Barefoot is nation’s biggest brand. Memories.
I’m not at all surprised to see that Barefoot is the country’s biggest wine brand in retail sales, according to a new study published in Wines & Vines.
I’ve been a Barefoot fan for years. With line pricing of $7, Barefoot offers consumers good value. I’ve given a bunch of “Best Buy” special designations to several releases this year (Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Moscato, Cabernet Sauvignon), and because the wines are produced in such large quantities (1.17 million cases for the Cabernet), they’re easy to find just about anyplace.
Are all the Barefoot wines good? No. Are they necessarily what I would drink at home? No. Fortunately, I’m in a position to drink better. But millions of Americans depend on these wines, and I’ve always defended wine companies like Gallo (which owns Barefoot) for making the simple act of drinking wine an affordable pleasure.
The Chicago market research firm that conducted the study shows Barefoot sales up an astounding 27.4% from a year ago (to $254,685.500). That’s not only because the wines are sound, it’s due to Gallo’s extraordinary sales and distribution system, which is hard to compete with. Gallo’s always been a leader in distribution–they taught everyone else how to do it. When I was getting into wine, the oldtimers would tell me stories from the 1940s about how ruthless Gallo’s salesmen were. They’d shake their heads in disbelief at some of the things those roguish old sales guys did, but there was also a note of admiration for their chutzpah.
I could never be a salesman. I have friends who work for wine companies on the sales side, and I don’t envy them. It’s a hard life. You’re out there on the road all the time–if it’s Tuesday, this must be Cleveland–living out of suitcases, staying up ‘til all hours, probably eating and drinking too much. Psychologically, you’re on the wrong side of the equation: trying to sell wine to people who have the upper hand in this down market. They pit you against your competitors–Sutter Home, Franzia, Woodbridge, Yellow Tail, K-J–forcing you to deal with them on their terms. Meanwhile, your employer has expectations you’ll deplete “x” number of case goods, or else. So you reach for another Xanax and hit the road for Milwaukee.
I’m glad to see Bogle on the list at #18. I’ve always liked their wines. Lots of Best Buys there, too. They tend to be a little more expensive than Barefoot, but I give them higher scores. You get what you pay for.
You really have to admire these big companies, whether they’re family owned (Gallo, Sutter Home, Kendall-Jackson) or corporate owned (Woodbridge and Robert Mondavi, Fetzer, Clos du Bois). Their brands have insinuated themselves in the consumers’ mind and now ring as familiar is Band-Aids and Xerox machines. Those brands whose sales are up in this economy especially deserve kudos. It’s hard to discern why down brands are struggling, especially Fetzer, which is off 13.9% from last year. They’ve been well branded for nearly 30 years, so something must be up. Their last few wines have been pretty good; I gave then a bunch of Best Buys, and they’re affordable, at $9-$10 a bottle. I wonder if they problem isn’t on the sales, distribution and marketing side. Maybe Moscato can give Fetzer a shot in the arm, but maybe not; everybody else is making it too.
Thinking of Fetzer brings back memories. When it was owned by the ubiquitous Fetzer clan, I was invited up for a food and wine thing, at their big visitor’s center in Hopland (Mendocino County). Julia Child was there as a guest chef. I found myself sitting with her, just the two of us, on a little wooden deck beside a pond. It was a very hot day and we both had retreated there to find a cooling breeze. As we chatted, she lifted her white skirt up above the knees, slightly spread her legs and fanned herself, in an endearingly unself-conscious way. I remember also Julia Child serving lunch to a group of us on a sand dune overlooking Monterey Bay. The weather was cold and windy, and she struggled to carry plates of food as she negotiated the treacherous sand. Dressed in white sneakers, with her great height, she seemed like a sea nymph, washed ashore from the briny deep.