OpEd: We Will Continue Your Work, Mr. Franzia


Fred Franzia brought millions of consumers into the wine business
who had never thought of drinking wine.

By Steve Kemiji

I’m not surprised at the lack of insight and knowledge being displayed in the many articles I have read about Mr. Fred Franzia and his legacy. They focus on his ability to produce a $2 bottle of Charles Shaw, his habit of unceremoniously uncovering secreted wine industry practices including grape blending in appellate regions, and his disappointment in the sale of family estates to the benefit of the current generation and demise of their generations to come.

Mr. Franzia didn’t do many interviews. He didn’t like the press, in as much as they only focused on (in his words) stuff that sold papers. “They’re too polemic and sensationalist,” he would say. He didn’t like the spotlight and he didn’t need it, for his focus was always on his family, his employees, his partners, his vendors and his customers.

Having gone into business with his brother, Joseph Franzia, and his cousin, John Franzia, after his family sold the Franzia brand to Coca-Cola (now owned by the Wine Group), Mr. Franzia started to once again lay the foundation for a generational estate that would ensure his family’s generations would have the ability to find purpose, value and focus. Today, this business includes more than 50,000 planted acres, four massive wineries, bottling lines that bottle 30% of all California’s wine and more than 300 brands (to mention a few of the many projects under the Bronco Wine Company umbrella).

Furthermore, those of us in the business know that his creation of Charles Shaw, a multimillion case per year brand for Trader Joe’s, was inspired not just by his desire to provide customers with a good bottle of wine “all” could afford and drink. It also helped resolve a financial catastrophe most large California wineries were facing at the time; there was a massive glut of wine and these companies were looking at “pouring down the drain” millions of dollars of made wine.

Those of us in the business know that, with Charles Shaw, Mr. Franzia brought into the wine business millions of consumers who had never thought of drinking wine. An entire generation — and their kids and grandkids — would start with a $2 bottle and move up the price/bottle scale to get exposed to more premium wine.

Those of us in the business know he was concerned about the environment and that he converted more than 5,000 acres to organic farming, making Bronco the largest grower of organic wine grapes in the world, and that his facilities were certified “True Zero Waste.”

Those of us in the business know he was committed to innovation, being the first and largest bottler in the world using what he called “the 21st century closure,” the Helix, a twist-off, twist-on natural-cork stopper.

Those of us in the business know he combined his focus on affordable brands for all consumers with his commitment to the environment and the new closure elements to create Shaw Organic, a value bottle of wine created with organic wine and finished with a Helix closure, that became a 300,000 case brand in a year.

Those of us in the business know his employees had the opportunity to unionize but didn’t see it necessary, as the Franzias take care of their people.

Those of us in the business know we have lost a titan, a visionary, a guiding star and a true gentleman. 

May you rest in peace Mr. Franzia.

Steve Kemiji
Cork Sales