Vail Wine Ink column: Barefoot tops the wine folks drink the most
THE TOP 10 WINE BRANDS BY SALES
2. Sutter Home
3. Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi
4. Franzia Box
5. Yellow Tail
6. Kendall Jackson Vintner’s Reserve
7. Chateau Ste. Michelle
8. Mènage à Trois
Source: Wines & Vines July 14
UNDER THE INFLUENCE
Barefoot California Cabernet Sauvignon — While I have not tasted, say, 30 of the 33 different wines made by Barefoot Wine & Bubbly, I have tasted their California Cabernet Sauvignon, California Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio. And for the price and purpose, they all three work. The goal of these wines is not to change your life, but to give you something to sip with friends around a barbecue. The wine is easy to drink, light on tannins, big on fruit. Bottom line? Give it a try.
One problem with wine writers, yours truly included, is that, too often, they write for themselves instead of readers.
That is to say the vast majority of wine stories are about wines, or winemakers, who appeal to the tastes and sensibilities of the writer. Now, on the surface there is nothing wrong with that. We write about what we like to drink and hope to encourage readers to try those wines, as well. But sometimes, my colleagues and I get a little too “inside baseball,” recommending obscure wines made with obscure grapes from obscure regions. Sometimes you can’t even find the wines. But beyond that, we often ignore the wines that people are actually drinking. The more popular the wine, the less likely we are to write about it.
AMERICA’S BEST-SELLING WINE
So what is the best selling wine in America? You may or may not be surprised to learn that it is the Barefoot Wine & Bubbly brand of wines made by E. & J. Gallo Winery. According to Wines & Vines, an industry publication, which cited an IRI market research report, Barefoot sold $665 million worth of wine in a 52-week period. That is an astounding figure for a wine that sells for an average price of around $5.60 per bottle.
Not only that, the Barefoot wines are so far ahead of the second-highest selling wine that there is not even a foot race. (Sorry, I had to.) Sutter Home, which is owned by Trinchero Family Estates, comes in second, with sales for the period of just more than $358 million.
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So when was the last time you read a wine story about Barefoot Wines? I kind of think it is a little bit like film critics who love to watch, write and review the small movies that play on Thursday afternoon at the Tribeca Film Festival, rather than the latest “Captain America” film. But still, it is the “Captain America” franchise that draws the folks in.
THE BAREFOOT STORY
Not only does Gallo sell a ton of Barefoot wines, but the story about the origin and growth of Barefoot is fascinating, as well.
It all began in 1965 with a Berkeley, California, based, self-taught, home winemaker named Davis Bynum, who made jug wines in his garage under the Barefoot Bynum label. Cheap and sweet, it was named for the image of bare feet crushing grapes. Bynum went on to become a significant winemaker, making the first of the Russian River pinot noirs that would become darlings of wine writers to this day and some of the best wines to be made in Sonoma, California. His first pinots from the now iconic Rochioli vineyard, made in 1973, were seminal wines in the discovery of a grape and a region that are perfectly matched for each other.
In 1986, Bynum sold the brand to Michael Houlihan, who, with business partner Bonnie Harvey, began to bootstrap what was then just a fledgling brand. Without much cash or wine industry experience, but with a seriously entrepreneurial spirit, the pair rebranded the wine as Barefoot Cellars and created the now ubiquitous Barefoot label. Focusing on making wine for customers who wanted something that was not fussy, and was affordable and quaffable, Barefoot began using what they termed Worthy Cause Marketing. Working with nonprofits that they believed in, the company built the brand by offering wines for events and relying on the word of mouth that came from actually getting wines into the glasses of consumers.
But the real key was listening to wine drinkers, not wine connoisseurs. People in the marketplace were craving wines that were easy to drink and did not require a review of the AVA, the source of the grapes or a discussion about the methods used to make it. The brand grew so much that in 2005 it was sold to Gallo, which has overseen the exponential growth of Barefoot.
Houlihan and Harvey wrote a book in 2013 about their experience, called “The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle and Heart Built America’s No. 1 Wine Brand,” that became a New York Times best-seller. It is as much a business book as it is a wine book.
Today, there are 33 different types of Barefoot Wine & Bubbly products, ranging from a California Cabernet Sauvignon to an Italian Prosecco to a recent release of canned summer spritzers under the Refresh label.
And you know what? People love them.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.