Feeling homesick on vacation? Step into a grocery or liquor store and head for the wine section. Doesn't matter which state or even which country. You are likely to find a Modesto product on the shelf.
The numbers are staggering:
About one in four bottles of wine sold in the United States is a product of the E.&J. Gallo Winery, industry analysts say.
- The Gallo Glass plant in Modesto churns out 2.5 million bottles a day.
- The company employs more than 3,000 workers in Stanislaus County, making it the largest private employer.
And if you buy a bottle of Gallo wine, in the United States or any of the 90 countries where the company sells products, some of that purchase price will wend its way back through Modesto. It helps pay the salaries of winemakers, cellar workers, laboratory
researchers, accountants, sales staff, bottling crews, label printers, cork and cap makers, forklift drivers, and truckers.
That doesn't count the companies that supply the massive winery.
While the Gallo winery is vertically integrated, making its own bottles and labels, corks and caps, and doing its own marketing, it also does business with about 3,000 suppliers. They provide the wine company with everything from uniforms and safety goggles to winemaking equipment.
How big an impact does the headquarters of a dominant, international company like Gallo have on a local economy?
About $2 billion a year, according to an economic analysis done by the Stanislaus Economic Development and Work Force Alliance. That includes wine sales, supplier sales to Gallo and the money employees of Gallo and the suppliers spend in the economy for houses, cars, groceries and other consumer purchases.
For perspective, Stanislaus County's gross domestic product in 2006 was $13.89 billion, according to the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis. That means 14 percent of the county's economy is tied to Gallo.
Not all benefits economic
Then there are the intangible benefits.
"The identification the community gets from a quality company like that, it put Modesto on the map," said Alliance Chief Executive Officer Bill Bassitt. "It's something you just couldn't buy."
Jeff Michael, director of the Business Forecasting Center at the Eberhardt School of Business at University of the Pacific, agreed.
"Having a major employer in town is nothing unusual. What is unique is that the Gallo name is a global brand, it is an internationally recognized company," Michael said. "Its products are everywhere. It brings recognition to the community."
Bassitt agreed. "It's a wonderful public relations asset for the community."
Not all the publicity over the years has been positive. The United Farm Workers union launched a national boycott of Gallo Wines in the 1970s, marching in Modesto with UFW founder César Chávez.
The winery, fairly or not, had a reputation for producing cheap, fortified wines including Thunderbird.
That reputation has been buried, however, in the past two decades as Gallo moved aggressively into upscale wines, winning international awards and launching or acquiring premium wine labels such as Louis Martini, Gallo of Sonoma and Mirassou.
Family's contributions enormous
Beyond the name recognition, the winery brings other benefits to the community, according to county officials.
The headquarters brings in a highly educated work force, with spouses typically of similar educational levels, Bassitt said. "They raise the level of talent in the community, the kinds and caliber of the work force."
The Gallo family itself has poured tens of millions of dollars into cultural groups, educational institutions, charities and religious organizations, many of them local.
Working through several family charitable foundations, the Gallos have supported everything from research into the causes and cures for alcoholism to support for the National Audubon Society, United Way of Stanislaus County and, of course, the Gallo Center for the Arts.
Higher education is a favorite target of Gallo giving, from the University of Notre Dame to Stanford and Oregon State University.
At California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, Gallo developed a 100-acre vineyard on campus so wine and viticulture students could get experience in managing a commercial-sized vineyard.
"Where do you start to thank a family that's done so much?" asked Bette Belle Smith, a Modesto legend in her own right as a community booster.
"As long as I remember, no matter what I've asked, they've been willing to help. They've been so supportive of the symphony over the years, and a special place in my heart is the Gallo Center. I've been wanting an auditorium for 88 years," Smith said. "It's wonderful that they remember where their roots were."
Benefits outweigh negatives
The Gallo family's influence locally has included some controversy. Some say the family blocked expansion of Highway 132 to the west of Modesto because it runs by the family compound, and others accuse the Gallos of blocking economic development to maintain an inexpensive labor force.
Economic development officials have said that the winery has been cooperative in helping to boost the area, however.
The winery purchases about one-third of the state's grape crop, giving it the power to set prices, which has led to some resentment among growers who feel prices are too low some years.
E.&J. Gallo Winery is not a member of the Modesto Chamber of Commerce because Gallo officials felt the chamber's method of determining dues, based on employment, was unfair.
Still, local officials say the benefits of having the winery headquarters in Modesto far outweigh any negatives.
"There are probably things you have to deal with, with companies that size," Bassitt said. "But it is minuscule compared to the benefit."
Bee staff writer Tim Moran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2349.