Jeff Gargiulo is the founder of Gargiulo Vineyards, one of the top small producers of cabernet sauvignon in Oakville, in the Napa Valley. Jeff has been involved with farming his entire life. He was CEO of his family’s tomato business, Gargiulo Inc., the country’s largest tomato producing and packing business. He has also served as CEO of Sunkist Corporation, and is co-owner of Greenleaf SF, a purveyor of organic, locally grown produce in the San Francisco Bay Area. Jeff and his wife Valerie are founders and trustees of the Naples Winter Wine Festival and the Naples Children & Education Foundation in Naples, Florida. In the Napa Valley, Jeff plays lead guitar in a local band called The Silverado Pickups—along with a number of other mostly Napa vintners.
We interviewed Jeff Gargiulo for WineSpeed in November 2019.
Karen MacNeil: What is it about wine that moves you?
Jeff Gargiulo: Pleasure and romance.
KM: How old were you when you tasted your first wine and who gave it to you?
JG: I was around 10 when my Dad gave me some wine mixed with ginger ale at dinner. It soured the ginger ale, unlike my favorite combination which was Welch’s grape juice and ginger ale.
KM: You came from a farming business background. Many young men would have left a life in farming, but you carried on, and in fact rose to become the top executive at both Sunkist and Monsanto. What is compelling to you about farming—both on a small scale and a large scale?
JG: Everything from watching the plants grow and producing fruit and vegetables, to the packaging and marketing of our food has always been fascinating to me. I remember when I was 22 years old seeing a flat of strawberries on the dock of a terminal market. It just hit me hard and 10 years later, I started growing commercial strawberries. Over time I realized the importance of the land—both its location and the soil itself—on quality, which carried forward to planting grape vines.
KM: You live and work in Napa Valley, what other wine region inspires you the most and why?
JG: Piedmont, Italy. l not only love the wines, but also the rustic and authentic sense of place. The food is my favorite in Italy, and the wine pairings with it are awesome.
KM: Your vineyard is a baseball’s throw away from Screaming Eagle, and in fact the former owner of Screaming Eagle, Jean Phillips, was the real estate agent who sold you your property. Do you feel your Gargiulo “575 OVX” Cabernet shares some characteristics with Screaming Eagle?
JG: I definitely feel like there is a uniqueness to wines from the red dirt on the east side of Oakville. We share with Screaming Eagle those silky tannins and mocha flavors. Rich fruit but not pruney or stewy.
KM: Does your Italian heritage contribute to your love of wine? How so?
JG: I can remember being a young kid maybe eight years old, hanging out with my grandmother, watching her cook. Even though I was third generation Italian, I definitely related to the pleasure and romance of a glass of wine with Italian food. In fact, I can’t wait for the next paring tonight.
“I can remember being a young kid maybe eight years old, hanging out with my grandmother, watching her cook. Even though I was third generation Italian, I definitely related to the pleasure and romance of a glass of wine with Italian food.”
KM: In addition to wine, what’s your other favorite beverage?
JG: Sparkling water, or a good brandy like Calvados, Cognac, or Armagnac.
KM: You and Valerie have raised over $6.7 million for several charities. Tell me about a couple of your most meaningful charities and why you selected them.
JG: Valerie and I are founders of the Naples Winter Wine Festival and have chaired the event multiple times. We are still involved after 20 years and have raised close to $200 million for local children. We stay involved with the Napa Valley auction as well. In addition, we enjoy Notes for Education where we partner with the Bluebird Cafe Nashville and raise money to purchase musical instruments and musical education for kids both in Nashville and Napa Valley. I play guitar in a band called the Silverado Pickups, and we focus on fundraising. Our next performance is in Napa at a fundraiser on March 28 for Clinic Ole, which provides medical services to farmworkers. We will then perform at the Bluebird in Nashville on April 15 for the spring Notes for Education event.
KM: You have three grown children, April, Jeff Jr., and Alexandra. Are they involved with Gargiulo Vineyards?
JG: Our oldest daughter April was very instrumental in the early days of Gargiulo in all aspects of sales and marketing, including our packaging design. Now she and her husband Mitch Lowe are partners and serve as advisors and board members.
KM: What do you consider your greatest achievement?
JG: Working with my wife Valerie in all aspects of charity work, but in particular as co-founders and inaugural chairman of the Naples Winter Wine Festival. To have this event be sustainable and to be part of a group of adults who have contributed their passion, time, and treasure is very rewarding—a life experience for all.