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My Story

Growing Up

I grew up on the ranch, working every summer and weekends. I had to help irrigate the vines, by opening the sluice gates and letting the water fill up to the right level. It was a bit of a dull process for a young boy, so sometimes I would fall asleep with my hand over the side of the levee, so when the water touched my fingertips, I would wake up and know it was time to send the water to the next check. I also used to have to "top" the vines to allow the cultivator to get through the rows, since the canes of the vines would start to grow together. Invariably at some point I would run into a wasps nest and have to run like a devil to not get stung. I truly learned the business of grape growing from the ground-up.

Working in a winery, I held lots of odd jobs. For instance, it was my job to clean the sumps out - those are the below-ground repositories where the juice goes after it is crushed, a sort of holding tank. Being the smallest one in the family, I was the only one who could fit through the opening. They would tie my legs together and lower me down head-first into the tank so I could clean the bottom of the sump.

I grew up in an Italian family, with two powerful grandmothers, one from each side of my family. Somehow, our family's time always seemed to revolve around food, and we always had lots of homegrown tomatoes and vegetables to eat. To this day, I love Italian food, particularly risotto, polenta, pasta, stews, and wild game. I love to cook in the old style, but sometimes when I am in a hurry I cook my polenta in the microwave.

My brother and I used to ride our bikes to school 2-3 miles each way, and then come home and hunt rabbits in the vineyard. Rabbits love the taste of grapes. After growing up in Modesto through high school, I went to U.C. Davis for my undergraduate degree, and majored in food science with an emphasis in oenology, since they didn't offer an oenology major at the time. I graduated in January of 1962 and immediately did a 6-month tour of duty with the U.S. armed forces.

Meeting Julio Gallo

A few months after returning home from my tour of duty, I went to a friend's wedding and was introduced to Julio Gallo and his wife Aileen Julio told me that he had been friends with my father and grandfather, and that he thought they were great men. He asked me what I had done and what I was planning to do. I mentioned that I had just returned home from a tour of duty after getting my degree in food science/oenology from U.C. Davis. He asked me if I would like to come work for Gallo in winemaking, and I said that I was interested.

Julio invited me to come in for an interview a few days later. He told me that there was a proprietary "Gallo Way" of making wine, which would involve extensive on-the-job training. So, at the end of the interview, he laid it on the line, saying to me, "Pete, if I give you a job, I expect you to stay." Needless to say, I took the job, and I am still working for Gallo today, 45 years later!

Working at Gallo

In 1963, I officially came to work at Gallo in winemaking. First I worked in flavored wines, and then I worked in dessert wines. A few years later, I was transferred to Operations, managing people and learning how to make wine on a larger scale. I did that for about 4 years before moving back to winemaking in Special Natural (Flavored) Wines.

Working as the Special Natural Winemaker was an exciting time for me. I was part of the team that launched Spanada, a sangria-type of product, which went from 0 sales to 6 million gallons almost overnight. Then we launched Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill, which at its peak sold 18 million gallons per year. In addition to my winemaking duties, I was put in charge of Product Development. Under Julio Gallo's direction, our team began work on Bartles & Jaymes Original. The combination of a fantastic advertising campaign and a great product resulted in an overnight success for Bartles & Jaymes.

In 1986, I was asked to be VP of winemaking, so I was in charge of half of Gallo's wine portfolio, with George Thoukis in charge of the other half. In 1997, I took over being in charge of all of Gallo's wines until 2002. In 2002, I began concentrating on coastal winemaking, and from 2002 - 2006, my wife and I would rent a house and go live in Sonoma for a few months during harvest to be on-site during this key part of the winemaking process.

My current title is Vice President of Winemaking, or "Senior Wine Master". I spend part of each week in Sonoma or Napa serving on the coastal winemaking management taste panel, where wines are approved for style and quality. The panel also serves as a generator for green-lighting new ideas.

Today

When I first started at the Winery, my brother and I shared ownership of a ranch and I knew I loved the land. When our grape vines got older, my brother wanted to plant almonds because they are less perishable and require less time than grapes. So we pulled our vines and planted almond trees, with my brother being the primary farmer and me helping on weekends whenever I could.

My brother and I are still very close and we get along very well as both friends and business partners. We love to go fishing together, and my Labrador Lira likes to join us. We fish mostly trout and striped bass (rock fish), but what I really enjoy about fishing is the camaraderie. It feels great to be outside spending time with my family and friends.

I still keep my hands in agriculture at home - we have almond and walnut trees and a few grape vines. In order to get a good crop, it takes a lot of care, and I love being out in the fields. Whenever damp earth is turned over, it is like a magical perfume that brings me back to all the things that happened in the vineyard while I was growing up - hunting rabbits with my brother, pruning the vines, cleaning the sumps.

I am very thankful for my family. My oldest daughter went to U.C. Berkeley for her undergraduate degree and UCLA for her J.D. She is now an attorney in Washington D.C., and just had twins. Her husband is a Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner. My youngest daughter works as a perfusionist at Stanford, having gone to UCLA for her undergraduate degree and Johns Hopkins for her Masters. I give my wife the credit for raising our daughters. She was an important and caring partner throughout my life.

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