ERNEST AND JULIO by Ernest Gallo


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 Though the Gallos' wines might repulse you and their reputation give you the willies, their autobiography is worth a look, if only to get another side of the picture. Without too much pain, the brothers Gallo (with Henderson, And The Sea Will Tell, not reviewed) get past their aw-shucks-work- hard-and-get-anywhere drapery to their nuts-and-bolts shtick: control and marketing (with a nod to hard work, like 120-hour weeks and an annual six months on the road). Marketing: Gallo wine is where it is today--the number-one seller in America--because the brothers got their goods into the hands of savvy distributors, folks who got the wine at eye-level in supermarkets across the land and fused Bartles & James wine coolers into the national retina via television. Control: Need a decent glass supplier? Build a glassworks. Having competition trouble? Slash your prices and crush the buggers. Certain problems are tactfully ignored, like those surrounding Thunderbird, a Gallo-produced down-and-outer's wine rumored to have been marketed by strewing the bottles along skid rows to give the fortified concoction a high profile. Other problems are glossed over: The Gallos' controversial (some might say fascistic) treatment of labor is couched in terms of conflicts between unions (the Teamsters vs. the United Farm Workers). But there is a wealth of background material: family travails, like the murder/suicide of the brothers' parents; Depression days when they sold bulk lots of grapes at railroad sidings; the formation of trade organizations; Julio's obituary for his son Phillip, another suicide, which is enough to break your heart; children spurning the family business; and a vision of Gallo in the 21st century. Whether or not you buy into this version of the Gallo story, it's a family saga with all the makings of a television miniseries: adversity, intrigue, tragedy, manipulation, greed, and a slick presentation. (60 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-8129-2454-1
Page count: 380pp
Publisher: Times/Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1994