Two Buck Chuck takes a bite out of Napa
Fred Franzia, the man behind America's favorite bargain vino, has a big mouth
and an even bigger winemaking empire - one that's scaring the bejeezus out of
his elitist rivals.
, Business 2.0 Magazine
September 7 2007: 3:57 AM EDT
(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- There's a war on bluster, and Fred Franzia is losing. Sure, the CEO of Bronco
Wine, the nation's fourth-largest wine company, tells me repeatedly that only a sucker would pay more
than $10 for a bottle of wine - including his own $35 Domaine Napa. And that Napa's and Bordeaux's
claims about their special soils are bogus: "We can grow on asphalt. Terroir don't mean sh*t." After
relieving himself by the side of his Jeep, Franzia recounts a trip to Burgundy where, after an elaborate
tasting, he told the winemaker at Château Haut-Brion, "You can bottle gasoline if you can sell that."
Franzia, who rose to fame several years ago when he started selling a $2 bottle called Charles Shaw,
calls winemakers "bozos in a glass." He really goes off on wine critic Robert Parker, who, he says, likes
tannic wines that make people gag. He mocks my college ("We buy wineries from guys from Stanford
who go bankrupt. Some real dumb-asses from there"), my religion ("A Jew who eats ribs? You impress
me"), and my job ("Business 2.0? Hell no, I've never heard of it").
When I ask him about the community service he did after pleading guilty in 1993 to conspiracy to defraud
(he sold 5,000 tons of cheap grapes by mislabeling them and sprinkling zinfandel leaves on top), he says
of the mentoring of single mothers he was ordered to do: "I picked up on young girls."
But Franzia gets soft real quick. As he drives his Jeep around the vineyards at Bronco's headquarters in
Ceres, Calif., a tiny Central Valley town outside Modesto, Franzia admits he'd much rather buy out of
bankruptcy court than directly from my hurting fellow alumni, since "it's less emotional."
He keeps stopping the car to look at grape plants like a puttering gardener. He shows me the land where
he plans to build his house, complete with a bowling alley for his granddaughter. Looking up at a hawk
flying high over his fields, he wonders whether it doesn't have a better life than we do. He tells me he has
trouble sleeping. I find, on the passenger side of his Jeep, an Enya CD, which he claims one of his many
girlfriends left there. I deeply consider giving him a hug.
How a small winery found Internet fame
But losing the war on bluster isn't a big deal, since it's only one of many wars Franzia is fighting. In fact,
he's waging war on everything: gophers, ants, competitors, restaurant chains, stores, the state, the
Supreme Court. It's not just his favorite phrase, it's the way he thinks about business. He says it so much,
to so many people, that when I talk to his ranch manager, Junior Robles, he starts telling me about the
war on weeds.
There's even a war against the guy who rents the portable potties for the field workers: When the guy