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Napa Valley: Off My Beaten Path With Fred Franzia (Pt. 2)

Friday, 10 Aug 2007 | 1:28 PM ET
Fred Franzia
AP
Fred Franzia

Here's the second of two parts of my post with wine maker Fred Franzia: If Franzia isn't quite a pariah in Napa Valley, he's close. He prefers "maverick," known for his straight-talking complaints about what he calls a snooty wine business, indignant over the high cost of wine for no real reason other than greed, and an approach to the American consumer that severely restricts the industry's overall growth.

"It should be the consumers out there in America that should be raising hell. They should be sick and tired of over-paying for wines," he says. "They are whacked one way in high prices, or whacked on corkage. Either way the restaurants are doing a disservice."

But it's his sometimes abrasive style that really guides the way he does business, confessing to me that he doesn't really have a secret to his success. I asked if it were as simple as just making more than you spend?

"That's about as basic as you can get. Try to spend less than you take in. No magic," he laughs. And no real trappings of the monumental success he enjoys so common for other well-to-do winemakers. No big yacht, no big jet, I ask? "Can't grow grapes on the jets; can't grow grapes on the yacht," he says with a sheepish grin.

Franzia oversees tens of thousands of acres of vineyards in California's Central Valley and Modesto. While other winemakers and vineyard owners measure their spreads in acres, he measures his in square miles: 60 square miles to be exact, and he continues to plant more. The company's next big foray will be Pinot Noir, adding that to Chardonnay and Cabernet.

"The rules are work hard, make good quality wine and sell it at a reasonable price," he says. "I enjoy eating, I enjoy food, I enjoy living. Life is fun. But I enjoy working even more. I have beautiful children, beautiful grandchildren. Life is good. I'm healthy, happy. What more do you need?"

How about a big time, and stunning, pat on the back? Two Buck Chuck's Chardonnay floored the wine industry recently by snagging the prestigious double-gold medal at the California State Fair; a prize other winemakers charging ten-times as much, would have killed for. "It has earned it, it's in the history books. It's double-gold," says a proud Franzia.

And with the award, Franzia becomes and even sharper burr under the wine industry's saddle: A successful winemaker, charging a fraction of what everyone else does, and now with a huge stamp of quality from the experts. The kind of credibility that could make someone like Franzia and his maverick style dangerous.

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