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Wednesday wraparound: Fred Franzia, more post-WBC14 opinionating, and “the tipping point”



Not sayin’ that Fred Franzia is on the same enlightened level as the Dalai Lama, but it seems to me that HuffPo’s Chris Knox came down on him a little strong—even for a medium (the blog) that’s known for snark.

“Trash-mouthed, unapologetic [and] downright crude”? Well, I don’t think Fred ever graduated from charm school, but he’s not as bad as all that. I’ve known him—not well, but some—over the years, and I’ve managed to find affection for him, even though he’s done one or two crummy things to me. But I’ve done crummy things to people, too, so as usual, the Golden Rule applies. Fred, like it or not, is a product of his time and place—besides, someone once said that people who swear a lot are more honest, and there’s a lot of truth to that.

More important is Chris Knox’s j’accuse! against Two Buck Chuck. Now, I can’t say I have any idea if the wines contain (as Chris alleges), “animal blood and parts” (I should think the FDA, or whoever the relevant government agency is, would be up on that). But I can say that I respect Fred, and Bronco, his company, for making wine that anybody can afford to drink—and varietal wines, at that. I think we all agree that the most important thing for the wine industry is to get more people drinking. Two Buck Chuck does that; Petrus doesn’t. So kudos to Fred, from my point of view.

* * *

Kudos, too, to Joe Roberts AKA 1WineDude, for telling it like it is yesterday on his blog. I was kind of at Ground Zero of all the post-WBC14 grousing and blather, and I really wasn’t in the mood to put my [strong] thoughts into words, so I refrained, except in a few private exchanges. But Joe, bless his heart, who perhaps has garnered some credibility in the world of Millennial bloggers, let ‘er rip. The comments on his blog—104 and counting, as I write this—make for fascinating reading on their own. My fave: did the panelists (those accomplished online/print writers that happened to be middle-aged white dudes) miss an opportunity, or, did we bloggers miss the opportunity?” Joe deserves credit for his courageous, truthful expression of the facts.

* * *

Some of us were talking the other day about how a new winery/brand reaches “the tipping point,” in terms of popularity and success. One suggestion was that, to a certain extent, this can be stage-managed, through smart, creative marketing, promotional and sales efforts—although admittedly, that can be expensive. Another point of view is that tipping points occur serendipitously. You can’t make them happen, no matter how much money you spend (as any number of billionaires who have run for California governor over the years, and embarrassingly lost, well know). All that the expenditure of money (on media events, etc.) can do is increase the winery’s chances of being noticed by “the right people.” That is indeed important—but beyond that, there’s still the element of magic. Moreover, a winery can “hit it” for a brief period of time—Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame—but staying relevant is a lot harder. If there was a formula, or template, for reaching “the tipping point,” everyone would know it. But there isn’t.

* * *

Finally, a link to another blog, today’s edition of “Juicy Tales by Jo Diaz,” in which she expresses points of view I pretty much agree with. And with that, I’ll wish you all a good day!

  1. My all time, most read blog ever, Steve, was the one where I wrote that you had left the building. I had 2,158 unique visitors to my site that day… a far cry from the 300 that would be usual.

    Again today, with it only being 9:10 a.m., readership is escalating at a fast pace, with a lot of it coming in from your own blog. It’s clear to me that your fan base is HUGE, and it’s is really well deserved, because you have history, clarity, and work tirelessly to have writing continue to be the craft of the greatest minds in history.

  2. Joe Roberts fixated on machine picking, dead animals,and MOG as the primary problem with the quality to Bronco wines.

    That’s insignificant when compared to Bronco’s real detriments to quality: Planting in the soft soils of the central valley where the temperatures average 95 degrees in the summer, cropping at a whopping 14-30 tons per acre, applying more water than a rice paddy, and trellising every variety on a extended quadrilateral system.

    But seriously who cares? The bottom of the market has a place in the hearts of many. It would be nice if Fred Franzia could recognise that the other segments of the market have validity and value also.

  3. I have finally figured out the problem that the wine bloggers have with old white guys like Steve Heimoff.

    They have audiences with fewer readers than hours in the day, think they are the equal to Heimoff, Dunne, etc, because they also can claim (rightfully so) to be journalists/winewriters.

    Most of the thousand wine bloggers are amateurs–which is not to say that they do not count, but they want to be treated like pros, put on panels to share their knowledge and believe in their own self-importance.

    Blogging at their level should be for the sheer pleasure of it. It cannot be more. There is no room for 1000 wine blogs any more than there is room for 1,000 new car blogs. Go ask Joe Roberts, our hero of the day, how many wine blogs he reads in a day.

    I find it sad and a little depressing that the wine blogosphere, which I admire greatly, is trying to be more than it is. If the words of Steve Heimoff and Mike Dunne cannot help you improve, then maybe you can’t improve and should just enjoy yourself.

    Please also see, if you are interested in a longer rant about the importance of wine blogging and the perils of its existence, my editorial blog today at It will piss a few people off, but it has some also some essential truths about what blogging is and is not.

  4. Dear Mark, a few comments. First, Joe Roberts did not author the Fred Franzia piece. Second, I don’t know whether or not Fred “recognizes the other segments of the market.” What difference does it make? That’s like asking if Sears recognizes Prada. Different markets, different approaches.

  5. Thanks for the mention, Steve. I was just fed up with the gestalt coming out of WBC14 generally, which all-in-all was quite a good incarnation of the conference.

    Mark – “Joe Roberts fixated on machine picking, dead animals,and MOG as the primary problem with the quality to Bronco wines.” Uhm… I have NO IDEA what you are talking about in your comment. I had **nothing** to do with that article whatsoever aside from sharing it on Facebook and twitter via a link to the original, merely to generate discussion. I personally said NOTHING about machine picking, dead animals, MOG, or Bronco wines myself. Now, I happen to personally have issues with the market supporting a convicted felon, so I am okay with the author taking Franzia to task (though I agree with the comments that the article was, at best, shoddily written). But your statement in the above comment about me is patently false, and should be rescinded.

  6. Joe, I already let Mark know he got his authors mixed up! I’ll repeat it again: Readers Joe Roberts did not write the Franzia piece!

  7. For those of us, and we’re legion, with a limited income who enjoy wine with virtually every lunch and dinner, we need a decent vin de table/vin ordinaire. Bronco turns out many value (=cheap) brands like Forest Glen,Fox Brook, Sea Ridge as well as Charles Shaw that gives us such vino. Their good enough wines are superior to those produced by the Wine Group and Gallo. Thanks to the Franzia Family.

  8. Steve,

    You should note that Chris Knox did not write the piece for the Huffington Post. He wrote that piece on another website altogether THREE YEARS AGO if I’m not mistaken, and for some reason, it was added to HuffPost over the past few days.

    I know Chris well, and he would be the first to admit that he was trying to be ‘over-sensationalistic’ in writing that piece.

    What’s interesting to me are the number of people who read that and nod their heads and get ‘grossed out’ by the concept of machine picking. I guess folks don’t realize that the majority of Australian vineyards have been machine picked for quite some time; that it continues to be experimented with throughout Europe; and that there are some relatively higher end places here in CA the employ machine picking from time to time as well . . .


  9. Larry–

    What all the complainers about everything do not realize is that we judge wine by what is in the glass when we pour it. If the process makes less good wine, then it shows. If the process makes no difference, who gives a rusty rat’s ass except for a few purists. And if the process helps, such as adding small amounts of SO2 or judicious use of oak or controlling fermentation temperatures, or god forbid, even leaving some RS in the wine (anyone here drink Riesling), then what’s the fuss. As I keep asking, if the process does not hurt us or the planet and it results in better wine, then I am all for it.

  10. Charlie has it exactly right. I associate myself with his remarks!

  11. Bob Henry says:

    I have commented before on this and other blogs, and will reiterate again that the great winemaker Joe Heitz was a proponent of machine harvesting.

    See his “spirited” interview in Bob Benson’s tome titled “Great Winemakers of California: Conversations with Robert Benson (Interviews with 28 California Winemakers).”

    Link to Amazon:

    He (and his mentor at Beaulieu Vineyard André Tchelistcheff) crafted the greatest California Cabernets of their era.

    (I don’t know how the grapes were harvested at BV. I invite someone to “ring in” with a response.)

    So I “second” Charlie’s colorful comment that it doesn’t matter a “rusty rat’s ass” if this violates the tenets of the purists. If it produces a better wine — good!

    It worked for Heitz. It can work for others.

    We all need to keep our “eyes on the prize”: a better drinking glass of wine.

  12. Bob Henry says:

    The wine industry needs “technically sound,” entry-level priced wines to entice infrequent drinkers to adopt it as a beverage of everyday pleasure.

    Not an “exclusive” beverage for “special occasions.”

    Fred’s wine do that for folks by anchoring the base of the “price/quality pyramid.”

    The next price and quality stratum up one finds Gallo and Columbia Crest and Kendall-Jackson wines.

    The Millennials don’t earn incomes comparable to Gen Xs and Baby Boomers.

    The domestic market needs to cater to those budget conscious imbibers — else they will express their dollars in the marketplace through beer and grain-based alcohol purchases.

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