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Gallo Buys California Brandy Distiller Germain-Robin

E & J Gallo of Modesto continues its expansion into the luxury tier of California wine and spirits, spending an undisclosed amount to purchase Mendocino-based Germain-Robin, a distillery devoted to making premium brandies from California wine grapes.

“We’re honored they thought about us and entrusted us to do our best to maintain their values and fidelity of the product,” said Ernest J. Gallo, general manager of Gallo’s spirits business. “It’s a big deal.”

Gallo is acquiring the brand, its inventory of aged and aging brandies, and other finished goods. Some of the brandies date back three decades and are made from a wide variety of wine grapes. Co-founder Ansley Coale and Germain-Robin’s apprentice and current distiller and cellarmaster, Joseph Corley, will remain involved.

In the short term, Gallo said he wants to ensure the company transfers Germain-Robin’s distillation practices, style and devotion to cellaring.

“We’ll have to work to integrate it into our supply chain and work to align it with our distribution network,” Gallo added. “And try to capture the culture, history and personalities of the founders of the company, not just the product. It’s a special inventory, you can’t replace that. What makes the inventory unique is the range of varietals and ages of distilled varietals, that adds aromatic and flavor characteristics you don’t find elsewhere in the world.”

He first discovered Germain-Robin in the mid-1990s.

“The first time I had their brandy, I was told, this is the best brandy in the world,” Gallo said. “The XO left a real impression. I’ve been a fan of their work for 20-plus years. They are visionaries, craftsmen for sure, paragons of craftsmanship, as authentic as they get.”

Several years ago, Gallo reached out to Coale just to meet the visionary. They have had a personal relationship ever since. Coale played a key role in the first California Brandy Summit hosted by E&J Gallo this spring.

Much has been made of Germain-Robin’s founding, a partnership between Frenchman Hubert Germain-Robin and Coale, who set up a craft distillery in Ukiah in the early 1980s after Coale picked up the hitchhiking Germain-Robin along the roads of Mendocino County.

Germain-Robin was born on his grandfather’s property near Cognac, his family distillers since 1782 under the name Jules Robin and Cie. Trained in the principles of double distillation, he came to California in 1981, enticed by the freedoms it offered to distill with whatever grapes he felt were best.

With partner Coale, whose family owned the land where they first set up shop, Germain-Robin experimented with 40 types of grapes with brandy, as well as with different yeasts and barrels. The partner’s first brandies began distilling in 1983.

Hubert Germain-Robin served as master distiller and master blender through 2006. Today he is an international distillation consultant.