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Interview, Part One: Damon Franzia On The Growth Of Bronco’s Classic Wines Portfolio

June 9, 2016

Damon Franzia is California general sales manager for Classic Wines of California, a division of Bronco Wine Company. Bronco is America’s fifth-largest winery and largest vineyard owner, farming more than 40,000 acres in California. Its Classic Wines unit distributes Bronco-owned and third-party brands within California. In recent years, Classic has grown its portfolio significantly. Today it has a lineup of 120 domestic brands and 76 import brands, with products spanning across the wine, beer and sake categories. In Part One of this interview, SND contributing editor Jean Deitz Sexton spoke with Franzia about Classic Wines’ domestic wine portfolio.

SND: What’s been the strategy behind the expansion of Classic Wines of California?

Franzia: Until 2002, our business was primarily in wines retailing at $10 and under. That served us well when the economy worsened. But when things picked up, we saw an opportunity to bring in labels above the $10 price point and respond to consumer demand for more upmarket wines.

SND: What are your top sellers above $10?

Franzia: We’ve got Robert Hall ($14.99-$19.99), and it’s been a rocket. We’ve built Carmenet Chardonnay ($10.99), which is now in 470 accounts, on- and off-premise. And we have Haraszthy Zinfandel ($12.99), an old Sonoma brand that we refreshed, and it’s starting to see good traction. Picket Fence ($13.99-$17.99), sourced from the Russian River and Alexander Valley appellations, is also selling well.

SND: What’s your product strategy in terms of targeting millennials?

Franzia: Millennials like catchy, unpretentious wines like our 6 Degrees ($12.99), which is now at about 15,000 cases. The line includes a Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Rosé, and Rosé of Pinot Noir, and we’re also planning a 6 Degrees Red Blend. Half the battle with any wine is getting people to pick it up off the shelf, and 6 Degrees fits that bill. Our Big Guy brand ($14.99) is another millennial target. The dog on the label is fun, and it too is attracting attention on the shelf.

SND: California is a big, but hyper-competitive market. What’s your plan for growing the portfolio?

Franzia: We offer wide variety, but we avoid duplication. We don’t want too many Santa Barbara Chardonnays at the same price. A key aspect of our approach is respecting long-term relationships with our partners. We’re careful in selecting new brands that don’t conflict with them. But the strategy is to provide a complete spectrum of wines that can suit all venues, ranging from five-star restaurants to a pizza joints.

SND: How are the portfolio’s value-based wines doing?

Franzia: Bronco has two of the market’s top value-based brands—Salmon Creek on-premise and Crane Lake off-premise ($3-$4.99). Both remain steady and consistent performers. Because we have our own vineyards, we’ve brought in unique varietals that you wouldn’t normally see at the Crane Lake price point. Our head winemaker, John Franzia, is creating a Crane Lake Gewurztraminer, Petite Sirah, Sangiovese and Malbec, for example.

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