Drinking champagne on a Monday feels decadent and a bit naughty. I’ve only had it on grand occasions, but Jennifer Wall says there’s something to celebrate every day. Why, she asks, should bubbly only come out to play a few times a year?
Wall is the winemaker for Barefoot. You know the label—a single footprint—and you probably know the approachable flavors and price points across the brand, which offers 13 still and six sparkling wines. You may not know that Barefoot recently celebrated its ninth consecutive Hot Brand Award for continuing to post explosive growth numbers across the country and in 50 international destinations. And from gold medals in the Critics Challenge to Best of Show and Most Awarded honors, the industry accolades are almost as plentiful as personal endorsements from celebrities and everyday drinkers posting reviews on the website. Even the venerable Wine Spectator seems to be on the bandwagon, with two nods to Barefoot in December alone.
“For a $10 bottle, that’s huge,” Wall said, raising a glass of the Brut Cuvée. “The main thing is that people enjoy it. That’s why we talk about thinking outside the flute.”
We’re at First Food & Bar on the Strip, about to tuck into seven courses paired with six distinctive tastes of Barefoot. From the fennel-dusted calamari to the flaky Barramundi cod topped with lobster wontons and sauterne cream, the appetizers prove that still white wine isn’t seafood’s only friend. The flavors get fuller between sips of Brut Cuvée, Barefoot’s driest bubbly. It has very little residual sugar, resulting in a crisp yet smooth green apple finish. You might say it goes down easy—one of Barefoot’s hallmarks.
The brand started in David Bynum's garage in the 1960s and caught on among wine lovers, but Bynum put the unique Burgundy on the shelf while he focused on other grapes. Barefoot lay dormant for more than a decade before being reborn as Barefoot Cellars in the 1980s, “with two varietals that were all about bringing the fun back.” The relaunch masterminds were Michael Houlihan and his partner Bonnie Harvey, whom Wall joined in 1995. Fresh out of college with a degree in biology, she planned to apply to medical school, but one harvest in Barefoot’s lab was all it took to change the course of her life.
Wall worked her way up to winemaker and was instrumental in growing the brand and transitioning Barefoot from an independent “by-its-bootstraps” company into a member of the massive E. & J. Gallo family of wineries. While Barefoot’s personality endures, Wall says being part of Gallo has been a “blessing,” from access to better grapes to wider distribution.
We taste some of those grapes in the Extra Dry bubbly. As refreshing as the Brut with a little more honey, it’s a nice foil for the melted Gruyere and Parmesan crowning First’s aromatic French onion soup. The next course is lighter in every way, pairing Barefoot’s sweet, extremely drinkable Chardonnay (and its punch of Viognier) with a roasted garlic Caesar salad (four days later, the gnocchi croutons are still on my mind).
Then it’s back to rich, with an intensely fruit-forward Pinot Noir and wild mushroom risotto, the dark cherry and spice of the wine sharpening the earthiness of the dish. The Cabernet Sauvignon is as it should be, bursting with fruit and body. It’s a heady, heavy indulgence, a liquid echo of perfectly pan-seared filet mignon and roasted beets. But my favorite combo is the last. Wall says Barefoot can barely meet demand for the Pink Moscato, which is delightful to look at and make disappear. Effervescent and creamy in one, it tastes of tart tangerine and pomegranate, with a kick of sweet stone fruit. It debuted in October last year and already is blowing away sales of other sparkling wines. I wouldn’t have thought something so sweet would go so well with fresh donuts drizzled in raspberry sauce, but then again, I never thought I would drink so much champagne on a school night.
I ask Wall how it’s possible to call a wine made in California champagne, considering how strict the French are about grapes from their hallowed regions. She explains that the brand is grandfathered in when it comes to bubbly, adding that she has no idea what the French think of the Foot.
“You have to know your audience,” she says. “This is not made for the French. It’s made for Americans who want great flavor and great value.” Even if Wall didn’t have 2,500 medals to back up what she thinks about wine, I would still be nodding.
Pink Grapefruit Mimosa
3 oz. Barefoot Pink Moscato
3 oz. pink grapefruit juice
Sliced strawberry or orange peel
Method: Fill champagne flute with Barefoot Pink Moscato. Top bubbly with pink grapefruit juice. Garnish with fresh, sliced strawberry or orange peel.
4 oz. Barefoot Moscato
0.5 oz. fresh lime juice
2 tbsp. finely chopped mint leaves
1 tsp. granulated sugar
Method: In a small pitcher, combine mint leaves, lime juice and sugar. Fill two tall glasses with crushed ice. Pour mint mixture over ice. Add Barefoot Moscato. Top off glasses with seltzer.