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For most general counsel, their workload doesn’t depend on whether or not it’s harvest season. But for Jack Owens, the executive vice president and general counsel of Modesto, California-based E. & J. Gallo Winery, there’s a crush, literally, in the late summer and fall when the grapes are harvested and wine making begins. Owens, 59, supervises a ten-lawyer legal department that deals with intellectual property, real estate, government relations, and tax issues. In 1981, while a partner in the San Francisco office of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, Owens won a U.S. Supreme Court case for the winery, then a client. Soon after the win, Ernest Gallo approached him about the GC spot. “I never thought I would leave private practice,” Owens says. “[Ernest Gallo] proved me wrong, as he often does.” What do you like best and least about your job? The wine business is a fascinating industry, and I truly enjoy the diversity and fast pace. On the other hand, the inability to delve as deeply as one would like into some subjects can be frustrating. What are some legal issues that are unique to the wine industry? As a winery, we deal with many unique issues under the Twenty-first Amendment [repealing Prohibition] and the many state regulations that flow from that amendment. Because of the unique history of Prohibition and its repeal and the consequent constitutional amendments, our industry is much more heavily regulated than is true of most consumer goods. How often do you visit the vineyards? Frequently. The beauty and peacefulness of the vineyards are wonderful. Several years ago, I hosted a reunion of my Stanford in France [college study abroad] group at our Frei Brothers Winery in Sonoma. Many of them remarked on the beauty of the place. Is there any particular way Gallo grows its grapes? Are the wines organic? The Gallo family is dedicated to sustainable agricultural practices and pioneered many “give back to the land” viticultural practices. However, we do not make organic claims about our wines. What is your favorite wine? There are many, and this will be a case of slighting by omission. The Pinot Noir that Matt and Gina [Gallo] make in very small quantities from our McMurray Ranch in the Russian River area of Sonoma County is memorable. Ditto the full-bodied reds that come out of our Napa and Sonoma facilities, such as Gallo of Sonoma and our Frei and Martini Wineries. Where would we find you on a Saturday afternoon? Tearing up mutuel [horse racing] tickets. I raise and race thoroughbreds. It’s an incurable insanity. If you were not a lawyer, what would you be? Rancher/farmer. Do you have a wine cellar? Yes. The contents are a trade secret.

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