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Tag Archives: Fred Franzia

Fred Franzia and the future of the wine business

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Fred FranziaFred Franzia, the man the California wine business loves to hate, reminded us why last week when he spoke to the wine industry’s most important trade show. “One billion bottles of Two-buck Chuck,” he said to the audience, and I can imagine almost all of those in attendance cringing. Because the last thing the 21st century California wine business wants to be known for is very ordinary $3 wine sold at Trader Joe’s.

Still, Franzia is one reason why California is the most successful wine region in the world. His successes, whether becoming one of the first to sell competently made cheap wine like Two-buck Chuck or pioneering the Big Wine model that is the blueprint for the industry’s domination today, are indisputable. But his speech also revealed why so many in California wine who aren’t Gallo and Constellation aren’t prepared for the rest of the 21st century.

That’s because it was written through the lens of his family’s three generations of success, which was built on better winemaking technology, an unparalleled knowledge of the supply chain, and a canny insight into the Baby Boomers who transformed the way Americans drink wine. Franzia’s Bronco Wine is an example of 20th century manufacturing at its finest — give the consumer a quality product at a fair price, and make sure the retailers who sell your product make lots of money, too.

Those days are long gone. Does Apple really care about its retailers? Does Whole Foods really care about the manufacturers who supply its stores? And does Amazon really care about anyone other than Amazon? Know, too, that Amazon became the largest retailer in the U.S. and it got there without selling a drop of wine.

Yet Franzia spoke about the wine business as if none of that mattered. His talk was firmly rooted in what has been, and not what will be. He was particularly critical of the recent Silicon Valley Bank report that spoke of serious challenges facing the wine business as the Boomers age and consumption declines, dismissing the report as irrelevant because it didn’t accept the truths that he has seen over the past 50 years.

He also quoted Mel Dick of Southern Wine & Spirits, the largest distributor in the world, who has said famously that if U.S. per capita consumption was as big as the French, we’d drink 1.6 billion cases of wine a year — five times what we drink now. The catch? Besides the French wine culture, they don’t have distributors, and buying wine there is as easy as buying a baguette. Which, of course, is not the case in the U.S. That Franzia doesn’t realize that the three-tier system damps down wine consumption and is increasingly irrelevant in the 21st century is not surprising, because he still sees distributors as crucial to wine’s success as perhaps they once were.

One of my regrets in some 20 years of wine writing is that I’ve never interviewed Franzia; the couple of times an interview seemed possible, something fell through. That’s because I admire and respect what he has done, and if nothing else for his constant harping about too-high restaurant wine process. And his success with Two-buck Chuck revolutionized the wine business, something for which many of his colleagues will never forgive him.

But past success is no guarantee of what will happen in the future, and it’s not change that matters as much as how one adapts to change. And change is coming to wine, whether anyone wants to believe it or not — even if you’re Fred Franzia.

Fred Franzia cartoon courtesy of The New Yorker, using a Creative Commons license

The Two-buck Chuck gold medal fallout

The Two-buck Chuck gold medal falloutTwo-Buck Chuck, the most notorious cheap wine of all, won three gold medals at a California wine competition last week, and the cyber-ether went wild. One member of the Winestream Media tweeted that the result proved that state fair wine competitions were worthless. Another left a comment on a blog, which had defended the medals, taking exception and implying that the competition had been rigged. And then there was this from a winemaker: “Makes one wonder what the ‘experts’ are drinking or smoking.”

All of which demonstrated the Wine Curmudgeon’s favorite adage about wine: That people who claim to be experts don’t have to taste a wine to know that it isn’t any good. More, after the jump:

Winebits 217: Organic wine, wine snobs, regional wine

Crummy organic wine? One reason why organic wine has never taken off, in the way of other organic products, is that the consumer doesn't see a difference in quality. And that, says a top natural-leaning winemaker, is holding back the business. Monty Waldin spoke disparagingly about “Parker 100-point” wines, calling them “not real wines," and admitted that not all organic wines on the market are high quality: “There’s a lot of boring, crap, industrialised organic wines on the market, and if the industry’s going to implode, it’s because of that.” The article, in Britain's Drinks Business magazine, doesn't pull any punches — very refreshing in a trade magazine.

Franzia on wine snobs: Fred Franzia, the man behind Two-buck Chuck, celebrated the brand's 10th anniversary with some of his famous invective: "We have won the battle with snobs and other elites who didn’t believe we could provide excellent wines at an inexpensive price. This changed the wine culture in the U.S. …" The interview, on the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat's website, also notes Franzia's claim that Two-buck Chuck increased the size of the U.S. wine market by five percent. That may or may not be true, but it's certainly a Franzia-like statement. That would mean Two-buck Chuck added $1.5 billion to the $30 billion U.S. market, which seems like a lot of $2 wine.

Regional wine and restaurant wine lists: The Springfield, Ill., Journal-Register looks at why regional wines don't do well in restaurants and discovers that consumers — shockingly — have made up their minds before they taste the wines. "We get a bad rap from people who think Illinois only sells sweet wines," says Bradley Beam of the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association. "That may have been true 10 years ago, but the wines of 10 years ago are not the wines made today." This is a well done story, and one that media outlets in other regional states should do more often.

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