The bizarre beginnings of great wine brands

The greatest wines seem to come from an inordinate amount of blood, sweat and tears.

The wine is weird. Once the grapes have been pulled from the vines, cleaned and crushed (or not), they are ready for fermentation. Eukaryotic microorganisms enter, consume sugar, and release carbon dioxide and alcohol.

Animals and birds have enjoyed the side effects of overripe fruit for millennia, but it took the cognitive ability of human mammals – not to mention the flair for the theater – to seek a more civilized road from the vine to the happy place. As the precise evolution of wine production is lost in the mists of time, scientists have found evidence of 9,000-year-old fermented rice and honey wine on pottery shards in Jiahu, central China. China. (By Patrick McGovern, Indiana Jones of wine, most of its sugars probably came from hawthorn fruit and wild grapes).

And while we can’t speculate on the nature of the characters behind the 9,000-year-old hawthorn fruit wine, a glance around the current wine landscape reveals all manner of renegades, rebels, and heroes. Suffice to say that the first winegrowers probably inspired many stories around the Neolithic campfire.

Franzia: marriage exchange, deception

An unrecognized Italian-American immigrant with a zesty approach to marriage and business has helped launch not just one, but three of the most successful Plonk wine empires in human history. While the mere idea of ​​drinking Franzia boxed wine thrills the upper ranks (can you even imagine a life or death scenario in which Robert Parker or James Suckling would agree to sip Sunset Blush or Chillable Red?), Franzia, with $ 336 million in sales last year according to Wines & Vines, is as indelible – and vilified – a part of American culture as the Daisy Duke shorts.

When Giuseppe Franzia, a 29-year-old vegetable seller, wrote to his beloved in a small village outside of Genoa, Italy, in 1900, asking for her hand in marriage (in exchange for an offer to pay him $ 100 to go to San Francisco), he was rejected. But his girlfriend Teresa Carrara thought it sounded pretty good, so she came instead. In 1906, they bought a ranch east of San Francisco and grew grapes. According to Ernest and Julio: Our story, written by her son-in-law Ernest Gallo, the 4’10 “Teresa was a powerhouse, working the fields, laying bricks for what became the Franzia cellar, while training eight children and running the family business alongside Giuseppe. (During Prohibition, they circumvented the alcohol ban by shipping grapes to consumers across the country wanting to make wine for home consumption, which was technically legal After Prohibition ended, she sensed an opportunity, but her husband was more careful. So when he was in Italy, she leapt up, managing to mortgage their ranch for $ 10,000 and officially launch the business. of wine Franzia. Teresa also loaned her son-in-law Ernest $ 5,000 around the same time. Franzia is still going strong, but no longer in the family. In 1973 they sold her to Coca-Cola , who then sold it to the Wine Group.

Gallo: murder, vicious rivalry

Ernest Gallo married Teresa’s daughter Amelia Franzia in 1930, a move that many saw as his attempt to wrest market share of the burgeoning wine industry from his father Joe Gallo, with whom he had a relationship. stormy personal and professional. Simply put, the best way to gain a foothold was to get married to another wine family. (In the unauthorized 1993 Gallo Blood and Wine family biography, Ellen Hawkes quotes Amelia as saying, “Ernest married me for my family’s cellar. When he couldn’t get it, he got them. bankrupt. ”) A few years later, Joe shot his wife Susie, 46, whom he had allegedly brutally abused since his marriage to her in 1908. According to newspapers at the time, she was found slumped in a pool of blood, apparently feeding their pigs. . Then he shot himself. After Joe’s death and the question marks hanging over the business, Ernest took advantage of the day and asked his brother Julio to join him in building a winery with the $ 5,000 he convinced Teresa to lend him. Julio put $ 900 in savings in the pot, and they went into business. Perhaps predictably, the Gallo business (with roughly $ 4.7 billion in revenue, according to Forbes) has not been without its hiccups; in 1989, Ernest won a legal battle against their third brother Joe, who claimed he had been denied part of the family business. When Ernest died in 2007 at the age of 97, he was worth around $ 1.2 billion.

© Gallo
| From particularly painful beginnings, Gallo has managed to monopolize the market for easy-to-drink wines.

Two Buck Chuck: Bankrupt Fools

While Teresa’s descendants no longer control the 5 gallon box giant, her grandson Fred Franzia owns Bronco, the producer of Two Buck Chuck. The way he acquired the company reflects his ancestors’ apparent zeal for cut-throat, cut-throat trade deals that leave a trail of bleeding rivals in their wake. Two Buck Chuck has been one of Trader Joe’s best-selling products since the $ 2.99 bottle hit the shelves in 2003 (over a billion bottles are said to have been sold). But how did he come to this?

Two Buck was founded by Charles Shaw, who after graduating from Stanford Business School fell in love with wine culture while working as an investment banker in France. In the 1970s, he gave up gambling and took over 20 acres of primo land in Napa, California. Launched in 1978, its flagship product, Beaujolais, sold for $ 13.50 (north of $ 30 today). But after initial success and expansion, by 1992 it was in debt millions of dollars for a combination of factors, including contaminated wine barrels, a root lice infestation, a weak Burgundy market, and a vicious divorce. He filed for bankruptcy. This is where Fred Franzia comes in. Fred is not here to make friends. He once told CNN that the winemakers are “bozos in a glass” and then laughed at the Stanford winemakers for “real fools”; but it is undeniably effective in business. In 1995, he purchased the brand, label and name from Charles Shaw Winery for $ 27,000, built a 92,000 square foot bottling plant, and ceased producing wine, sensing an overabundance at the horizon. When his hunch turned out to be true and California winegrowers collapsed, he bought their wine at reduced prices, ran the 24/7 facility, and started an empire.

Veuve Clicquot: death and swagger

The house was actually founded in 1772 by Philippe Clicquot-Muiron, but it was not until the death of Philippe’s son and heir François and his intrepid widow Barbe-Nicole, aged 27, who took over. notes in 1805 that she introduced the world to Champagne as we know it today. Barbe’s daring to accept corporate help at the start of the 19th century in France, when women were supposed to remain firmly anchored in the domestic sphere, testifies to his passion and dynamism. She started to turn things around when she added Widow (or “Widow”) to the name. Then, she invested 80,000 francs in the company and joined forces with Alexandre Fourneaux, an expert in assembly. The first few years were difficult, with war and military blockades hampering the sale and consumption of fizz. Income crumbles, bankruptcy looms, Fourneaux bows out. But helped by her cellar staff, Madame Clicquot continued, ended up tinkering and perfecting the riddling technique, which of course resulted in a clear and golden champagne; its riddling method is still used today, with minor adjustments. She also invented the modern recipe for rosé champagne, replacing elderberry juice with red pinot noir.

Castle of Nervers: gambling debt

Sometimes a crippling gambling addiction is all that is needed to start a two-story house. The impressive Château de Nervers, owned by the de Chabanne family, was once a simple hunting hut for the neighboring Château de la Chaize, an area which extended as far as the Saône (about 10 km) at its height. Louis XIV offered the land to François de la Chaise in 1670 in recognition of his role as confessor, and the Sun King believed, his intercession with the Lord on his behalf. But, what the Lord gives, the Lord takes back. As the current owner and manager of the 47 hectare estate, Jean-Benoit de Chabannes explains that in 1830, one of de la Chaise’s descendants used the Château and its fertile park as a bet in a card game. De Chabannes is part of the sixth generation of his family to run the estate. Some of the property’s vines were among the first to be planted in France after Phylloxera, and Maison Brouilly continues to produce strong and well-balanced Gamay vintages.

Jack: baseball injuries

Someone doesn’t have to die or go bankrupt for a wine house to take its wings; dramatic injuries will also do the trick. Napa’s Jack wine, created in 2012, is still a little baby compared to other wineries on this list, but it has already received critical ovations (Robert Parker gave 95 points to the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon and Terroirist gave the 2016 Reserve Sauvignon White 90). Founders Chris Iannetta and Vernon Wells met while playing for the Los Angeles Angels. They bonded on the pitch, but their budding friendship really took a hit for the fences when they were sidelined by injuries. “In baseball, you’re on the road to playing nine months a year,” says Brandon Davis, Jack’s general manager. “And even if you are left out, you still have to be there.” Which led to a lot of out dining, and because Iannetta and Wells weren’t playing, wine. And more wine. Until after too many bottles of wine, they decide to start a cellar. It started out as a favorite project, Brandon says, something to focus on as a distraction; they produced 250 bottles from hand-picked Napa vineyards and gifted them to friends. But when these friends asked for more, they realized they had a viable business in their hands. While they certainly aren’t the first celebrity with enough money to fuck (see Brangelina, George Clooney, Ryan Reynolds, Wayne Gretzky, Drew Barrymore, Fergie, John Legend, Sting, et al) to launch a wine brand. or alcohol, they are among the few who do so while receiving critical acclaim and grinning. (NB: they have both recovered from their injuries, and while Vernon has retired and is focused all his time on Jack, Chris is now dividing his time between the Colorado Rockies and Jack).

Of course, there are many great stories about the founding of wine houses that don’t involve lies, homicides, lawsuits, gambling addictions, and personal injury. But really – who wants to read this?

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