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05.31.2006

Fred Franzia: Great Businessman or Wine Antichrist?

Whatever your opinion of Fred Franzia, you have to hand it to the guy -- he knows how to get your attention. Franzia is, of course, the guy behind the Two Buck Chuck juggernaut and the recent loser of a 6 month court battle with the Napa Valley Vintner's association over the labeling of his wines. Like a kung-fu master who knows exactly where to hit someone with a single finger with devastating results, Franzia has a gift for provoking outrage with a minimum of words. Here are a few gems from a rare press conference he held recently:

"No bottle of wine is worth more than $10, in my opinion."

"White Zin is the model, the template for where American wine is. For almost 20 years, consumers have never left the category, because the prices haven't changed in 20 years. "

On terroir: "Why complicate [wine]? Does anybody complicate Cheerios by saying the wheat has to be grown on the side of a mountain and the terroir in North Dakota is better than Kansas and all this horse shit? You put something in your mouth and enjoy it. If you spend $100 to buy a bottle of wine, how the hell are you going to enjoy it? It's a joke. There's no wine worth that kind of money."

"I don't socialize anywhere. There's no money made in socializing."

On Napa and Sonoma appellations: "California wine shouldn't be divided up into these little oligopoly appellations. They try to create a myth to keep the consumer from buying other people's wine."

I'm sure most people find at least one of the statements above, if not patently offensive, then certainly just wrong. Mostly they just make me laugh. The guy has got a gift for pissing off folks in the wine industry. He also has a gift for operating as close to the edge of the law as he possibly can, as various indictments and court settlements and judgments reveal.

Yet on the other hand, he is almost single-handedly responsible for an increase in wine consumption among consumers in the United States. I believe strongly that Two Buck Chuck was the catalyst that has kicked off a surge of interest in wine, and a reduction in the intimidation that consumers feel about wine.

Franzia, and his Bronco wine company, are certainly a force to be reckoned with, and while the Supreme Court has declared that Franzia can't sell wine with Napa in the name unless the grapes come from there, that will just be a tiny speed bump for him, I'm sure. He's in the process of building a winery in Napa Valley, and will likely continue to pop up where he is least wanted. That seems to be his special talent.

There was excellent coverage on Franzia and his story recently in the San Francisco Chronicle, and also in Inc. Magazine for those who are interested in a little more detail on the subject.

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