March 7, 2007
Something to Crow About

Ernest Gallo was an intensely private man. He rarely gave interviews to the press. Functionaries often seemed to hover about him, keeping reporters at bay. If you did have a chance to chat with him briefly at a wine tasting, he could be evasive if he weren't downright gruff. In private, however, he could be engaging and entertaining, spinning yarns and telling jokes, say those who knew him well.

One is Sacramento wine merchant Darrell Corti, who Gallo often called upon for truffles, grousing while in the store that his wines should be better displayed. Corti recalled having lunch with a few other guests at Gallo's Modesto home some years ago. Gallo collected any artifact he could find with a rooster motif, "gallo" being Italian for "rooster." ("Something to Crow About" was an early Gallo advertising slogan, and the stylized roosters on the latest label for Gallo Family Vineyards are based on a pair of ceramic roosters in Gallo's personal collection.)

At any rate, at the lunch Corti asked Gallo about a tall grandfather's clock painted with roosters. Gallo said he'd seen it in the window of an antiques shop in New York City. The shop owner wanted too much for it, however, something like $600, recalled Corti. Gallo returned to the store the next day, found that a clerk rather than the owner was running the place, and struck a deal for the clock for $300. Gallo quickly took the clock with him. When he set it down at an intersection to wait for the traffic signal to change, an apparently inebriated man strolled up to him and asked, "What's the matter, you couldn't afford a wristwatch?"

The joke sounds like an old one Gallo might have heard during the height of vaudeville, but it shows a side of him he tended to conceal beyond intimates. "Ernest was quite funny. He could keep you in stitches," says Corti.

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