Gallo invents valleys, defines state-wide terroir

On an October trip to Germany, I visited a number of supermarkets, and inevitably I found myself browsing the wine department. Out of chauvinist curiosity — or perhaps Schadenfreude — I always made sure to look for the wine offerings from the United States.

In nearly every supermarket I visited, including some smaller shops outside of city centers, there were two predominant Californian wine brands available. Gallo and, secondarily, Fetzer. (Interestingly, Chilean and South African brands are more prominent and varied on store shelves.)

But one wine in particular caught my eye. I noticed a Gallo wine that was called “Gallo Sierra Valley Merlot.” I thought, “Sierra Valley? Where the heck is that?!”

Visitors to California looking for Sierra Valley will be disappointed. I looked closer at the bottle, to find a tiny “(tm)” after the name. Indeed, there is no Sierra Valley — it’s an “appellation” invented by Gallo’s marketing department for sending bulk-produced wines to Europe with fancier labels.

The company’s website for the Sierra Valley brand offers this description:

Let us introduce you to California. The grapes for our Ernest & Julio Gallo Sierra Valley are sourced from our sun-drenched vineyards throughout California. By balancing Old World heritage with New World innovation, we harness the potential of the California terroir and bring it to you in the bottle.

“Vineyards throughout California” allow them to “harness the potential of the California terroir“??! One terroir for an entire state? Obtained by blending wines from the Central Valley? Who wrote this?

Sadly, it turns out that “Sierra Valley” and its broad notion of terroir are not limited to Germany, or even Europe. The brand is sold to Canada and Japan as well. For many people, sadly, this bulk wine with the phony-baloney appellation is the only exposure to Californian wine they can readily receive.

— Mark Ashley, Upgrade: Travel Better

tags: | |

Related Posts with Thumbnails

2 Responses to “Gallo invents valleys, defines state-wide terroir”

  1. Seems like that shouldn’t be allowed, what with requirements in place for AVA’s ( which should apply to imaginary ones as well). Other countries will not only be presented false information, but what’s worse– they won’t get the chance to try our more representative (*cough* better) wines.

    I work at a small winery that doesn’t have the means to distribute internationally and understand that huge companies can export more easily, I just wish that weren’t the case.

  2. […] and there are sometimes interesting (though not necessarily good) finds. I’ve got a guest post up at Dr. Vino’s wine blog on Californian wine in German supermarkets and the mystery of the […]


Wine Maps

Recent Comments

Recent Posts

See my op-eds in the NYT
"Drink Outside the Box"
"Red, White, and Green"


Monthly Archives


Blog posts via email



Wine industry jobs


One of the “fresh voices taking wine journalism in new and important directions.” -World of Fine Wine

“His reporting over the past six months has had seismic consequences, which is a hell of an accomplishment for a blog.”

"News of such activities, reported last month on a wine blog called Dr. Vino, have captivated wine enthusiasts and triggered a fierce online debate…" The Wall Street Journal

"...well-written, well-researched, calm and, dare we use the word, sober." -Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher, WSJ

jbf07James Beard Foundation awards

Saveur, best drinks blog, finalist 2012.

Winner, Best Wine Blog

One of the "seven best wine blogs." Food & Wine,

One of the three best wine blogs, Fast Company

See more media...


Wine books on Amazon: