Wine world mourns Gallo empire's pioneering boss

Death of controversial marketing genius behind most famous family winery

Ernest Gallo, the marketing genius behind the world's most famous family winery, has died at his home in Modesto, California, aged 97.

Gallo - an uncompromising and sometimes controversial character who was respected and feared in equal measure - remained hands-on in the business until his death and was in his office three days a week until relatively recently.

His death comes just days after that of his youngest brother, Joe, with whom he had a strained relationship. Ernest won a legal battle with Joe - who left the business to become a dairy farmer - over the use of the Gallo name in 1986 and fended off his claims to a third of the Gallo wine assets.

Julio Gallo, the viticultural and winemaking brains behind the partnership, died in a car accident in 1993. Their ­parents, Italian migrants, died in a mysterious shooting incident in 1933.

Greg Wilkins, who worked for Gallo in the UK between 1987 and 2001 and is now a director of Brand Phoenix, said: "I found him a fascinating man. Within a few minutes of meeting him you really got this sense of how the company had been built and the status it achieved. He had great vision and an ability to sift out the important elements of a conversation. Ernest only ever took issue with people if he felt they didn't know their subject."

John McLaren, UK director of the Wine Institute of California, added: "He almost invented wine marketing and branded wine. He was always really focused on the consumer and he would find a route through the market to that consumer.

"He was a fearsome character because of all the stories that had grown up around him, but he had this twinkle in his eye. He was interested in you and would always take your views on board. He was so proud of his wine that he rarely dr ank anything else. He would always ask for his own Chenin Blanc."

A full obituary will appear in the April edition of Wine & Spirit.