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Barefoot adapts Pinot Grigio flagship to match pink and fizz trends

Published:  27 April, 2018

E&J Gallo’s carefree California wine brand Barefoot Wine is fastest growing top five wine brand in the UK according to Nielsen. Harpers caught up with head winemaker Jen Wall to discuss 20 years of making affordable, fruit forward wines that people want to drink.

You might not know the name Jennifer Wall – but you will most certainly know her wines.

For the past 23 years, the native Californian has been making Barefoot Wines, E&J Gallo’s largest brand with the instantly recognisable footprint label which has become a firm fixture on UK shelves.

Wall’s MO is to make wines which are varietally correct, fruit-forward and food-friendly, priding herself on producing people pleasers, underpinned by a tight commercial focus on responding to consumer trends.

Wall was in town recently to talk about some of the brand’s newer developments, including Barefoot Pink Pinot Grigio, which has been a key driver in the growth of drier styles of rosé since its launch in early 2017.

Only available in Europe, so far it has added £4.3million to the rosé category in the UK, selling 43p more than the average price of rosé (Nielsen off-trade MAT to 24.02.18).

The focus on Pinot Grigio has been in situ since the E&J Gallo 2005 takeover and has since become the company’s flagship grape, accounting for much of the company’s 60% white production.

“It was the first wine we made after the acquisition and we really redefined the idea of Pinot Grigio in California,” Wall said.

“It’s much more fruit forward and floral than the ones coming out of Italy. We have the largest white Pinot Grigio programme in the world in terms of production. It’s what we do well, so we wanted to draw on that.”

As well as responding to an appetite for pink in the UK, Barefoot is also now adapting it specialism to another area of interest driving consumer engagement with its Bubbly Pinot Grigio.

The sparkler, which was released in November, is aiming to win Prosecco fans which are familiar with Italian fizz and via the “similar apple qualities” which connect the two flavour profiles.

Barefoot is also aiming to combine rosé and sparkling trends with Barefoot Bubbly Pink Moscato.

Over the past two decades, Wall has gone from making four wines to over 30, and oversees over 20 winemakers from Barefoot’s HQ in Modesto, Sonoma.

Quite a different future Wall imagined for herself when she studied biology at UC Santa Cruz, when she planned to enter the medical profession.

Other new launches include a Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon blend, drawing on Barefoot’s success with the two styles over the years, and innovation in the fruit fusion category.

The lynchpin for the wines however remains the same.

“I like to concentrate on making wines for people rather than making a statement. I’m a believer in letting palettes guide us. A lot of consumers come into wine via Barefoot because they’re fruit forward, and also through sweeter types. They start with Muscato and sweet Riesling, then tend to trend down in residual sugar as they explore the range.”

Don’t let the accessibility of the wines fool you.

Wall has racked up a whole host of medals and awards for her range, which follows a no fuss pricing structure of approximately £6 RRP for still and £8.50 for sparkling.

To put Barefoot’s growth into perspective, Wall started out by making 140,000 cases in 1995, growing to 595,000 over a ten period.

Then Gallo stepped in, drastically boosting the size of the operation, with increased access for Wall to labour and agriculture resources, including night harvesters and some of the “the best fruit in the world”.

Today, Barefoot produces 20 million cases a year under E&J Gallo, the US’ biggest wine producer with approximately 75million cases a year.

Twenty three years on, Wall says she is still heavily invested in the brand and its sustainable ethos.

This includes Gallo’s 50/50 initiative, where for “every acre that’s planted, another is left to nature”.

And also the efforts of some 60 brand ambassadors or “barefooters” worldwide who have, over the years, helped to pour wine and support over 3,000 non-profit events.

“I’m still very emotionally connected to this brand. I want to make quality wine that are affordable, as well as continuing to partner with non-profit events, which I’m really passionate about,” Wall added.

This connection also extends to the wider Sonoma area, which is now looking to the future following the awful fires that tore through the region at the end of last year.

Having just passed the six month mark after the tragedy, Wall reflects on how the community rallied around each other – particularly in the residential areas, which were far more widely damaged than the vineyards and wineries.

Barefoot escaped almost entirely unscathed.

“I didn’t lose my home, but others did,” she said. “We’ve just passed the six month mark, and people are hopeful. They’re starting to rebuild. If there’s one diamond that could be taken from it all, its how people pulled together.”