Fred Franzia, the maverick winemaker from down around Ceres, urged the California industry Tuesday to vastly increase its production.
And he sang the praises of San Joaquin Valley wines, of his Two Buck Chuck and other bargains, to an audience that included many producers from Napa and other high-end regions.
Franzia, chief executive officer at Bronco Wine Co., gave the keynote speech on the opening day of the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium. The three-day event is expected to draw about 14,000 people to the Sacramento Convention Center.
Bronco, the state’s fourth-largest winery, rocked the industry in 2002 with $1.99 wines at Trader Joe’s stores under the Charles Shaw label. The line, which a fan dubbed Two Buck Chuck, has now topped 1 billion bottles, Franzia said, although the price rose a little after the grape supply got tight.
Franzia also renewed his call for $10 bottles of wine in restaurants, which he said would attract more drinkers than products marked up to $40.
“Give the consumer the chance to make the choice,” Franzia told the sold-out crowd of more than 400.
Franzia has had his run-ins with the industry, notably a battle about a decade ago over his use of “Napa” on wines made from grapes grown elsewhere. Bronco unsuccessfully challenged a state law that barred the practice.
On Tuesday, Franzia said the industry should put less emphasis on premium regions and more on the wine being made in many parts of the state.
“ ‘California’ should be the one and only appellation for our home-grown, best-quality wines,” he said.
Bronco was founded in 1973 by brothers Fred and Joseph Franzia and their cousin, John Franzia. It employs about 350 people at its winery off Keyes Road and about 420 elsewhere. It sells under more than 60 brands.
The state is by far the largest wine producer in the United States, which consumed about 323 million cases in 2014, according to the Wine Institute. A case holds 12 standard bottles, but much of the product is boxed or sold in bulk.
Franzia said California could reach 1 billion cases by 2040 if it works to increase the per-capita consumption of Americans, who lag well behind places such as the United Kingdom and France. Only the San Joaquin Valley, he said, has enough capacity to make that happen, he said.
The bulk of today’s production is in or near Stanislaus County. E.&J. Gallo Winery of Modesto is first in volume. The Wine Group, whose holdings include a Ripon-area winery, also is a major player. So is Delicato Family Vineyards, based near Manteca.
Franzia read from a prepared speech but also slipped into some of the blunt talk for which he’s known. He said industry groups deal too much with “intramural, chicken----” matters when they should be working together on major issues. He said almond orchards use too much water. He said if Napa or Sonoma growers are faced with a grapevine disease, they should pay for the cure rather than assessing growers elsewhere.
The speech drew a standing ovation at the end, and industry leaders told The Modesto Bee that they liked what they heard.
“I think it’s very impressive that he announced that Two Buck Chuck had hit 1 billion bottles,” said Jon Fredrikson, who tracks the industry at a consulting firm near Redwood City. “I can’t tell you how important that innovation was. That jump-started a whole new segment of wine consumption.”
Mendocino County winemaker Bill Pauli agreed with Franzia that all California regions should be part of future growth.
“We’re one of the best places in the world to grow wine,” he said. “We should go for the 1 billion cases.”
During the talk, Franzia also noted his deep roots in the industry. His grandparents, Guiseppe and Teresa Franzia, founded the Franzia Winery near Ripon in 1906. It was later purchased by The Wine Group, which still makes boxed wines under the Franzia label.
Fred Franzia is related to the Gallo family, by virtue of his aunt Amelia’s marriage to winery co-founder Ernest Gallo.
“He had more knowledge about the wine industry than anybody I ever met,” Franzia said. “I had the privilege to be his nephew.”
John Holland: 209-578-2385