September 27, 2023

Episode #578 – When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Go Barefoot. A Covid-Era Conversation with Michael Houlihan

Episode 578 of Grape Encounters features Michael Houlihan, co-founder of Barefoot Wine, America’s most successful wine brand. Everything about the Barefoot Wine story seems totally unimaginable. When a debt back in 1986 was paid in grape juice to folks who barely even drank wine, one could only imagine things turning out very badly. Instead, the colorful, quirky and incredibly clever Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey let their imagination and instincts take them on a journey that would result in birth of an everyday-drinking pocketbook-friendly wine that would eclipse all the other easy-drinking budget brands. Mavericks. Fearless. Wildly successful. The meteoric rise of the Barefoot brand was the catalyst for many challengers. Remarkably, even though Barefoot was sold to E & J Gallo back in 2005, the Barefoot phenomenon continues change the way we look at business and success.

David has shared several conversations with Michael and Bonnie on the air and there’s always plenty of new insights to share. While they have been out of the wine business for many years now, their spinoff business, “The Barefoot Spirit,” has spawned a New York Times Bestseller, a formidable business consulting practice, worldwide seminars, a must-read weekly newsletter and now, an old-style radio drama starring Ed Asner.

What motivated David to contact Michael was a recent report by Nielsen concerning wine-buying trends during the Covid Pandemic. With several brands jockeying to be top dog among high production everyday drinking wines, it’s no surprise that Barefoot continues to be a favorite, as it has been for nearly 35 years. It’s a market segment that constantly attracts consumers who are new to wine and, quite remarkably, serves as the gateway to more exclusive handcrafted products.

Sharing the Barefoot Spirit is a passion for Michael and Bonnie. Their message is clear: What worked for them will work for others, regardless of the industry you’re in. And to make their message and story more digestible, they’ve enlisted the talent of beloved acting icon, Ed Asner, who stars in a classic radio theater reenactment of the Barefoot story. It’s a remarkable story that is anything but a tall tale!

Today’s edition of Grape Encounters is brought to you by Total Wine & More, where you’ll find thousands of wines produced by folks who started with a dream and never looked back. Be sure to spend a little time online at You’ll be very glad you did!

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