It’s not so much that Barefoot is No. 2 in U.S. wine sales, and poised to pass top-selling Franzia in the next year or so. Or that Barefoot’s sales grew by 5 ½ percent last year, out-pacing the entire U.S. wine industry (to say nothing of its competitors). Or that, at 18.1 million cases, it would be the sixth biggest winery in the U.S., the 15th biggest brewery, and the second biggest craft brewery.
What really matters is that Barefoot has done all of this in little more than a decade, and with almost no help from the Winestream Media or traditional wine marketing.
And the Gallo family – whose privately-held company bought the one-half million case brand in 2005 – is probably laughing and laughing and laughing. What are the most important lessons from Barefoot?
• Scores don’t matter; none from the Winestream Media showed up on the first page when I did a Google search for Barefoot scores.
• Advertising doesn’t matter; when is the last time you saw a Barefoot ad?
• Even retailers may not matter. Has Barefoot become the ultimate grocery store wine, plucked from store shelves by consumers without any advice, words of wisdom, or assistance from an employee (not that any exist to answer questions in a grocery store)?
In this, Barefoot may be the first Information Age brand, marketed almost entirely by a word of mouth that has been amplified by texts, Facebook recommendations, and whatever else people use to tell a friend what they like in the 21st century. What does it matter that Eric Asimov, perhaps the best wine critic in the world, doesn’t review the brand? Who needs him when a couple of your BFFs text you that the wine is cheap, super tasty, and smooth?
Which is the point in this post where someone, loudly and angrily, will proclaim: “But Barefoot doesn’t taste any good!”
And it’s the point where I say, “Good to whom?” Karen Carpenter’s music makes me crazy, but she sold more than 100 million records and one of her sappiest songs is in the Grammy Hall of Fame. I love the Ramones, but Joey, Dee Dee, Johnny, and Tommy sound like so much bad guitar playing to a lot of people (probably most people, if the truth be known).
Does Barefoot taste like Grand Cru Burgundy? Nope, but no one says it does. Does it taste like the kind of wine a critic or an experienced wine drinker would like? Nope, but they don’t drink it, do they? Barefoot is a technically competent, if not very interesting, wine that is sold to people who – and this is what almost no one but the Gallo family understands – the wine business has scared away from buying anything more demanding. You don’t need to understand winespeak or to know what an appellation is to enjoy Barefoot. It comes in a bottle, not a box, and all you need is $7 and a glass. What’s wrong with that in a wine world with $350 wine openers?
This approach may have helped Barefoot become the first national wine brand, sold throughout the country the same way Heinz ketchup and Tide detergent are. I try to visit grocery stores whenever I travel, and Barefoot has been in all of them, whether a tiny Brookshire’s in very rural East Texas, a convenience store on the Gulf Coast, or a Safeway in downtown San Diego.
Those of us who love wine shouldn’t see those 18 million cases as something to complain about or to make fun of, the way too many of us did with white zinfandel. Rather, it’s an opportunity to show people who already drink wine how much more is out there that they might enjoy. Because isn’t that what wine should be about – each of us helping each other find something fun to drink?
Chart courtesy of Shanken News Daily, using a Creative Commons license