by Fred McMillin
for June 13, 1997
Prologue: The late, Pulitzer-winning columnist Herb Caen plays an important role in this story. He used to play an important role in supporting the McMillin wine and food classes with items like this. "I don't know what you're up to, but Ruth McMillin is at Cambridge studying early English baking for a course on the history of bread and wine that she and her husband, Fred, will teach at the Fort Mason Art Center. 'Her only problem so far is with the library,' reports Fred. 'It seems that visiting scholars may use it only on a Knead-To-Know basis.' Uh-huh."
The Rest of the Story: Herb Caen and Davis Bynum were quick-witted journalists with the San Francisco Chronicle in 1951. Davis bought 50 pounds of grapes from Robert Mondavi, crushed them in the Bynum basement (with his feet?), and made three and a half gallons of Petite Sirah. So, Herb dubbed Davis "Barefoot Bynum." Davis retorted, "OK, I'll produce the Chateau la Feet of California wine." Thus was born Barefoot Bynum jug wines. Sales went well but Davis dropped them in 1972 as he moved entirely to premium bottlings.
However, his friend, Michael Houlihan, loved the name with its anti-snobbery implications. So, 11 years ago he purchased the name, and established Bonded Winery #5626 in the Napa Valley. The plan was to make pleasing wines at rock bottom prices...and they're still at it. I just tasted their latest "Barefoot Cab"...suprising amount of fruit and oak...light body...hard to find a more drinkable Cab for six dollars! If Cab is not your thing, there's a broad array of whites and reds in the $5 range. You are likely to agree with critic Jerry Mead, who wrote that Barefoot Cellars produces "the best wine buys in the state."
Just the Facts
Postscript: You will notice that "Chateau La Feet" no longer appears on the Barefoot back label. Improbable as it may seem, one of the world's greatest wineries, Chateau Lafite Rothschild, after all of these years objected to the 1951 "La Feet" phrase. So now, the Barefoot label reads "Chateau La Foot."
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