"Our family winery opened in 1933," says Gina Gallo, a third-generation Gallo winemaker. "My grandfather Julio began traveling all over California buying grapes and decided that Sonoma County would be one of the world's greatest growing regions." But it wasn't until 1977 that Central Valley-based E. & J. Gallo bought the old Sonoma Frei Brothers facility and vineyards in Healdsburg, holdings that have since grown to encompass 6,000 acres (3,000 of them planted to vineyards) and a new winery. Since releasing the first premium Gallo of Sonoma wines in 1993, "we've continued to grow with the county," says Gallo. "We're always seeking new areas for up-and-coming grape varieties."
One of those varieties is Pinot Gris, a.k.a. Pinot Grigio. It's a natural, Gallo explains, given the family's Italian roots. "A lot of Pinot Grigio is just a simple thirst quencher," she notes, "but in a cool climate, it can really express its personality." The 2002 Gallo of Sonoma Pinot Gris Reserve ($13) comes from just such a climatethe foggy Sonoma Coast. Says Gallo, "We give the Pinot Gris very minimal exposure to oak, which emphasizes its fresh, citrusy fruit and the clean acidity that makes it an incredible match for food." A case in point is the smoked salmon soufflé, based on one of Gallo's favorite recipes from her grandmother's collection, that she serves with an Asian-inspired salad by E. & J. Gallo chef Bruce Riezenman. "The soufflé is flavorful and light, like the wine, and they taste great together," she says. "The citrus notes of the Pinot Gris are almost like a little lemon twist on the salmon."