Either you’re an earth child who likes a sensual connection to terra firma and the return-to-roots freedom that casting off the trappings of civilization brings you, or you’re too poor to afford shoes.
Either way, have I got the wine for you.
Before I go there, let me say that in a Rorschach sort of free-association test, the notion of walking around barefoot brings to mind two people immediately: Mahatma Gandhi and Huck Finn. One, of course is Hindu, prohibited from drinking wine and dead, and the other is not of legal age and fictional.
So, why recommend a white called Barefoot? To which demographic am I pitching?
Suffice to say, wine people have a thing about feet. It’s likely tied to the fact that genuine hand-crafted wine is made by foot: crushing grapes is the primal proletariat nexus, after all—mechanics are a commercial necessity, but like sending emails as opposed to actually having conversations, they’re not small-scale effective and a lot less cozy.
This foot fetish may be subconcious on the part of us wine people but it’s present nonetheless.
Consider Barefoot Cellars from California, Thousand Foot Pinot Noir from the Russian River, Left Foot Charley here in Michigan and Chateau Lafite in France.
Thinking on my feet, I requested that winemaker Jennifer Wall to send me a picture of her bare feet to illustrate this piece, but after the above paragraph referencing fetishes, I’m sure the cops will show up at my door before the .jpegs. As the accompanying photo indicates, she’s a leg up in the face department as well. (The other shots depicts a barefoot me crushing garage syrah in the day when hair played a more prominent a lifestyle role than kids—the other is my daughter crushing syrah this past season).
Jen Wall’s winery tenure follows in the footsteps of Davis Bynum (big boots to fill), who introduced Barefoot in 1965 as a low-priced alternative to his premium line, which then as now you had to be pretty well-heeled to afford.
Barefoot developed a cult following—due in part to the kitchy footprint logo—soon outselling its pricer cousin. Even so, Bynum decided the brand was out of step with his hoity-toity mission statement, and sold the winery in 1986. Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey jumped in with both feet, and in 1995, Wall got her own juice-stained foot in the door. Since then, the brand has grown in volume and reputation; Barefoot Cellars has snagged more 2500 awards over the years and no, this is not a typo. The winery is equally lauded for its charitable work with such barefoot-friendly causes as the Beach Rescue Project and the AVP—the Association of Volleyball Professions—a sport with which Californians are head over heels in love.
At under $7 a bottle, nearly any expense account can foot a Barefoot bill. For this nominal cash outlay you can expect a foot-loose, fancy-free patio wine; summery, simple, supple and occasionally sweet, something with which to kick up your heels. None of the sixteen selections in Wall’s current catalogue can go toe to toe with pricier varietal, but the best—Barefoot Bubbly Brut Cuvée and sauvignon blanc for example—are hardly out of step with them.
Two factors allow this fancy pricing footwork:
First, the winery is owned by Gallo, and thus has prodigious buying power among the grape cartels. Second, the wines are frequently released as ‘non-vintage’, where juice from lousy years (which for inexpensive wines often means excellent years, since that’s when grape prices go up) is blended with juice held back from value vintages.
Neither influence should give you cold feet: they’re not necessarily quality indicators, but merely a marketing strategy intended to keep the penury-pipeline filled with a sea of drinkable affordables. In the end, Barefoot wines are reliable, viable and imminently buyable.
And, hey—if the shoe fits, wear it.
Barefoot Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, California, NV, about $7: Cloudy Bay won’t be shaking in their boots over this one, but with it, me and Jen Wall got off on the right foot. It’s crisp, unpretentious and contains enough citrus and grass to hint at how beguiling this varietal can be even in a basic incarnation. Tickled with grapefruit, herb and zip, it’s well-made sauvignon blanc—bare boned as well as bare footed.
Barefoot Cellars Pinot Grigio, California, NV, about $7: PG is as PG does, and Wall’s crisp, apple-tinged swallow is lucid and transparent; it offers entry-level whiffs of almond and cantaloupe with some mineral character in the finish.
Barefoot Cellars Moscato, California, NV, about $7: A good white with which non-wine people can get their feet wet, so long as they don’t mind some sugar crystals around their ankles. Honeydew and honeysuckle on the nose, peach on the palate and a quick stop; it’s modest moscato, but toes the varietal line. A nice offering when you’re invited to brunch—you may not be able to show up barefoot, but your wine can.