Today, Americans say that wine is their favorite alcoholic beverage. The last of the two brothers we should thank for that, Ernest Gallo, died on Tuesday. He was 97.

Ernest Gallo died in the same town where he was born: Modesto, California, which today is within spitting distance of some of the world's finest wineries. But, again, much of that is thanks to him and his brother Julio. Together, they transformed $5,900 and a recipe found at a public library into the world's largest winemaker.

Yet there's irony in eulogizing the Gallos at a site dedicated to stocks. Their winery is still privately held. Ernest, in particular, found that to be a source of pride. "I am glad we do not have to divert energy to what public stockholders think of our management, our future, or the value of our stock," Ernest wrote in the autobiographical Our Story, which he co-authored with Julio in 1994.

Nevertheless, investors owe much to the Gallos. Without them, great stocks like Brown-Forman (NYSE:BF-B), which produces the popular Fetzer California wines and Bolla Italian wines, and Willamette Valley Vineyards (NASDAQ:WVVI) would probably be little more than liquor distributors, if they existed at all.

Instead, they're thriving, and wine as a whole is a $125 billion business here in the U.S. If growth persists, experts say that America will surpass France and Italy as the world's largest wine-consuming culture by the end of the decade.

And none of that would have been possible without Ernest and Julio. A toast to you both. Rest well.

Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers thinks a crisp Moscato D'Asti is almost as good as it gets. Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article at the time of publication. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy will drink to your portfolio's health.