“One can say wine makes itself, if you control the quality of the grapes from start to finish,” Ignacio Gallegos Jr. says. But as he said this, standing in the vineyard of Rancho de Gallegos on Highway 29 north of Rutherford, he was actually looking at his sons, Eric and Ignacio (Nacho) III. Was he thinking about winemakers too? That if you teach quality to each generation — from start to finish — a winemaker, over time, actually makes one’s self?
That seems to be the story of Gallegos family: Three generations living and working in the vineyards of the Napa Valley, culminating this year in the creation and release of Gallegos Wines. It’s a story that echoes that of the earliest settlers of the Napa Valley but it’s happening today in St. Helena.
The Gallegos family has been working in the valley since the 1950s when Ignacio Gallegos Sr. left the small farming town of El Llano in Michoacán, Mexico and came as a laborer under the Bracero guest worker program that had started during the Roosevelt Administration. In the ‘60s he became a naturalized citizen and his family became one of the first Mexican families in St. Helena. Ignacio Sr. worked at Beringer Brothers Winery in the vineyards until one day, according to his grandson, Ignacio III (Nacho), he was “volunteered” to work on the bottling line. Fast forward 30 years and Ignacio Sr. retires as supervisor.
Meanwhile his son, Ignacio Jr., graduated from St. Helena High School and was finding himself following his father’s path through the vineyards. Ignacio Jr. recalled that as a child he had always spent his free time alongside his father learning the basics of grape growing. So it didn’t seem unusual that at 16 he began working after school and on weekends under Edgar Beard of Beard Ranches. “I took some classes in viticulture at the JC,” he said. “But I had no idea then that viticulture would become such a big thing.”
He worked his way up and eventually was promoted to supervisor. Subsequently he became vineyard foreman of Rutherford’s 100-acre J.J. Cohn Ranch — an estate now owned by Francis Ford Coppola and Scarecrow. Eventually, he decided he was going to start his own vineyard management company for his two sons, Eric and Ignacio III (Nacho). So as he worked, he said, he tried to instill a passion for agriculture in them in much the same way that his father had instilled it in him.
In 2008 Ignacio Jr.’s dream came true when he created Gallegos Vineyards. This family owned and operated vineyard management company today manages more than 250 acres in Napa Valley and Sonoma. Gallegos’ clients include Somerston, Peacock Family Vineyard, Don Thomas Vineyard, Kelleher Family Vineyard, Rancho de Gallegos, and Anderson Ranch.
Meanwhile, Ignacio Jr.’s two sons have today jumped into a new challenge: They have moved the family business into commercial winemaking. While Nacho was learning his vineyard management skills working under his father, Eric was off to viticulture school at university to learn winemaking. According to Nacho, when Eric returned, it was time.
The family had been making wine at home for years, Eric recalled. “Dad has always made wine for our family,” he said. “But now we wanted to share our knowledge, pride and love for wine through Gallegos Wines.” So, in 2011, the Gallegos family established the Gallegos Wines label. The grapes for their wines are sourced directly from the clients of Gallegos Vineyard Management. Their list of current wines includes a Napa Valley 2012 chardonnay sourced from Ed Beard Jr.’s Charmer Vineyard, originally planted by Ignacio Jr. 30 years ago; a Napa Valley 2012 sauvignon blanc, sourced from the Somerston Estate; and a Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County, 2011 pinot noir sourced from Boekenoogen Vineyards, and crushed in the Napa Valley.
Eric says that the goal is to consistently produce about 1,000 cases, placing the organization at the production threshold beyond the category of estate winegrowing and into the arena of small commercial winemaking.
But the key to their wines production strategy, according to Nacho, is the total control of the wine making process from pruning the vines in the winter, up until the wine is in the bottle. The fruit is hand selected by the family at harvest, while the total process, according to Ignacio Jr., is sustainable, traditional, and focused upon growing premium quality fruit.
Perhaps this is why Ignacio Jr. says, “Wine makes itself, if you control the quality from start to finish.” He knows the vineyards because he’s planted many of them; he knows the grapes because he’s managed their cultivation from pruning to harvest, and he knows their flavors as memorable wines because he’s been vinting them for years. But most importantly, he knows his sons, how they work in the fields and in the cellar, and their promise for the future of the family.
And what do Eric and Nacho want to accomplish during the new chapter for the family business?
“We grew up in this valley,” says Nacho. “We want people to know that we are here to stay. But more importantly,” he continues, “We want to create something that lasts for the next generation.” It seems a hauntingly familiar sentiment.