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A very large wine company

Let's finish the progression from a few weeks ago, where we started with very small production wines, to our most recent column when we featured some of our biggest brands.

This week I would like to tell you how a $5,000 loan grew into the world's biggest wine company, accounting for 2.7 per cent of all wines sold in the world, or approximately 81,000,000 cases.

In 1933, Prohibition was over in the United States and, although more than 800 wineries had opened, two brothers who grew grapes decided that they would like to make wine.

One of them borrowed $5,000 from his mother-in-law and, armed with old winemaking documents found in the basement of their local library, they began their venture.

By the early 1970s, these brothers had decided that it was time to introduce their wines to Bermuda.

A family representative came here and met with what was the largest importer of beer, wines and spirits and presented a plan to market their Californian wines here.

As virtually all wine being sold here at that time came from Europe, no interest was expressed.

He visited another importer and got the same cold shoulder. Finally, he ended up at JE Lightbourn and they were willing to listen to this member of the Gallo family.

At about the same time JEL was looking for a general sales manager and a young man with no experience in the beer, wine and spirits trade had applied.

A Gallo representative sat in on his interview.

“Hire him, pay him what he is asking and send him out to California to work with us,” he suggested. “He has had ten years with IBM and that works for us.”

And so began my time in the wine trade.

Many of the wines that you see here are now owned by the Gallo Wine Company and they certainly cover a range — from $15.40 a bottle to $150-plus.

As I am not sure what you might find in supermarkets at this time, I will just feature one that happens to be the world's biggest selling single brand and it can claim the same in Bermuda.

Davis Bynum started it all in 1965 when he literally pressed some grapes in his Californian garage with his bare feet.

It was a red that he called Barefoot Bynum Burgundy. In 1986, new investors bought his winery and created the Barefoot Cellars brand.

In 2005, the E&J Winery purchased it and, at about 22,500,000 cases a year, it can claim the world's top volume prize.

The fact that I find so interesting about taste, is that I have no qualms in saying that you can find Barefoot Pinot Grigio in our home, where it is enjoyed, but in the past year my wife and I also shared a bottle of red that we saw listed on the internet for $2,800 (it was released in the 1970s for $25).

That bottle of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon is now etched in our memories for all time, but that does not stop the enjoyment of well-made “Tuesday to Thursday night wines”. Maybe they are now even more in demand?

“Good price for an everyday white wine. The citron, pineapple, apple and honeysuckle flavours are a little sweet, but cleansed with brisk acidity,” is the way that Wine Enthusiast Magazine describes our Barefoot Pinot Grigio.

Like all wines in this series it is $15.40 for a bottle and $29.75 for a magnum.

This is our most asked for white offering.

With inexpensive red wines I find that merlot is very popular, probably because this relatively large grape has a smaller skin to pulp ratio than ones like cabernet sauvignon and this makes for a softer end product.

The same publication rates Barefoot Merlot a respectable 86/100 and also calls it a “Best Buy”.

Here is how they describe it: “Spicy aromas, good concentration and an off-dry flavour make this wine robust while staying rather soft and friendly for people who don't love aggressive tannins.”

Barefoot makes a wide range and works with most of the best know varietal grapes — cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, riesling.

For the sweet tooth, there is red and white moscato, the latter being a candidate for top white drop.

Let me end by saying that it is heartening to receive so many phone calls and e-mails from around the world of wine and here is one from Matteo Di Donato of the Santa Margherita winery in northern Italy.

He asked last week how we were doing in Bermuda. I replied, and asked where he was.

He replied: “I came back to Italy on March 7 and have been living completely alone in the beautiful countryside around the winery since then.”

He agreed with my “hope that the world learns from this and decides to work together and spend money on the right things”.

He commented: “I am a very optimistic person and believe everything happens for a reason — either you win or you learn.” (Or both.)

This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. E-mail mrobinson@bll.bm or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St George (York Street, 297-0409). Visit www.wineonline.bm

Legendary winemaker: Davis Bynum started his wine company in 1965 by literally stomping on grapes in his California garage (Photograph supplied)

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Published April 24, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated April 24, 2020 at 8:28 am)

A very large wine company

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