A Dinner Party with Gina Gallo and Jean-Charles Boisset
She’s a talented winemaker and the face of an American wine dynasty; he’s the scion of a French wine empire. Gina Gallo and Jean-Charles Boisset invite F&W to an intimate party at home.
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“You see, this apartment used to be divided in two,” Jean-Charles Boisset is saying. “There was a wall right down the middle. But it’s much better this way.” He’s describing the San Francisco pied-à-terre that he and his wife, Gina Gallo, own—a mirrored space atop a 1930s Art Deco building, itself at the top of Nob Hill. Metaphorically, he could just as well be describing the union of the Gallo and Boisset families.
In the wine universe, Jean-Charles’s 2009 marriage to Gina was big news. Family-owned E & J Gallo, based in Modesto, California, is the largest wine producer in the world. Its 60 brands range from everyday, supermarket ones like Carlo Rossi to its top-of-the-line Gallo Family Vineyards wines. Boisset, also family-owned, was founded in 1961 by Jean-Charles’s father. Today it is France’s fifth-largest producer, making everything from affordable labels like Mommessin in France and Lyeth Estate in Sonoma to grand cru Burgundies like those from Domaine de la Vougeraie.
Jean-Charles, currently president of Boisset Family Estates, is known as an ambitious businessman. Gina, on the other hand, lives her life amidst barrels and vines—a respected winemaker, she’s currently in charge of all of Gallo’s higher-end Sonoma bottlings. Yet despite the prominence of both their families, the two never crossed paths until nine years ago at Vinexpo, a major trade event. “I had never met him before,” Gina says. “I’d never even met his family.”
Jean-Charles continues, “There was a formal dinner one night, for which I stopped by, and when she stood up and I saw her...You have to understand, I was a very active bachelor at the time, but after that....” The two were married in 2009, and now they’re the parents of Honorée-Josephine and Grace-Antoinette, twin 11-month-old girls.
The guests today are a cross-section of San Francisco tastemakers: chef Michael Mina of Michael Mina restaurant; Mina’s wine director, Rajat Parr; Andrew Skurman, a sought-after architect who helped design the apartment; Michael Traub, the CEO of BSH, the high-end German kitchen appliance company (Bosch, Gaggenau and Thermador); Jaime Jiménez, Baccarat’s director of marketing and communications for North America; and a few others.
As guests snack on Mina’s creamy smoked-salmon deviled eggs, Gina pours glasses of crisp 2009 Gallo Signature Series Chardonnay. In contrast to her husband, who rarely stops moving, Gina is a somewhat reserved presence. But when she starts talking about her wines, it’s easy to see the passion she has for her work. The Chardonnay, she explains to Jiménez, “is from one of my favorite vineyards, Laguna Ranch. It’s in a very cool spot in the Russian River Valley—just an absolutely perfect location for growing Chardonnay.”
Gina Gallo and Jean-Charles Boisset are joined by Elisa Stephens and Jaime Jiménez.Photo © Michael Turek.
Jean-Charles teaches chef Michael Mina how to open sparkling wine with a saber.Photo © Michael Turek.
Gina Gallo tries her Pinot Noir with the pasta.Photo © Michael Turek.
Across the room, Jean-Charles takes a seat next to a 19th-century doghouse (painted silver to match the interior design) belonging to the couple’s French bulldog, a solid block of dog named, appropriately enough, Frenchie. Part of the inspiration for the apartment’s look, he says, was the Galerie des Glaces at Versailles, where mirrored arches reflect the view from windows looking over the gardens. In Jean-Charles and Gina’s San Francisco nest (where globes of feathers are light fixtures), Skurman designed five mirrored doors to reflect views from the windows all around, so that the entire city spreads out before you no matter where you look.
The setting sun flashes briefly on a three-foot silver sword (for sabering off the tops of Champagne bottles) that Mina has picked up from a side table. He brandishes it and calls, “Raj! I like this! I could use it in the kitchen!” It’s a bit unclear whether the chef means for cooking or for keeping unruly employees in line.
Jean-Charles asked Mina to create a multicourse Cal-Ital menu, “in honor of Gina’s family.” That means a spinach salad with roasted garlic and ciabatta croutons, followed by strozzapreti pasta with a spicy lamb ragù. The main course is succulent beef shanks, braised for hours in red wine and port. Jean-Charles and Gina pair each course with wines from their own portfolios. With the beef shanks, the guests have two choices: the robust 2008 Gallo Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon (the signature on the label is Gina’s) and a wine from Jean-Charles’s Sonoma portfolio, a rich 2008 Merlot blend called The Count, from Buena Vista Winery. Jean-Charles bought the property in 2011; its name is an homage to Agoston Haraszthy, the Hungarian nobleman who was Buena Vista’s original owner and a founding father of California wine.
Since most of Mina’s dishes are make-ahead, they allow the cook to join the guests at the table—unless the cook is a perfectionist, which is pretty much a given for anyone at Mina’s level. Between courses, he’s in the kitchen, tweaking this, adjusting that, then handing the plates to Jean-Charles to serve. Debbie Zachareas, the co-owner of San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, says, “Jean-Charles, you’d make a great food runner.” With a flourish, Jean-Charles sets a plate on the table, then, before sitting down himself, takes a big mock bow.
Gina Gallo and Jean-Charles Boisset’s Pairing Menu
Gina Gallo and Jean-Charles Boisset select sparkling wines for the first course.Photo © Michael Turek.
Jean-Charles Boisset’s Wine Pick: JCB No. 69 Crémant de Bourgogne NV
Gina Gallo’s Wine Pick: 2009 Gallo Signature Series Chardonnay
Jean-Charles Boisset’s Wine Pick: 2009 DeLoach Vineyards OFS Pinot Noir
Gina Gallo’s Wine Pick: 2009 Gallo Signature Series Pinot Noir
Jean-Charles Boisset’s Wine Pick: 2008 Buena Vista Winery The Count
Gina Gallo’s Wine Pick: 2008 Gallo Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon