Barefoot wines see big rise in sales

By John Holland January 2, 2012
Modesto Bee
The people at Barefoot had a wide selection of sparkling wines for New Year's Eve -and plenty of reason to celebrate themselves.

Barefoot Wine & Bubbly, part of E.&J. Gallo Winery of Modesto since 2005, had another strong year of sales growth.
The still wines rose 23 percent in the 12 months ending in November, head winemaker Jennifer Wall said. The sparkling wines, a tiny fraction of the business, were up 7 percent.

Barefoot has become the top-selling brand in U.S. food stores, industry analyst Jon Fredrikson said. "It's just been a remarkable track record," said Fredrikson, who is based in San Mateo County.

Barefoot has a suggested retail price of $7 for the still wines and $10 for the Bubbly, though they sometimes can be found for less.

"People like the fact that it's easy on their pocketbooks and they're getting quality and flavor at the same time," Wall said.

The wines are made mostly with Central Valley grapes. The pressing and fermentation take place at Gallo's winery near Livingston, the bottling at its headquarters plant in Modesto.

The brand is cleaning up in a market segment that industry watchers consider one of the hottest - everyday wines made from a single varietal and selling for less than $10. These include some newly popular types, such as moscato and pinot grigio.

Barefoot recently launched a zinfandel made from Lodi region grapes but kept the price the same as the other still wines.

Barefoot aims for casual wine drinkers with its footprint logo - representing the old way of crushing grapes - and marketing via Facebook and other social media.

"It's a brand that's geared toward the younger generation," Fredrikson said. "It's a fun brand that breaks down those barriers of the intimidating old wine labels."

Barefoot actually has been around longer than many of the people who drink it. It started in 1965 as Barefoot Bynum, a jug wine made by Davis Bynum in Alameda County. The brand went dormant in 1973 and was acquired in 1986 by Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey, who ran Barefoot in Sonoma County until the sale to Gallo.

Gallo, the world's largest wine producer, boosted Barefoot into the top ranks with its efficient production and distribution.

Wall, who has been the winemaker since 1995, said the Bubbly line came about in 1998 because the owners thought there would be a shortage of sparkling wine for turn-of-the-millennium celebrations.

Today, the six Bubbly products range from extra dry to the sweet pink moscato. "It's exciting because there's something in the Bubbly portfolio for everyone," she said.

Gallo also produces sparkling wines under the Andre, Ballatore and Wycliff labels.

Barefoot has marketed itself in part by sponsoring events that raise money for environmental work and other causes.
"We feel that we're making the world a better place through wine," Wall said.