In this intriguing novel based on the life of Ernest Gallo, Richardson tracks the rise of the billionaire Californian winemaker.
When Ernest Gallo was young, his Aunt Tillie gave him a tarot card reading which predicted that he would become “a very successful businessman…[in] the oil business…or the wine business.” The young Ernest could not possibly perceive the alarming accuracy of his aunt’s prediction or the arduous journey ahead of him. One of three brothers, Ernest was born in 1909 in Jackson, California, into a humble Italian immigrant family. In the early 1920s, his parents settled in Modesto, purchasing arable land where they would plant and cultivate a vineyard and sell their grapes. Ernest found himself at constant loggerheads with his father, a deeply stubborn man, whose violent temper would later have tragic consequences. The novel charts the evolution of Ernest’s business brain, from his wily negotiations with unsavory market traders to becoming one of the world’s biggest wine producers. Richardson animates the Gallo’s ascendance with realistic, well-paced dialogue as in this warning from a neighbor: “A winery? Now? Boys, it’s the Dirty Thirties. You’ll end up worse than yer old man. Take my advice: Don’t do it. Stick to what you know.” Richardson portrays Gallo as an avuncular, approachable businessman, a stark contrast to “the 5-foot-4-inch terror of his industry,” as described by Forbes. She also glosses over his unpleasant standoff with the United Farmworkers Union in the 1970s, which gained him the reputation of being a bully. Richardson’s novel is part of The Mentoris Project, a series of books that aims to promote the successes of great Italians and Italian-Americans. This, to a degree, explains the author’s propensity to overlook Gallo’s less admirable characteristics. Nevertheless, the novel remains a charming, tenderly written tribute to Gallo and his remarkable achievements, which will certainly be of great interest to wine buffs, particularly those keen to discover more about the history of the American industry.
A riveting, albeit sugar-coated, account punctuated with ingenuity, family feuds, tragedy, and spellbinding success.