Wine bottles with a distinctive footprint label are a common sight if you have been to any wine shop in the last 30 years. It seems that these bottles are everywhere nowadays. Barefoot Wine is not a trick of your eyes — although the brand’s history dates back more than 50 years, the current brand was founded in the 1980s. Two people, who were admittedly not experts in wine business management, took over the company. These wine experts quickly realized that making affordable, accessible wines was the key to their success. Barefoot is today one of the most affordable wines on the shelves. According to Statista, it is the most popular vino in the country. How did Barefoot Wine go from being a laundry-room operation to America’s favorite wine brand? The untold story of Barefoot Wine.
In a garage, barefoot wine labels were used to create the first Barefoot wine
Barefoot Wine can be traced back to 1965. Davis Bynum, a former newspaper reporter, started making wine professionally in 1965. Wine Spectator reports that Bynum was working at the San Francisco Chronicle when his father bought a vineyard in Napa Valley. Bynum, the younger, became a frequent visitor of wine country. Robert Mondavi, the famed winemaker, was on Bynum’s fateful trip. He asked him how to make wine. Mondavi suggested that he speak to one of his truck drivers who makes wine at home. Bynum tried it for a while before making it his full-time occupation in 1965. The novice winemaker also made a burgundy wine that year. He called it Barefoot Bynum Burgundy. The Barefoot Wine brand was created in a similar fashion. Bynum kept making Barefoot Bynum wine when he opened his California winery in 1973 (via Wine Enthusiast).
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Barefoot Wine’s owners had zero prior wine experience
Forbes reports that Barefoot Wine was taken over by entrepreneurs Michael Houlihan (entrepreneur) and Bonnie Harvey (entrepreneur). One problem was that the couple had no experience in wine business. This was a huge disadvantage, but it turned out to be a key to their success. Houlihan shared this story in an interview with Forbes. He said that because we were lacking experience, we interviewed everyone who touched our product from buyers to clerks, and even distributors to forklift drivers. “We received real, practical answers that were not always readily available from the C Suite. We learned from buyers and clerks what wine packaging was required in the market rather than what we wanted. We learned from bottling line managers what labels work and which don’t, and why. We learned color-specific cartons from a forklift operator to reduce mis-delivery. These challenges were the inspiration for Barefoot, which was actually a gift disguised as a gift.
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Supporting nonprofits helped to grow the Barefoot Wine brand
Bonnie Harvey and Michael Houlihan, founders of Barefoot Wine, were not experienced in the wine business when they started the company. Forbes reported that Houlihan and Harvey didn’t have enough capital to pay for traditional advertising so they had to be creative. They thought of partnering up with non-profits. Houlihan stated that instead of giving money, they donated wine to their fundraising events and their time to their events. This also helped them to get their cause out to the market. “When our numbers started to rise in local territories, it was a sign that we were continuing to support non-profits to help grow the brand national.”
Barefoot’s name refers to winemaking.
Man steps on grapevines When you sip a glass of wine, your feet are not the best thing to think about. Barefoot Wine’s founders knew this when the brand was just starting to get off the ground. Forbes recalls Michael Houlihan, co-founder of Barefoot Wine, saying that the industry believed that a wine with a foot would not sell. They stuck with the moniker. It’s the name Davis Bynum used to create the Barefoot wine, in 1965. The owners retained the name not only out of respect for Bynum, but also because they believed Bynum was a good friend. Barefoot is also a reference the traditional winemaking process. People used to stomp grapes with their naked feet in the Roman Empire to extract grape juice. This juice would then be collected and made into wine (via Mt. Vernon Winery).
The largest American wine company, Barefoot Wine, owns Barefoot Wine
Barefoot is not a household name in the wine industry, but it’s also owned by a larger company. According to the San Francisco Business Times, E. & J. Gallo bought the brand in 2005. They are the largest US wine company by volume.
Gallo has a long and rich history. It was established in Modesto (California) nearly 100 years ago by Julio and Ernest Gallo. Over the past 90 years, it has grown its own wine production while also acquiring other wineries. This has made Gallo one the most recognized wine companies in the globe. How big is Gallo? According to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Gallo owned over 25% of the U.S. wine market at the time of Barefoot’s acquisition (via San Francisco Business Times). Wine-Searcher claims that this figure has increased to over 30 percent.
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