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  • Jancis Robinson
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  • Jancis Robinson
24 May 2010

News reaches us that Albion 'Al' Fenderson, the eminence grise of sales and marketing at Gallo, has died at the age of 96. With the title executive vice president of marketing in a company which lives and dies by its marketing, he was as powerful in the California wine giant as anyone outside the Gallo family (pictured) could possibly be.

He made his name as one of Roosevelt's star performers on the War Production Board, specialising in the regulation of distillers, and then showed his mettle in the commercial spirits arena after the war. Ernest Gallo hired him in 1952 and took him at his word that a sales manager didn't need a desk; he should be on the road selling. Although in the 1994 memoir Ernest & Julio Gallo - Our Story, Ernest writes, 'He has been personally responsible for much of our progress. And he has long since had a desk at the winery. Fenderson has more than earned it.'

Here's how Ellen Hawkes describes Fenderman in her rival book Blood and Wine: 'As wily as his employer, Fenderson became another Ernest loyalist. Short and blond with WASP good looks and a tweedy elegance in dress, he fit the image of upper-class respectability that Ernest would always favor in his executives.'

One of the many high-profile admen to have made the two-hour trek from San Francisco airport to the company's relatively modest Central Valley headquarters in Modesto recalls presenting launch ads for Gallo's Gossamer Bay brand in the 1990s. 'Albion Fenderson, Ernest Gallo's close advisor and EVP of marketing at the time, endorsed the younger, hipper, edgier approach  the agency was presenting.

'"If we don't produce this, I would feel so bad about it I would want to shoot myself", Fenderson told Gallo.

'"Do you want to borrow my gun?" Ernest replied.'

Working for the Gallos for so many decades must have required some special human qualities but presumably Fenderson would have been cheered to see Gallo continue to emerge as the world's strongest wine brand. In a ranking just released by Drinks Power Brands in which a panel of industry insiders survey nearly 10,000 brands in wine and spirits and publish a list of the 100 most powerful, Gallo occupies first place in the wine ranking for the fifth year running.

Gallo is ahead of Concha y Toro (whose second slot may surprise some Americans) and Constellation's Robert Mondavi. Constellation, the company which took Gallo's title of biggest wine company in the world when it became a truly global organisation, has two brands in this listing of the 10 most powerful wine brands: Robert Mondavi and Hardy's.

1. Gallo
2. Concha y Toro
3. Robert Mondavi
4. Yellowtail
5. Hardy's
6. Beringer
7. Jacob's Creek
8. Sutter Home
9. Lindemans
10. Blossom Hill