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09.11.2006

Is Bronco Capitalizing on Katrina Remembrance?

I've got a lot of respect for Fred Franzia, head of Bronco Wine Company. He's a shrewd and iconoclastic businessman who's not afraid to challenge the status quo. Did I mention he's a shrewd businessman? Perhaps too much for his own good, I find myself thinking these days.

I received a fax last week of a press release from Bronco wines announcing the release of their new line of Fat Cat wines.

"New Orleans Inspired Fat Cat Wines Debut, August 2006" said the press release. "New Orleans is a place like no other. The indomitable spirit and culture of the Big Easy lives on and continues to be evident in the regional cuisine. To celebrate Louisiana's unique Jazz music, culture and cuisine, Bronco Wine Company has launched the new "Fat Cat" varietal wines. With a whimsical label featuring a fat cat playing a jazz piano, these wines are meant to be fun, approachable, and shared at the table with friends."

Apparently in addition to being fun, they're also meant to be top of mind -- released coincidentally on the one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. These wines are celebrating the place, but apparently not a penny of the profits from these wines will go towards helping aid the still devastated region. When I heard that, my jaw dropped.

Now I don't know enough about these wines, nor their history to be able to level the accusation that Franzia is milking public sentiment and capitalizing on the tragedy to sell some wine. But I gotta say, this certainly could be interpreted that way without too much stretching of the imagination.

If that were actually true, it would be incredibly offensive and, in my mind, completely unethical.

What do you think? Am I reading too much into this?

Comments (25)

Kevin wrote:
09.12.06 at 3:00 AM

"What do you think? Am I reading too much into this?"

Yes, you are.

Tedo wrote:
09.12.06 at 4:14 AM

Alder,
I don't think you are. Especially, as you mentioned, Franzia is a hell of a businessman and marketer. If he wasn't trying to be 'top of mind' why would he wait to make this announcement at the one year anniversary. It would be completely different if he was giving even some small portion of profits to Katrina benefits. As someone who has much family there this disgusts me.

Paul wrote:
09.12.06 at 4:16 AM

I agree with Kevin. From the press release you quote, there is no mention of charity and very little that even points directly to the Katrina event. I agree that it is a clever ploy, but how many of the people this wine is aimed at know about the press release? If the bottle itself says something misleading about Katrina, then I think it is a valid point.

John wrote:
09.12.06 at 7:33 AM

Yes.

Joe wrote:
09.12.06 at 7:33 AM

I think even without a direct reference to Katrina on the label or anywhere, it's pretty disgusting. He's clearly attempting to capitalize on the unique place NoLa holds in the public consciousness right now. And honestly, to market this wine and not even think of directing some proceeds to Katrina relief seems implausible. It HAD to occur to them, and they decided against it. It would even be a great marketing angle, for god's sake.

Alder, while I admire Fred Franzia's accomplishments, and in part his anti-elitist attitude about wine, I think he's done a lot of harm to the public perception of what good wine is all about as well. This is just the icing on the cake. Is he gonna retire anytime soon?

Lindsay wrote:
09.12.06 at 10:02 AM

The release timing is insensitive at best. Would anyone cheer on a new product that was associated in its marketing campaign with NYC and the Pentagon? I doubt the hundreds of thousands still displaced from the NO area appreciate Franzia (unless he happens to be a native) using "the indomitable spirit" [that] "lives on" to sell his product. I wouldn't in their shoes.

St.Vini wrote:
09.12.06 at 10:30 AM

Does Google give a donation every time somebody uses their search engine for something NOLA related? Do airlines give a donation for every flight into NOLA? What about movies or TV shows that take place there or refer to NOLA?
and on and on....

V

Alder wrote:
09.12.06 at 10:32 AM

Joe,

Thanks for your comments. No idea whether Fred is going to retire anytime soon, but the guy is ornery enough that I'm sure he'll continue to raise hackles long after he's left the corner office.

Alder wrote:
09.12.06 at 11:10 AM

Vini,

I understand the point behind your analogy, but the comparison is not quite apt. This is a product that is being branded, marketed and sold as a celebration of NOLA. Google, the airlines, and TV shows have not structure their brands around New Orleans, marketed their services "in the spirit of" New Orleans, etc.

Rick Dobbs wrote:
09.12.06 at 11:19 AM

It'd be nice to see if some of the profit was going to New Orleans, but I don't see why it should be a requirement in any way. I think one of the best things you can do is treat New Orleans like the great place it is, not some center of devestation and negative thought.

The more companies that include NoLa as part of their marketing process in this kind of light, the more steps it will take towards returning to its former glory.

Maybe it's not the ideal way from a short term standpoint, but from a perception standpoint it can be a positive thing.

Anonymous wrote:
09.12.06 at 1:35 PM

St. Vini, I think this is completely different from your examples. They've created a product that is "inspired by" New Orleans. Google's providing information about anything people want, and airlines fly wherever there is demand for service.
And if a movie came out, I'd be just as repulsed as I am at the idea of the movie about the WTC attacks. Just my reaction.

Rick, I don't think it should be a requirement, of course. Doing the right thing shouldn't have to be.
I see your logic but I don't think Fred's wine is going to help NoLa in any way. And I don't think he intends it to. And I truly believe tossing some profits toward the rebuilding effort is the least they can do if they're marketing this product.

NF wrote:
09.12.06 at 3:39 PM

This is BS. He's trying to 'fatten' his pocket by exploiting us in New Orleans, I won't buy any of his wines and I hope they all taste like cat p.....

mychal wrote:
09.12.06 at 6:52 PM

I don't think you're reading too much into it. The elements are all in play.

What's particularly galling here is the triumph of abject greed or callousness over really basic marketing. He should've gone for the trifecta...

A token donation to garner some points for social responsibility, yet another animal label 'cause who knows, and a timely reminder of a place that had been reduced to stereotypes long before katrina blew into town (a fat cat playing piano? never would've guessed...).

Erwin Dink wrote:
09.13.06 at 7:33 AM

I share your sentiment and am impressed by your lack of cynicism. Exploitation and sensationalism have pretty much become the dominant means of gaining attention by big media and the larger marketing companies buy right into it. Attention is a new kind of currency and many who seek it do so ruthlessly. As for Franzia, he learned long ago that negative publicity is almost as valuable as positive publicity in achieving Brand recognition and here we are keeping him in the public eye.

JD wrote:
09.13.06 at 1:51 PM

I just don't get it. The guy's not selling Katrina wine -- why the need to start a foundation? I just don't get the strong feelings. Seems to me the message that New Orleans is alive and kicking and still inspiring artists and vintners alike should be welcomed. And, yes, he's trying to make money...so? Relax.

Whit Stevens wrote:
09.14.06 at 3:04 PM

Is a person selling American flag’s on Independence Day committing a cynical act of exploitation or are they simply enabling others to happily express their patriotism? Does it make a difference or not whether the seller is a patriotic American?

What if it were “United We Stand” bumper stickers after 9/11 rather than American flags on the 4th of July?

What about the add in which the Budweiser Clydesdales bow their heads at Ground Zero? Was this a case of exploitation or simply a show of respect?

Is a the moral character of a product defined by the motives of the producer or its meaningfulness to the consumer?

Anonymous wrote:
09.15.06 at 12:41 AM

The best way any company can show reverance for a tragedy is to keep their mouth shut. Sending out a press release is, by definition, a method of drawing attention to yourself, rather than to the tragedy. If Bronco is using this as an opportunity to help New Orleans, fine. They should explain how. If not, they should shut their piehole and show some respect. I'm shocked that I even have to explain this.

And come on. The Clydesdales? They're fucking horses. They're not actually bowing their heads in mourning. Because. They're. Horses. Of *course* Budweiser is exploiting the tragedy. What does Budweiser have to do with 9/11? Zero. Zip. Nada. Does Bud need to remind us that 9/11 occurred? Is Bud the official beer of 9/11? Call me cynical, but the company just wants to insert itself into your consciousness to sell product. If they were really pure in their motives, they'd donate money anonymously. But as with Bronco, we're not dealing with pure motives. We're talking big business.

Whit Stevens wrote:
09.15.06 at 8:59 AM

You mean them horses in that Budweiser commercial weren't really bowing their heads? I suppose I'm a real sucker, because I just figured them Clydesdales were just real compassionate horses... nicer then that horse Mr. Ed., even.

Lisa wrote:
09.16.06 at 8:43 PM

You aren't reading too much into this, Alder. Wounds have not healed in NOLA. There is too much repair still needed - and too little time has past - for someone to capitalize and not even give a penny to the Ninth Ward. His cousins at Gallo have far better morals. A smart PR person would have told him to use a portion of the proceeds to help rebuild Von's in the 9th Ward. You haven't experienced Kermit Ruffins until you've listened to him wail at Von's. A city struggles while Franzia counts his beans.

Joanna wrote:
09.18.06 at 9:28 AM

Unlike you, Alder, I do not have a lot of respect for Fred Franzia. (Maybe you were just being diplomatic.) He has been fined for mislabeling the varietal content of his wine, has fought to be able to use the word "Napa" on labels for wine not from Napa, and has declared that no wine is worth more than 10 dollars. (For starters).Your news comes as no surprise. Before anyone reading this buys another case of Two Buck Chuck, ask yourself if you want your money to go to this man.

Anonymous wrote:
09.18.06 at 1:09 PM

Come on Joanna, you're being far too kind.

Fred Franzia wasn't just fined for mislabeling wine, the courts also banned him from the business for a while.

When the courts put a stop to his attempt to mislead people into thinking his cheap Fresno plonk was from the Napa Valley, he cunningly built a bottling line just inside the Napa County border to get around the court's decision. The Napa Valley Vintners Association sued him again - and won again - ending that scam.

And don't forget that the Two Buck Chuck craze started when a Los Angeles television station reported that the wine Trader Joe's was selling for $1.99 was actually wine that United Airlines had been serving in their 1st Class cabin, but couldn't anymore since flight attendants couldn't use corkscrews after 9/11.

Richard

Adam wrote:
09.20.06 at 3:50 PM

No one likes Fred. Big deal! I don't see anything on the label or in print that links this wine to New Orleans. Yes its the city of Jazz, but come on. And even if it did, should everyone stay away from New Orleans because of Katrina? Avoiding the city in fear of exploitation isn't a good thing. Maybe if the cat was floating on his piano...?

Adam wrote:
09.20.06 at 4:16 PM

Here's a link with the logo and description:

Sara Thomas wrote:
12.05.06 at 2:40 PM

I think the Bud commercial was a great tribute and I didn't start drinking beer.
If I had a large company I would have thought about how I could express my sadness using the well known symbols I had developed.

Alder wrote:
12.05.06 at 2:53 PM

Sara,

I think most people might agree, regardless of their opinion on the commercialism of the gesture, that the Bud commercial expressed remorse and sadness. I have a hard time finding any trace of such sentiment in the label or branding of Fat Cat wine. What do you think ?

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