapidly reaching capacity in Fresno, for the past ten years the city’s green waste — such as grass and pruning cuttings — have been sent to the Gallo composting facility to be mixed with byproducts such as grape skins to create a valuable compost that is used by farmers, gardeners and landscapers in lieu of synthetic fertilisers.

One of my favourite stories is of Julio’s Oak. Many years ago, as I stood on a hilltop overlooking Gallos’ 700-acre Frei Ranch vineyard, I was told about this tree. Because of the lovely view, the decision was made to put a reception facility on the spot to welcome the many visitors. The problem was that an ancient oak tree stood smack in the way. Julio Gallo reminded his team of the family policy to never cut down a tree deemed to be more than 100 years old. Now, as you stand on this hilltop, you can see the reception area far below.

It has been, and still is, an honour and privilege to deal with so many people around the world that do their level best to preserve it. I am reminded of the words of Crazy Horse of the Oglala Lakota nation, who said: “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”

This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. E-mail or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St George’s (York Street, 297-0409). Visit

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Published Aug 18, 2017 at 8:00 am (Updated Aug 17, 2017 at 8:33 pm)

Family committed to giving something back

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