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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.

Comments (19)

Anonymous wrote:
05.31.06 at 8:32 PM

"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?

As a dyed-in-the-wool, arch left-wing, tree-hugging, biodynamic supporting, terroir-believing, vegetarian vineyard worker, I should despise Fred. But, like alder, I mostly laugh: partly because he's a brilliant marketeer, partly because he's partly right, and partly because, as much I admire the 250-case producer (and the 2003 Ethan Vogelzang Vineyard Grenache is kick-ass juice), we all can be a little sanctimonious at times. Not that I'd ever put a glass of Fred'd wine to my holier-than-thou lips, of course, but still...

Regards,

Jeff

Brian Miller wrote:
05.31.06 at 10:02 PM

Well...He is funny. But even as a rank amateur in the world of wine collecting and tasting and all that...I can tell the difference between "good" wine and bad. And, price is usually one of the differences (not always, of course!)

06.01.06 at 8:09 AM

Alder; with respect to your title, I'm not sure the two choices don't actually go hand in hand ;^)

brett wrote:
06.01.06 at 8:10 AM

Fred Franzia takes valid ideas, turns them into hyperbole, and ends up making statements that cause him to look like a fool.

I wholly support irreverance towards wine but Fred's (and Richard Branson's) vindictive irreverance I find to be odious.

St.Vini wrote:
06.01.06 at 9:19 AM

What's interesting about Franzia's wines is that they are despised by most, yet drunk (unknowingly) by many of the same. His grapes and juice end up in some rather surprising places...

This is one of the dumber ones I read recently (paraphrased) "Two-buck-Chuck? Yuck! Hey, spend a couple more dollars and buy Forestville, its a much better wine."

Vini

jon o wrote:
06.02.06 at 7:46 PM

My 2 cents - Terroir is a fiction, sure, but that's ok. We like fictions. Looking into whether terroir is 'real' to me always smacks of the same dunderheadedness as studying which parts of a novel or movie are 'true' and which are 'made up'. Napa, Sonoma, this hill, that hill, it's all stories. We like stories. We pay $$$ for stories because they have value. It feels good to drink a wine when you've met the guy responsible for it, heard the story of the vineyards from his mouth, walked on the hills and felt the grapes in your own hands. And if you're not into wine (and life) for feeling good, what the hell are you into it for?

cheers,

jo

Jeff B. wrote:
06.02.06 at 9:24 PM

jo-

Are you really suggesting that you can't tell the difference between, say, a New Zealand Sauv Blanc and a Sauv Blanc from Santa Ynez? I'm not being rhetorical, and I'm not even arguing your point re: "stories." What I'm trying to understand is whether those who "don't believe" in the concept of terroir can't tell the difference in wines from different places, or simply chalk it up entirely to the winemaker.

Regards,

Jeff

Blair wrote:
06.03.06 at 9:34 AM

Terrior is pure science. I am not claiming that it makes one wine superior or inferior to another. It is just simple soil science. Soils from region to region vary greatly. This can be either due to diffrences in mineral content, which I believe to be a rather minor playing in terrior or they can vary in thier capacity to hold water and depth of the top soil. The soils in Napa for example, I am familiar with northern California so I wont be able to make French examples, are very thin on the hillsides. Lets assume maybe 36 inches, less in some locations. This means the grapevine is very limited in the depth of it's roots and the amount of water it has access to in the summer. The hillsides are also quite nutrient poor, because the nutrients which tend to be water soluble will run downhill in the rain. Thus without irrigation you have a vine that struggles to exist in the heat of the Valley and produces some amazingly concentrated berries. The hillsides of France are, I think someone please correct me if I am wrong, also quite lacking in topsoil. This combined with cooler tempatures and no irrigation, lead to lots of concentration but lower sugars (Less heat) and thus give us a equally concentrated diffrent style of wine. The polar opposite of this would be the wines from the central valley. Grown on huge grapevines and approaching 20 tons to the acres, these vines have 20 feet of rich topsoil, recieve huge doses of fertilizer, and are often flood irrigated or heavily drip irrigated. This leads the grapes that get "ripe", meaning they have achieved 24 brix, but never accieve the concentration and intesity of the grape grown in less inviting locations. This is all a bit of a exageration, and through farming practices and some winemaking practices a good wine can be made from any location. Hmm I think I rambled a bit... sorry if this didn't make any sense.
B

Wine Person of the Day wrote:
06.03.06 at 2:14 PM

I too give great credit to Franzia for allowing millions of Americans to be able to afford decent wine. On the other hand, he seems to be a rather bitter, angry man with something to prove. A chip on his shoulder, so to speak. These potshots at wine more expensive than his (which is just about everything else that exists) smack of some deep psychological insecurity.

Wine Person of the Day wrote:
06.03.06 at 5:30 PM

But let's get real. I had Franzia's new Harlow Ridge Pinot Noir, and if Fred is saying there's no difference between this and, say, a Talley Rosemary's Pinot Noir, he's either being deliberately bizarre, or he doesn't have the ability to tell the difference. I'm not saying the Harlow Pinot isn't worth ten bucks, I'm just saying that there are wines out there that are a lot better than his.

Rob Cole wrote:
06.05.06 at 8:36 AM

If he doesn't believe in Terroir, then why did he go to court to try to get the word "Napa" on his wine?

Alder wrote:
06.05.06 at 10:39 AM

Rob,

While Fred claims to not believe in terroir, I'm sure he'd be quick to say that he believes in the sales and marketing power of the word "Napa." It has been proven many times that just having the word "Napa" on the label both increases consumers' perception of quality of the wine, as well as their willingness to pay more for it.

Purely business for Franzia.

Rob Cole wrote:
06.05.06 at 12:19 PM

Good point. Maybe we should expect Franzia to form a partnership with Napa Auto Parts soon. He can put NAPA in huge letters followed by auto parts in tiny letters...

brett wrote:
06.11.06 at 5:57 AM

I was just re-reading this post, and realized something. Alder you must be thrilled to know that anyone who googles the phrase "Fred Franzia kung fu master" will end up at your blog.

Alder wrote:
06.11.06 at 9:43 PM

Ecstatic, really. :-)

bill rainey wrote:
08.30.06 at 2:14 PM

I pray for the time that I will have the palate and money to appreciate the nuances of flavor in wines starting at one hundred dollars a bottle. It is with envy I read about how the better informed can catch the whispered flavor of wild roses, spring peaches, or ripe cherries. For the time being In the mean time I am training on Franzia Box wine. James Laube, of WINE SPECTATOR looks forward to his friends buying such wines. I have no such friends.

Frank Banducci wrote:
09.11.06 at 8:34 AM

Fredd Franzia for President!
Once in office he can appoint Charlie his minister of tastinga and logistics.

bill rainey wrote:
09.11.06 at 11:02 AM

I've been reading the above posts and realize what a sophisticated bunch of readers you have. It would be very telling if they praised Franzia wine. I must admit that I feel intimidated and well I should. I've been loving wine since it was presented to me in a milk gass at age six. (that was seventy years ago) Yes, they watered it down and that's probably what got me off to a bad start.
My life has come down to a few simple pleasures, one of which is eating out. I don't like to think I eat out. I try to dine out and that has to come with a bottle of wine. If someone in the restaurant business reads this please let me politely ask for a house wine way under twenty bucks. Do you guys have to double and triple your cost prices? Maybe there is some poor old veteran out there on social security that lost his money in the market that loves wine.

Kathy wrote:
10.19.06 at 9:12 AM

Franzia is a businessman where most winemakers are artists. Franzia is a master at what he does--business. I think that he has done the wine industry a huge service in that he introduces people to wine.

I started with his Charles Shaw wine--wanted to see what the buzz was about and since I knew absolutely nothing about wine this was as good a place to start as any. Can $2 really hurt me? Um, well, ask my husband how much we spent last month on our trip up to Paso Robles to go wine tasting--much more than any $2!

Franzia is a showman and he is wild and irreverent but as much as many of you may dislike him--he is bringing in people like me and my social group. We are upper middle class offspring of blue collar families who had never been exposed to wine. We are now planning our next trip to the Central Coast and planning on bringing several other couples. So hate him all the way to the bank.

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