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Wine Spectator: Straight Talk With E.&J. Gallo’s Roger Nabedian

August 10, 2020

Roger Nabedian has been front and center in E.&J. Gallo’s long-term drive to diversify and expand its portfolio at the higher end of the wine market. Nabedian, senior vice president and general manager of the premium wine division, recently joined Wine Spectator senior editor Bruce Sanderson on Instagram Live series Straight Talk with Wine Spectator to discuss the state of those efforts and Gallo’s vision for its premium wine business.

Gallo’s premium portfolio took a leap forward in 2002 when it acquired Napa Valley’s Louis M. Martini. “Any time we do an acquisition there are a few aspects to it,” Nabedian explained. “There are the assets you acquire, and those are easy to assess: the condition of the vineyards, the winery itself, the brand and the opportunity it represents. Equally as important—as I’ve learned throughout all the acquisitions and integrations—is the people. We still have people from the Martini acquisition that work for us today and are active members of our team at a high level. So that Martini acquisition, moving Gallo out of a real Sonoma focus into Napa, set a path that allowed us to think more broadly and start expanding our footprint to more winegrowing areas around the world. It was the start of a 20-year evolution.”

More recently, Gallo made a pair of key acquisitions in J Vineyards and Talbott. “With J, the big appeal was getting into methode champenoise sparkling wine,” says Nabedian. “It’s a unique brand, and we’ve been able to grow that business. Talbott gave us a footprint in the Santa Lucia Highlands and the great Sleepy Hollow vineyard.”

On the import side, Gallo has assembled a portfolio of iconic brands from Italy through its Lux Wines unit. “There was an opportunity to partner with other wineries in Italy, where we had been doing business for over 20 years, in order to expand our significance with our partner distributors and customers,” says Nabedian. “We started six or seven years ago, and we’ve been fortunate with the family companies that have wanted to partner with Lux Wines. With Jermann from Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Pieropan from Soave, Renato Ratti from Barolo, Argiano Brunello, we have quite an array of stalwarts from their respective regions.”

Nabedian acknowledges the challenges imposed on more on-premise-focused labels amid the pandemic. “But the good news is our direct-to-consumer sales are doing well, and as we find ways to support our partners through three-tier with programs through companies like Drizly and Instacart, we’re able to keep our higher-end wine business moving a little bit. We’re also doing everything we can to encourage takeout from restaurants during these difficult times.”

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