As Washington wine has grown into big business, many have asked when the California big boys would come knocking. The answer is now.
On Monday Modesto-based E. & J. Gallo announced the purchase of two long-tenured Washington wineries – Columbia Winery and Covey Run. The sale of the wineries by Ascentia Wine Estates has been anticipated for some time.
E. & J. Gallo is a name many consumers are familiar with. The winery was founded in 1933 by Ernest and Julio Gallo. The company is the largest privately owned winery in the country.
How big is Gallo? The company employs 5,000 people worldwide and has 60 different brands. Fourteen of these brands are imported from other countries ranging from New Zealand to France. Gallo owns eight wineries and 16,000 acres of vineyards in California alone. For perspective, that would be more than one third the total acreage in Washington, though it is just a speck in California.
Gallo is best known for its value brands, such as Andre sparkling wine, Boone’s Farm, Carlo Rossi, Barefoot, and Bartyles & James. The company also includes brandy, gin, and other spirits in its portfolio.
What will this mean for these two wineries and for Washington in the long term? Only time will tell but look for production at both wineries to ramp up in the coming years. Gallo is a big company and can put as much time and money into these wineries as it desires. Bottom line: there is another large player in town. Expect others to follow in the coming years.
Wine Industry Insight reported last Thursday on an email sent to Columbia Winery and Covey Run employees that Gallo officials would be visiting the wineries. Initial reports are that many of Covey Run’s staff were subsequently dismissed. No word yet on changes at Columbia Winery, and E. & J. Gallo officials have not responded to a request for comment.
Covey Run was founded in 1982. Columbia Winery, then Associated Vintners, was founded in 1962. Both wineries were purchased by Ascentia Wine Estates in 2008. However, the company struggled almost from the beginning and recently began being dismantled.