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Uncorking the Success of Barefoot Wines

Hardship + Hustle + Heart = The Best Selling Wine Brand in America.

That’s the magic recipe Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey discovered in 1986 in Sonoma County, California. The founders of Barefoot Winery came to the School of Hotel Administration to talk about their entrepreneurial story detailed in their new book The Barefoot Spirit. The team asserted that one does not always have to be an expert before pursuing ventures in an industry; rather this expertise can be learned along the way.  Here’s what I took away from listening to their story…

1. Follow Opportunities Passionately

Their story began when a grape grower, and client of Harvey’s, was due $300,000 from a large winery and had yet to receive payment. The winery was in the middle of bankruptcy and had no way to pay for the product. However, the firm did have infrastructure and materials, which could be traded for the debt… Bonnie & Michael jumped on the opportunity, absorbed the debt and went into the winemaking business. After 6 months, registration, and brand brainstorming Barefoot Wines came into existence.

 2. Listen and Recognize Niche Markets

During the early days of Barefoot, Michael Houlihan met with Don Brown, a big name in the wine industry, about strategic implementation. Brown was a no-nonsense businessman with little time, but when Houlihan started his pitch by askinghow do you want to move forward, Brown was caught off guard. “I remember he was so surprised,” Houlihan recounts “that I didn’t tell him how I would give him my product rather I asked and listened to what he needed.” Brown was able to let Houlihan in on the rise of a niche wine market, Women grocery shoppers looking for “Tuesday night” wine – an entirely underserved clientele. This was the sweet spot.