According to a recently published study by Wines & Vines, the #1 wine brand in the U.S. for the 52 weeks ending June 12 was Barefoot, which racked up sales of $254 million on 3.8 million cases—an increase of 27%.
If you do the math, you’ll see that comes out to about $6.70 per bottle, which is the first clue to Barefoot’s success. The regular releases sell for around $5-6 in most parts of the country, while a new line of sparklers called Barefoot Bubbly can go as high as $10.
Barefoot was founded in 1986 by Guy Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey. From the beginning they projected a relaxed, unconventional image—both in terms of their label design, which resembles a footprint on a sandy beach, and their overall embrace of what Harvey called the “carefree lifestyle” (their advertising slogan is “Get barefoot and have a great time”). They rapidly expanded into a national label in the 1990s and were purchased by Gallo in 2005, which presumably brought the beach party to a screeching halt.
While their reasonable price accounts for a great deal of their consumer appeal, Barefoot has a lot going for it. The bottles don’t carry a vintage date, which implies great consistency from year to year. Under Gallo’s direction, the wines have benefited from careful winemaking attention even as the brand has expanded to sizable proportions. For the most part, they live up to their own description of “fruity, soft, drinkable and affordably priced.” The best versions are the Pinot Grigio and the Merlot, but they all fall into the category of cocktail wines—beverages that are best enjoyed by themselves in a casual setting, rather than as a serious accompaniment to food.
Perhaps the best thing about them is that they’re honest and straightforward. Unlike some of this country’s other best-selling wine brands, they don’t pretend to be anything other than what they really are. Last week, a blogger made the perceptive comment that there are two kinds of wine—the wine that the magazines are writing about, and the stuff that people are actually drinking. Barefoot is what we’re drinking, and we could do worse.