By Gwen Dawkins
Janice Gali, 62, is not just another ‘Rosé All Day’ trendy-T-shirt-clad woman running around town. Instead, this dynamic Gali Vineyards co-founder is ‘pouring’ all day, and she wants you to enjoy their excellent coastal wine varietals in their casual new tasting room in downtown Los Gatos, California.
You and your husband just opened a new tasting room for your wine label Gali Vineyards. How did this journey begin?
I enjoy investing in real estate, and Joseph is a pediatrician. In his spare time, he loves to garden and is excellent at growing all things. We combined our interests and, in 2003, bought acreage in Corralitos, California, which is in the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA. Grapes piqued our interest, but the market wasn’t lucrative at the time. After considering different options, we planted blueberries and enjoyed that very much. A few years later, we bought our neighbor’s land to merge with our own, which now comprises 46 acres. By then, the grape market had rebounded, and we decided to pivot.
In 2012, we ordered our first rootstocks. A vintage takes four years to grow and produce. Our original intention was to make wine for other wineries and keep a small amount of wine for ourselves, family and friends. We grow Pinot Noir, Syrah, Tempranillo, and Chardonnay varietals. More recently, we have added Albariño grapes, which like our Tempranillo, is another Spanish cultivar. At about the same time, I also joined wine associations, took viticulture courses, started pouring our estate wines at local Bay Area events, and even got jobs at other tasting rooms to learn that side of the business.
We decided to plant more grapes and now have 18 acres in production, which will produce nearly 100 tons of grapes. In full production, we’ll have 5600 cases to sell. We sell 90% of our grapes to other wineries and hold 10% for ourselves. So, a tasting room seemed like the next logical step.
This hobby seems like it steamrolled its way onto an ever-evolving path.
Well, I prefer to call it serendipity. In addition to wanting to be growers and enjoying the fruits of our labor, our goal is to grow excellent grapes. We cannot make outstanding wine out of mediocre grapes. So we take great care in every step of the process. With our south-facing vineyard and coastal influence of foggy mornings and afternoon winds, our vines experience a temperature variation of up to 35 degrees each day. As a result, our vines have adapted to their unique terroir, producing fruit with thicker skins, more intense coloring and deeply complex flavors.
One of the best decisions we’ve made was partnering with our superb winemaker Tony Craig. He’s known as the “Prince of Pinot” and widely respected for his winemaking magic at other Santa Cruz Mountain prestigious labels Savannah-Chanelle Vineyards, David Bruce Winery and his own Sonnet Wine Cellar.
Without big-name backers, you need to establish a significant presence. So, I wear many hats –– sales, marketing, branding, labeling, backend, ordering, pouring –– I do anything and everything I can to make our wines known. And I do surprise some people with the progress I make. For example, I was in months-long negotiations with Safeway and Costco for large case orders, which ultimately didn’t pan out.
But there was prolonged interest in our wines, and that’s when we decided to take the next step and open our own tasting room. I began looking for spaces throughout the Bay Area, navigating different cities’ expensive and complicated Conditional Use Permits, and trying to find the right fit in the right place. Then Covid hit. After a series of obstacles, I thought to myself, “Who do I think I am? Frickin’ crazy for starting a new business at age 62?” Finally, my family sat me down and said, ‘You can do this; you have so much spunk.’ So here I am, moving forward with this fun, exciting, crazy idea.
How has the wine industry received your wines?
Because I’ve had no previous connection to the wine world, we are learning by doing. Like many other wine producers, our hearts are rooted in high quality, hand-tended and nurtured honest-to-goodness winemaking. We are proud of being recognized for the love and dedication we give to our wines. We’ve earned several prestigious awards for many of our 2016 and 2017 vintages, including a 97 pt. Double Gold in the Sunset International Wine Competition for our 2017 Syrah.
Tell me about the new Gali Vineyards Tasting Room.
Wine is a luxury item that people want to taste. Wine is like art. Not everyone likes the same thing, and that’s OK. We want you to enjoy our wines, but we’re not going to push it on anyone.
Our goal was to make a wine bar where you and your friends can sit around the table, have a charcuterie board, and enjoy yourself. We want it to feel hospitable. So, someone from the family will often be there –– Joseph, myself, or our daughter Madeline, an ad agency pro who is championing our marketing and advertising efforts. We also want people to feel connected to our space and our wines. Our tasting room is located in a restored modern rustic building built in 1905 in downtown Los Gatos, California. Its high ceilings, original Douglas fir floors, reclaimed wood-paneled walls, and natural-edge white cedar bar top and black walnut tables –– which were milled from our property — all speak to the easy, family-style experience.
Our logo also has special meaning and is featured prominently on our label and in the tasting room. Joseph is from Turkey and wanted to bring his heritage into our branding. The Hittites were Bronze-Age, Anatolian people who settled in the region of modern-day Turkey. The Hittite Sun Disk portrays the sun and earth, donning pointed tips that represent fertility and reproduction. All of these meanings dovetail into our desire to grow and produce the best fruit and wine we can. Therefore, we’ve stylized the Hittite Sun to represent Gali Vineyards.
What’s it like to work with your husband?
We both know our boundaries. I do not get involved in farming. And he doesn’t get involved in the business side. We both know our own limits and have high confidence in each other’s skills. We’re a great team because we both know our value.
What excites you about this time in life?
Getting out there again instead of feeling like it’s time to go off into the sunset. I didn’t just want to watch Joseph grow crops. I am a curious person and always ready to learn. As we get older, we often take fewer risks. But if I were 30, I wouldn’t question the risks or be so cautious. There’s still a huge learning curve, but after a lot of research, talking to people and learning my way around a new industry, I decided, ‘This is it!’ I’ve pulled the trigger on a new adventure.
Gali Vineyards Tasting Room is located at 21 W. Main Street, Los Gatos, CA 95030. For more information about their wines, wine club, tastings and private events, visit www.galivineyards.com or https://www.facebook.com/galivineyards/