Farm Beat: Gallo's Barefoot Refresh offers mix of still and sparkling

jholland@modbee.comJune 21, 2013 

— The folks at Barefoot Wine & Bubbly aren't big on formalities.

The same goes for Barefoot Refresh, the latest release by a top-selling brand that has been owned by E.&J. Gallo Winery of Modesto since 2005.

The new wines are lightly carbonated and designed to be served over ice — even the red wines, which might shock a stickler for tradition.

"Our campaign is 'wine on the rocks,' " said Stephanie Gallo, vice president for marketing in Gallo's popular business unit, in a phone interview this week.

The wines come in four flavors: Crisp White, Sweet White, Summer Red and Perfectly Pink. They are in screw-cap bottles that sell for a suggested $7.99.

Gallo said Barefoot Refresh provides something between the still and sparkling wines in the Barefoot portfolio. They could slake a thirst built up on a warm summer afternoon or during a day on the ski slopes.

"This is our attempt to provide wine consumers with a refreshing-style wine that meets their need for a refreshing occasion," Gallo said.

She is part of the third generation at the family-owned winery, founded 80 years ago this September by Ernest and Julio Gallo. It is the world's largest producer, and Barefoot leads the U.S. industry in volume.

The brand 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.

The launch of Barefoot Refresh comes amid good times for the California wine industry. Sales are rising as the economy improves and more and more Americans make wine an everyday drink.

Stephanie Gallo cited four trends that favor the Modesto-area industry: The quality of grapes from the San Joaquin Valley has improved. Wine has moved into popular culture via magazines, television cooking shows and blogs. Almost all restaurants serve wine. And the so-called millennial generation, born roughly over the last two decades of the 20th century, has latched onto it.

"They don't view wine as an elitist beverage," Gallo said. "They view wine as a social beverage."

Something else involving Barefoot is selling well — a book by Houlihan and Harvey about their experiences as owners of the brand.

"The Barefoot Spirit" has reached No. 2 on the New York Times list of best-selling business books. It has also hit No. 6 on the "advice, how-to and miscellaneous" list.

The book tells how Houlihan and Harvey came to own Barefoot, despite having little experience in the industry, and grew it into a major brand before selling to Gallo.

Finally, Tuesday would have been the 100th birthday of Robert Mondavi, another giant of the California wine industry.

Mondavi, who died in 2008, helped show the world that regions like Lodi and the Napa Valley could produce fine wines. He did not have a winery in the Modesto area, but industry leaders here saw him as a visionary.

The University of California at Davis is marking the occasion with an exhibition featuring Mondavi's speeches, correspondence and other papers. It will run until December at the Peter J. Shields Library.

Have an idea for the Farm Beat? Contact John Holland at jholland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2385.

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