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By Laura Ness

As we eagerly anticipate the 2019 Sonoma Wine Auction, to be held September 19—21, we thought it would be illuminating to learn a little more about this year’s co-chairs, Gina Gallo and Chris Jackson, who happen to be from two of the most influential, long term Sonoma wine families.  They also happen to be the two largest landowning families in terms of vineyards.

We asked them both the same 10 questions. Their answers are illuminating, striking similar chords as you’d expect. And, they share their favorite personal remedies for dealing with the challenges of public speaking—and with the general public. Spoiler alert! It involves a specific commodity for which Sonoma is famous. Read on!

Gina Gallo in wine cellar

How many years have you personally been involved with the Sonoma Wine Auction and what was your first year of doing so? Tell us what you distinctly remember about your initial experience and impressions?

Gina Gallo: As a family, we’ve been involved with Sonoma County auction events for at least a decade. Several years ago, my brother Matt Gallo was the chair.  My memories of these wonderful events are of people coming together in celebration. These events have always been fun and unpretentious, which is a reflection of the authenticity of our people and our wines. The auction highlights the soul of Sonoma County: farmers, grape growers, winemakers and chefs gathering to showcase the truly unique, world-class bounty of Sonoma County.

Chris Jackson: I have been involved in the Sonoma Wine Auction philanthropically for the past five years but have only helped chair it for one. Watching George Hamel give an impassioned speech about fire relief was probably the most visceral memory I have. People who live in this community love and care about it.

What are some of the highlights of this particular auction that make it different from other events? What’s unique about the auction lots? The atmosphere? Why should winelovers not miss it?

Gina Gallo: The Sonoma County Wine Auction is a time to gather together in celebration of Sonoma County’s renowned culture of acclaimed wines and innovative, locally-sourced foods from some of the county’s best chefs. Each year offers special, once-in-a-lifetime experiences for guests, which makes the Sonoma County Wine Auction one of the best in the country.

This year’s auction includes some of the most intriguing and interesting lots I’ve ever seen.  My personal lot is a once-in-a-lifetime tour of Italy to some of Tuscany and Northern Italy’s most spectacular cities and best wineries. Winners will explore the best of Italian winemaking, including visits with some of Italy’s most iconic winemakers, like Marilisa Allegrini and Pietro Ratti. Italian immigrants were so important to establishing the culture of winemaking in Sonoma County, so I think it’s wonderful to be able to continue to create and explore that connection today.

Chris Jackson

Chris Jackson: The auction lots are world class experiences that combine the unbelievable beauty of Sonoma County with the thrill of international sport and travel. If a wine lover wants to experience great Rhône, Burgundy and Bordeaux varieties, there is no better place than the Sonoma Wine Auction. We are the most topographically and climatically diverse world-class wine region in the world. 

As co-chair, what does your role involve? Will you be given a script to work from, or will you get together with your co-chair to develop a plan?

Gina Gallo: My primary role as co-chair is to help raise awareness and excitement for the event, particularly the fantastic auction lots and unique experiences that will raise much-needed funds for the Sonoma County community. One of the best things about this event is the breadth of beneficiaries, which include everything from education to health to the arts to rebuilding homes for wildfire victims. Guests at the Auction are making a real difference in our community and I’m tremendously honored to be part of it.

During the Auction weekend, Chris and I will be welcoming guests throughout all the different events, celebrating Sonoma County’s wonderful wine and culinary culture. I am looking forward to working together with Christ joining two incredible, historic families of Sonoma County wine to showcase the best of what our vintners, growers and chefs can produce.

Chris Jackson: Gina and I are planning to speak from the heart in support of the great charities in our local community. This wine auction is very organic and authentic.

What is the funniest thing you’ve ever seen happen at a wine auction? Do you have “lucky socks” or another good luck charm you wear or bring to public speaking events?

Gina Gallo:  For me, public speaking has always paired well with a glass of Russian River Valley Chardonnay. I am actually quite shy. I’ve joked that I’d rather jump out of an airplane than give a speech. So, at events like this, I always focus on the things that really matter to me the most: speaking from the heart, sharing our family story and helping create excitement and enjoyment for people exploring world-class wines and healthy, fresh food. I think my good luck charm is the support and energy I get from my friends and family and from the wonderful people I see and meet at every event.

Chris Jackson: I am not sure what the funniest thing I have ever seen is. I am sure that watching my friends and I trying to put our left foot in front of our other left foot on the dance floor has been funny to other people. I am going to bring my ten-year old cowboy boots. They are very comfortable, and I have worn them on some of my favorite occasions.

What was is it like growing up in a famous first family of wine? Did you ever consider a career outside the wine industry? If so, what was it?

Gina Gallo: Growing up in the Gallo family has always been centered around the table. There was never a family dinner without a bottle of wine on the table, shared between our grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles — and us, when we were old enough. There was lots of laughter — and sometimes some spirited debates — but mostly we learned the stories of our family history. It’s where we learned many of our family values, like compassion, hard work and integrity.

When I was young, I didn’t know if my future was in wine. I went to college and studied psychology. I thought about what a different path might look like. But I was always drawn into my passion for telling the stories of our family, for exploring new flavors and for learning all the different expressions of wine and the nuances each region and vineyard can bring to what’s in your glass. I followed my heart and it led me here.

Chris Jackson: Wine is culturally and spiritually tied to my identity. I could not imagine a career devoid of it. I am in the craft beer industry as well. My Sonoma County brewery Seismic just took gold for our American IPA Shatter Cone in the competitive, blind US Open Beer Championship!

As one of the top two vineyard owning families in Sonoma, do you envision adding/acquiring more vineyard acreage at this point? In five years, who will hold more Sonoma vineyard acres, Gallo or Jackson Family? Who owns more acreage in total at this point?

Gina Gallo:  Gosh I don’t know – it’s not a race. Sonoma County’s diversity should always be celebrated.  There are a lot of families here doing good work.

I admire the Jackson family for their dedication to sustainability, which began with founder Jess Jackson in his winery’s earliest days.  He knew that being a caretaker of the land is of the utmost importance, and it’s a tradition being carried on today with Christopher and his family.

My grandfather Julio had a saying — the quality of the vineyard is in the footprints of the vineyard’s owner. It was one of his greatest lessons, teaching us to respect and love the earth beneath our feet, which gives so much back to us. These were also the lessons Jess Jackson was giving to his children. As family-owned wineries, sustainability is the single most important legacy that we or any winemaker in California can leave for the next generation.

Chris Jackson: We are going to acquire more vineyard land at some point. I would not pretend to know the answer. We are both deeply rooted families in this wine community.

As a celebrity, you likely schmooze with all kinds of folks at this auction and others. What is the craziest question you’ve ever been asked?

Gina Gallo: Am I a celebrity?  I’m a winemaker!  This is a difficult question – I was asked once about what my favorite “unique” wine pairing would be. It’s J Vineyards & Winery Late Disgorged Vintage Brut sparkling wine with Chicharrónes. Another fun one was being asked to use a song title to describe my job. For that one, “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge immediately came to mind.

Chris Jackson: Nothing really strikes me as that crazy. A glass of Russian River Chardonnay makes most things seem rational. J

Do you get asked for autographs at events like this? What’s the most memorable thing you’ve ever autographed?

Gina Gallo: Most of the time, I’m just asked to sign bottles. Sometimes it’s an event program, lanyard or something like that. I always find it fun to sign bottles. My signature is on the label of every bottle of Gallo Signature Series because these are the wines that represent and celebrate the extraordinary story of our family winery. So being asked to hand-sign these bottles is always an honor. These wines are very personal to me and close to my heart. I love sharing them.

Chris Jackson: I have autographed bottles of my wine, Stonestreet Estate Rockfall Vineyard, for avid wine fans before.

With all the need in the community due to the natural disasters of late, what do you hope to achieve with this year’s wine auction? How can attendees help most?

Gina Gallo: Some of Sonoma County’s most acute challenges have been in the last few years. But the most inspiring part of these challenges is seeing first-hand the benefits of building a strong community and how quickly we can come together to hold each other up when we need it most. I invite guests to the Sonoma County Wine Auction to look inside themselves to find what they can offer to others. We are capable of so much more as part of a strong, thriving community of helpers.

First and foremost, we are at the Sonoma County Wine Auction to raise funds for the community. When you are here, open your hearts and open your wallets. These donations leave a lasting legacy in Sonoma County. With every bid, you are supporting education and literacy for children and adults. With every dollar, you are creating a cleaner and more sustainable environment for future generations. With every donation, you are helping to solve food insecurity, giving health care and providing housing for our community. You are giving people access to the arts through music, theater, museums and culture. You are rebuilding homes for people who lost theirs in the wine country fires.

What we do on auction weekend makes a significant difference to the Sonoma County community. Part of what I love about Sonoma County is the strength of its people, the willingness to band together and help each other when we need it most. There are some stunning, one-of-a-kind auction lots and experiences to bid on. Bid early and bid often! You won’t be disappointed.

Chris Jackson: We want to carry this auction forth and help make it one of the most successful wine auctions in the world. If we can generate $5,000,000 annually for the marginalized of this community, we will be very proud. We help support children, education, mental health efforts, environmental cleanup, alleviation of poverty and fire relief. Please act from the heart on behalf of these great causes. Your contributions can make a difference for people in this community that need the most help. I will be active in raising my paddle with you.

Do you have any personal stories to share about working with the Sonoma Vintners Foundation to aid survivors of the 2017 wildfires, or possibly other beneficiaries of the many grant programs the foundation offers?

Gina Gallo: We had employees, members of our extended family, who were personally affected by the wildfires. We were happy to provide direct assistance to them, as well as help more broadly through our winery’s donations to assist with wine country recovery efforts.  It’s still pretty raw, I think, for all of us.

Chris Jackson: I am very proud of our paddle raise cause. We are going to help build a Boys & Girls Club that provides food, education, services and shelter to tens of thousands of children in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Sonoma. The wait list for this club is already long, the need is great and the people it will support were greatly impacted by the fires of 2017 that decimated Coffey Park. Standing in a newly created facility dedicated to helping children will be my proudest philanthropic accomplishment. 

Wine Auction Details

Tickets to the Sonoma County Wine Auction are  $2500 per person, and include three days of unforgettable events, beginning with the Kickoff Party on Thursday, Sept 19, at Jacuzzi Vineyards, where you can preview some of the auction lots and rub elbows with local winemakers. A series of Vintner’s Dinners are yours to choose from on Friday evening, and Saturday’s Auction Day, the pinnacle of the weekend experience, takes place at La Crema Estate at Saralee’s Vineyard, starting with a reception and auction lot preview from 1—3pm, followed by the Live Auction from 3pm—6pm. A post auction celebration will be held from 6pm—7:30pm. Come join the fun and help Sonoma rebuild.

Visit sonomacountywineauction.com for tickets and information.

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