September 20, 2007
Napa Valley's Patron Saint?

That big bronze sculpture of a grapecrusher that greets visitors entering Napa Valley on Highway 29 from the south isn't modeled on Fred Franzia, though the way he tells it he's doing as much for the country's best-known wine appellation as anyone.

Franzia, the colorful if cantankerous president and CEO of Bronco Wine Co. in Ceres, responsible for the Charles Shaw brand of wines, also known as "Two Buck Chuck," says his company is second only to the British beverage conglomerate Diageo in making Napa Valley wine. (Diageo's California brands include Beaulieu Vineyard, Sterling Vineyards and Blossom Hill.)

Franzia made his comment Friday when appearing on the KQED radio program Forum in San Francisco. I missed the original broadcast, but the program, moderated by Spencer Michaels, is archived here for anyone who wants more insight into the philosophy and drive behind California's most controversial vintner.

The program, which also includes wine writer Leslie Sbrocco and Wall Street Journal reporter Julia Flynn Siler, addresses several wine topics, but Franzia is the most provocative guest, saying the language of wine writers stems from an "inferiority complex," suggesting he can make wine from grapes grown on asphalt, claiming that "90 percent" of the wine bottled in Napa Valley isn't from Napa Valley grapes, and arguing that "two thirds" of the wine made in Napa Valley is sold in bulk out the back door rather than through the front door under the labels of the area's wineries. I suspect he exaggerates at least a bit, but there could be some fodder for contemplation in what he says.

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